Do they REALLY read the essays?
When times were less competitive, say ten years ago and later, candidates at the bottom of the pool would automatically be filtered out based on their academics. Some top applicants would automatically gain their major without receiving a full review. When I gained admission to UT, my essays were not read because I applied to the College of Liberal Arts and received automatic admission via top 10%. Liberal Arts Honors, however, certainly read my essays.
Now, whether you are valedictorian or in the bottom quarter, your entire file gets reviewed. UT takes this process pretty seriously. They want to assess not only your ability to write and express ideas but also to determine whether you are a good fit for your intended area of study. They are looking for exceptional students who would contribute both in the classroom and in the wider university community. They also re-read applicants who are the margins of gaining admission or receiving a rejection. Essays are often the tipping point for finding success or being disappointed.
You should take your essays seriously. It happened with frightening regularity where I worked with top applicants who received disappointing admissions decisions. I would look at their file and see an excellent resume and academics with shoddy essays. Of course, I wouldn’t tell them. I would also review files of top applicants with weak essays. Perhaps they were focusing on more selective universities, or procrastinated, but the outcome was the same. They received low scores.
If you are interested in learning more, please check out my video where I discuss this topic.