From the Dean of Admissions of Princeton University

At Ivy League Potential, our students spend many hours working on their college essays. The average student goes through 5-10 revisions on their main college essay. How important is the college essay? The Dean of Admission at Princeton University answers this question.

Question: You hear admission officers and counselors talk about how important the essay is and how it shows that you are not just a test score. The importance, however, is still not clear. What exactly does an admission officer think as he goes about an applicant’s essay? What does he look for? What works in the applicant’s favor? [Submitted by Emiliano Lopez]

Janet Lavin Rapelye, the dean of admission at Princeton University: “Your ability to write well is critical to our decision because your writing reflects your thinking. No matter what question is asked on a college application, admission officers are looking to see how well you convey your ideas and express yourself in writing. It is our window to your world. Your command of the English language, whether or not you are a native speaker, is important because you will be asked to write extensively when you get to our campuses.

The best applications come from students who have spent time writing their essays, editing their work, and refining their message. It is important to answer the question that is asked by a specific school, and not just to “recycle” one essay. This is not the time to take an academic paper you have written for a high school course and edit it for the application essay. This is your moment to be authentic. Let me suggest that you take this opportunity to sit down and write about a topic you care about and know well. If you are stuck, you might begin with this question from the Common Application: “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.”

Each of you has someone in your life who has played a role in your development, someone to whom you are grateful, and someone you could describe well. That person may be an adult, a child or a peer. Write a draft that you can put aside for a few days or weeks and edit later. Even if this is not the final essay you send to a college, it will get you started, and working from a draft is much easier than staring at a blank page with a blinking cursor.

Please resist the Web sites that give you access to college essays. This needs to be your own work. Your integrity in this process is paramount.”

From http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/guidance-office-princeton-answers-1/