This past spring, the University of Chicago joined an increasingly long list of schools that are now test optional. Many top-ranked colleges and universities have dropped or scaled back their testing requirements including Bates, Wake Forest, Wesleyan, George Washington, Trinity and Fairfield.

This trend indicates that schools no longer see candidates as just numbers. Test scores, GPAs and class rank reveal very little about a person. Hundreds of students across the country are in the same brackets and percentiles as determined by their high schools or the College Board. And every year approximately 37,000 valedictorians graduate in the US alone.

Colleges have come to understand that enrolling a class of students based heavily on test scores will not bring them the diversity they seek. They are interested in the person behind the numbers and discovering what each applicant can contribute to the campus community.

What does this trend mean for those applying to college now? It means the essays become that much more important. The personal essay required on the Common Application and each schools’ supplemental essays are the place to show the admissions committee just how unique you are.

Do you play the banjo, collect trolls, know how to make an origami crane? Do you work part time, help care for an elderly relative or volunteer at a no-kill shelter?

These are the fascinating facts about you that are not found elsewhere on an application.

Mills College Provost Chinyere Oparah says when students do not submit test scores, the admissions office focuses more on other parts of the application including grades, recommendations, essays or other unique material a student chooses to submit.

“We actually have a holistic review, so we are more interested in the story the student is telling. Who are they? What have they achieved? Where are they going? Oparah says.

Take time with your essay. Be sure it reflects your values, personality and heart. Show the university just what makes you so special and what assets you bring to the student body. There is no better way to impress an admissions committee than with a well-written, impactful essay that expresses who you are.

So if you are concerned that your scores aren’t high enough or your grades don’t make the cut, keep in mind all the special things about you. Write about them. And remember, even Harvard needs banjo players.

Carrie Tobias is a Wilton mom and the owner of Essay Owl, a college application essay editing service. She offers guidance on topic selection, writing, revising and proofreading. Go to for more information.