Decoding Admissions: Understanding the Rubrics for Evaluating College Essays


Kate Sliunkova

AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education



4 min read

Decoding Admissions: Understanding the Rubrics for Evaluating College Essays

Decoding Admissions: Understanding the Rubrics for Evaluating College Essays

Embarking on the college application journey can be a formidable endeavor, especially when it comes to essay writing. However, with a clear understanding of the rubrics admissions committees use to evaluate essays, you can tailor your narrative to meet their criteria. Let's dive into these rubrics and shed light on what each one seeks to uncover.

Writing Quality:

This rubric examines the technical prowess of your essay. It encompasses grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and overall coherence. A high-quality essay demonstrates a mastery of the English language and presents ideas clearly and fluidly. Before submitting, proofread multiple times or consider seeking external feedback to ensure your essay is polished to perfection.

Personal Voice:

Admissions committees read thousands of essays each cycle. What makes yours stand out? Your personal voice. This rubric assesses the uniqueness and individuality of your narrative. It's the tone, style, and perspective that make your essay distinctly yours. Avoid generic statements or clichés; instead, embrace what makes your story different and tell it in a way only you can.


Genuine stories resonate. This rubric evaluates the sincerity and truthfulness of your essay. Admissions officers can usually discern between a fabricated narrative and a genuine one. Share real experiences, emotions, and lessons learned. Authenticity breathes life into your essay, making it memorable and relatable.

Value System:

Colleges are not just looking for students with stellar grades but also individuals who'll positively impact their community. This rubric delves into your beliefs, ethics, and principles. What do you stand for? What drives your actions and decisions? Highlighting your value system offers colleges a glimpse into your character and how you might engage with the campus community and the world at large.


A recounting of events isn't enough; it's the reflection and understanding derived from those events that truly matter. This rubric gauges your ability to introspect, analyze, and draw meaningful conclusions from your experiences. A well-crafted essay not only narrates an event but also conveys the impact it had on you and the insights you gathered.

For certain college essays, especially those like "Why you?", "Why this school?", or Academic Interest essays, the evaluation transcends just storytelling. Admissions committees are also assessing the depth of your research, the connection between you and the institution, and your alignment with the school's values. Let's unpack these advanced rubrics to give you a cutting-edge advantage.

Research Quality:

Applicable to essays like "Why this school?" and Academic Interest essays, this rubric gauges the depth and breadth of your knowledge about the institution or academic field. It's not enough to give generic praises; admissions officers expect specific, detailed observations. Have you mentioned unique programs, faculty members, or research opportunities? Demonstrating thorough research indicates genuine interest and shows you've put effort into understanding what the institution offers and stands for.

Personal Connections:

Relevant primarily for "Why you?" and "Why this school?" essays, this rubric seeks to understand the symbiotic relationship between you and the college. Why are you a perfect fit? Maybe the school's ethos aligns with your personal journey, or perhaps a specific program complements your career aspirations. Highlighting these connections provides a compelling argument for why you belong at that institution.

In conclusion, a standout college essay is more than just a well-written narrative. By addressing each of these rubrics — writing quality, personal voice, authenticity, value system, and insight — you provide a holistic view of who you are, both as a writer and an individual. As you pen down your story, keep these rubrics in mind, and craft an essay that truly encapsulates your essence. Best of luck!

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Yale (+20 colleges)

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Arjan Kohli

Yale (+15 colleges)

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Stanford (+19 colleges)

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