Four and a half minutes.

No, not the time you spent actually studying for that recent math test. Not the time it takes to cook instant oatmeal or Uncle Ben's converted rice. Not the time you ran the mile in.

So, what is this four and a half minutes?

Actually, it is the average (as opposed to mean?) time spent by admissions officers reading the typical college essay. Yup. That's it, folks. All of four and a half minutes.

What? You spend weeks, if not months, contemplating. What do I write about? Will it fit the prompt? Is the topic unique, imaginative, demonstrative of the true me? And how the heck can I tell my life story in a mere 650 words?

Nights without restful sleep. Days with agonizing nagging. "Did you write your college essay yet?" Revisions. Rewrites. More virtual trees chopped down and shredded than there are atoms in the universe.

And you're telling me that the person who may well decide my collegiate fate may only spend for and a half minutes reading this bold and daring masterpiece? You got that right.

Not to say, or even intimate, that the essay is unimportant, or worthy of only a passing nod. It is very important. The essay, after all, tells a story. Your story. It, in effect, completes you, or at least your college application.

Yes, brainstorm those ideas for an essay that truly says, "I'm that fella you'd like to have lunch with in the campus dining hall (hold the sloppy Joe)." Be original. Be dashing. Be a bit daring. True to who you are and who you hope to become over the next four years, be the one that sets you far above the 34,999 other applicants to that institution of higher learning (at least half of whom are writing about summer camp, soccer games, or that week spent in Costa Rica building houses with Habitat for Humanity).

Entertain. Inform. Leave 'em laughing, crying, or simply wanting for more -- of you.

Enough said. [And I mean, enough said!]

Don't spend a veritable lifetime agonizing over your college essay, worrying more about form over content, style over substance. You are not being considered for a Pulitzer Prize or publication in the New Yorker (though you never know). Write about that which is near and dear. Choose something that stirs -- and shows the world -- the passion within. Expand on that good old elevator speech, where you literally have to sell yourself by the time you get to the 22nd floor.

But please... Don't stay up nights worrying over the minutia. Is it too many paragraphs? Too few? Should my essay have a title? Did I include the right amount of SAT words? No, leave those chiefly irrelevant asides to the talking heads and boring drones who simply love to rant on and on about such silliness in online chat rooms and Linkedin groups.

Be thoughtful. Be courageous. Write about what you know, what interests you, and that which you'd like to find out -- about the world, about other people, about yourself. 

Believe me. Your essay will be good enough. Why, it may even be great. The stuff that college admission committee chatter is made of.

Still, remember that your college essay is but one of many considerations in the scheme of college admissions. There are those grades and scores. Extracurricular activities matter. And by no means should you overlook the value of community service, internships, and, dare I say it, a job.

Then, too, it is not only the essay that gets its moment (or four and a half minutes) in the proverbial sun. There are the many and varied nuances of the applications (whether Common or uncommon) themselves. The recommendations and Guidance Reports. The ancillary writings, short answers, and the very strategies (i.e., early action vs. regular decision) that create a cumulative effect, building upon your chances of getting in to the college of your choice.

The essay alone -- even that "perfect" persuasive piece -- will not likely get you in to college, just as a low score on the ACT Composite will not necessarily keep you out. Colleges will, more often than not, look at the big picture, taking a holistic approach to college admissions. You should, too!

Okay. Take a minute -- or better yet, four and a half minutes -- to think about it!
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