Applying to “No Essay” Colleges

Published by Wendy Nelson on

A+There are lots of articles and websites devoted to helping your student prepare to write college application essays, but what if a school he or she is applying to doesn’t require an essay?  Applying to “no essay” colleges is a different ball game because your student doesn’t have that opportunity to express himself/herself through words.  How do students set themselves apart when they don’t have the opportunity to explain through college application essays why they want to attend the school, what makes them unique, or what has been a defining moment in their lives?

These questions have been running through my head as my middle daughter prepares to apply to University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, which does not require any type of essay or recommendation letters.  I had to think through this logically to determine how she can present herself in the best light through this application.

Don’t automatically assume that only the only schools that don’t require college application essays are the ones that are easiest to get into.  University of Minnesota – Twin Cities only accepts around 40% of applicants and their middle 50% ACT range is 26-30.  However, schools that are the hardest to get into, let’s say 30% or lower acceptance rate, will require essays, either through the Common App’s standard essay questions, that plus additional supplemental essay questions or their own unique application with essay questions. However, according to, about 60% of colleges don’t require college application essays at all.

Tips For Applying to “No Essay” Colleges

  1. Look at the college’s acceptance rate – is this school easy for anyone to get into or will they accept most applicants?
  2. Does your student need to stand out? – Check the school’s admission statistics for ACT/SAT score and GPA.  You can usually find this information in the Admissions section of the college’s website.  Sometimes it is broken out by school or program offered by the college.  Tougher programs (like Engineering or Science) will usually have higher test score and GPA ranges.  Compare your students test scores and GPA to see where he or she falls.  If he or she is within the middle 50%, this should provide a comfort level that admission chances are greater.
  3. Find out what the school focuses on when assessing a candidate for admission – these are often called the primary and secondary admission factors and can also be found in the Admissions section of most college websites.  If you can’t find them there, check, as it has these listed for most schools. For example, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities lists coursework, GPA, ACT/SAT scores and class rank as their primary admission factors.  Their secondary factors include outstanding talent, achievement or aptitude in a particular area, strong commitment to community service or leadership, exceptionally rigorous school curriculum (AP, IP, college-level courses, honors courses), military service, contribution to the diversity of the student body, first-generation college student, and a few others.
  4. Focus on the admission factors you can control – GPAs, test scores and courses taken are pretty black and white.  Things like leadership, community service, talents/abilities/aptitudes are more of a gray area.  These things can still be highlighted to put the student in a better position for admission.  These are mostly highlighted through the activity listing and in some cases, recommendation letters.  If the school requires or allows recommendation letters, have your student think carefully about who should write these and make sure the writer is well-versed on the student’s accomplishments.  Here’s a great article to read on this topic: How to Get a Great Letter of Recommendation.  For the activity listing, first see what the college accepts.  Some will just give you space on the application to list activities.  Others will allow a supplemental submission of an activity resume.  The more opportunity the student has to explain accomplishments within a particular activity, the better.
  5. Can you submit other supplemental information? – Find out if the school accepts portfolios, samples of work related to what the student wants to major in, or other things that will allow the student to make a stronger case for admission.  If you can’t find this information on the school’s website, have your student email an admissions counselor to find out about it.

Applying to “no essay” colleges does’t mean students won’t get to tell “their story.”  They just need to get a little more creative in figuring out how to tell it.  Also, gauging where the student stands within the range of the school’s typically admitted students is very important – the higher the better to provide a confidence level that your student will be admitted.  If your student’s statistics are on the lower end of typically admitted students, he or she will need to really focus on tips #4 and #5 above.