When students and parents talk to me about college essays, it's usually singular. Essay - no "s".
Not to go all grammar and all on you, but it's plural. College essays.
Almost every college and university requires students to write a main 500-650 word essay on an event or experience of significance to them (read mine here) For most of these schools, there are additional essays, called supplementals. Some are specific to the school's vision or why a student is applying. Others are abstract like Stanford University's "What matters to you and why?"
The purpose of the supplemental question is to give the admissions officers additional information about the students. I like to call it one more layer of the onion. Successful college application packets (the whole of grades, test scores, essays, activities, and recommendations) show different aspects of the applicant. Supplemental essays give students that extra chance to show more of their experience, their involvement, their heart.
Here's my response to What matters to you and why:
What matters to you, and why?
(100-250 word limit/248 words)
There's a two-way mirror, imaginary but figuratively present, as we sit across the cafe table at Starbucks. Enough noise circles around us that our conversation is lost in the swirl of greetings and grinding coffee, keeping sacred our space of discovery. He doesn't sense it, and I guard it as my own secret.
If we asked the barista about our coffee, she'd tell us there's more to our drink than brewed beans. We hold the cup and smell the coffee; she feels the sun that warmed the fields and has stains under her nails from harvesting the beans.
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly,” Antoine de Saint Exupery’s Little Prince tells us. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Assumption: I help high school juniors and seniors write college application essays.
Reality: I guide students through a process of transformation until they eventually discover themselves. When they see who they are, they begin to realize all that they can be.
Somewhere between sips of coffee and swirling sounds, the secret is out. He sees his reflection in my eye, possibly my raised brow, the slight upward turn up of my lip. And I see his changed expression, a new light in his eye, the silent nod of his head.
That moment, that magic moment, when he begins to believe with his own heart what is essential, what is significant to him, what matters most to him, is what matters to me.