While grades and test scores are certainly important factors in college admissions decisions, essays are also a critical component in the college application process. For many colleges, the essay is weighted more heavily than letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and even GPA.
According to a 2011 survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the majority of colleges describe the essay as of considerate or moderate importance in choosing applicants. While an essay certainly cannot make up for consistently low grades or test scores, it can be the determining factor of whether you are accepted to a school.
The purpose of the application essay is to provide essential information that cannot be assessed from other aspects of the application alone. It allows admissions officers an opportunity to see your maturity, intelligence, and other positive characteristics that you will bring to their school. It is also a chance to explain any discrepancies in your application. Did you receive an F on your transcript? Did you suffer through a disability or a death in the family? Your essay gives admissions officers important information beyond the list of numbers and accomplishments in your application.
To conclude, the essay is your opportunity to stand out amongst thousands of other well-qualified applicants. Make sure you don't neglect this crucial aspect of your application!