Dean Jennifer Desjarlais on What Makes a Great Application Essay

October 31, 2013

It’s the home stretch for students who are planning to apply early decision for admission to the Wellesley College class of 2018. (Due to issues with the Common Application, the early decision application deadline for Wellesley has been extended to November 6.)

One of the most challenging elements of the application process for some students is writing their personal essay. Jennifer Desjarlais, dean of admission and financial aid, along with colleagues from Wheaton and Boston College, spoke with the Boston Globe earlier this month to share their thoughts for an article titled "Simple Ways to Write the Hardest Essay of Your Life." This article was also presented as a list of “15 tips” on’s College Bound blog.

All three admission officers agreed that, while the transcript is the most important factor in deciding whether to admit a student, the essay plays a very key role in getting to know the applicant. “The essay is a plot twist,” Desjarlais told the Globe. “We care about learning who you are as a person; this is a very human process.… You don’t need to impress us through an accomplishment with your essay.”

Desjarlais and her colleagues also said that the best essays don’t necessarily highlight adversity, or even a grand experience or major accomplishment. What’s important is that applicants “make it personal, and authentic, and [that it's] well written,” said Desjarlais. “Write about what you know. It is the little details that can be most revealing.”

Another important part of the application process is, of course, understanding what Wellesley will cost your family. Desjarlais also recently spoke with NBC News following the launch of the College’s new tuition estimator tool, My InTuition: Wellesley’s Quick College Cost Estimator. Families visiting Wellesley over the summer were invited to try out My InTuition, and Desjarlais told NBC that the reaction was extremely positive. "More modest income people said, 'This is the first time I have a real idea of the cost to me.' One student said she could actually use the calculator herself—a significant benefit if she or others are the first in their families to apply to college,” she said.

If you are a prospective student, whether you’re planning to apply early decision or not, the Wellesley College admission and financial aid web pages offer some great advice and resources: Explore the Wellesley 100, find essential information about financial aid, get details about visiting, apply, or see some of the astonishing places women have gone from Wellesley.