What it is: The completely unnecessary (and kind of boring) prose version of your application and/or résumé.
Sample: At a young age, my father instilled in me the thirst for challenge. He would say, “Son, you are what you do, so do all that you can.” For better or worse, I have continued to live by this philosophy. On top of a rigorous course load, I have played on two varsity teams, served as an officer for four clubs (including Student Council President), earned my Eagle Scout award, and served my community through many projects over the last four years.
But my father’s maxim is incomplete. I’ve made an addendum: “You are what you do, so do all that you can, and do it well.” My transcript reflects this pursuit of quality while pursuing challenging work in the classroom. On the field, I’ve helped lead our football team to clinch the state championship. In my community, I’ve received numerous civic awards noting my service accomplishments. (I was even recently featured in a volunteer spotlight for a local news station.) And now, as an Eagle Scout, I join the ranks of some of our country’s greatest leaders and pioneers.
Why you wrote it: As an over achiever myself, I empathize with those who place a high value on personal accomplishments. You’ve made sacrifices; you’ve squeezed precious seconds out of limited hours; you’ve committed yourself to being the best person (and college applicant) you can be. But it’s all for naught if the application reader doesn’t wholly recognize your efforts.
The résumé essay preys on students at the intersection of achievement and doubt—doubt that the reader can and will recognize all of your hard work. It’s a reasonable fear. Counselors can spend anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes looking over a list of accomplishments that took you three and a half years to compile.
Why admission counselors hate to read it: The résumé essay, for all its good intentions, is one of the greatest missed opportunities in college applications. Why? Because you’ve already provided the office of admission with this information in a more easily digested format—your application. In most cases, the applicant tries to account for the redundancy by adding a backstory to a few of the résumé items. Nevertheless, this essay doesn’t provide adequate opportunity for depth…only breadth. The result is superficial “horn tooting” that brings little new information to the table.
Solution: Of all the cliché essays, this is perhaps the easiest to fix. If you want to draw attention to your accomplishments, simply narrow your focus. Choose one. There’s a common belief that colleges primarily favor a wide array of involvement outside the classroom. That is true. But just as important, we want to know what matters to you most. What is the activity that defines you better than any other? This approach, while not as comprehensive, is often more interesting and prevents your essay from being a rehash of your application.