It is easy for people on the other side of the desk to forget that the admissions game is fiercely competitive for schools as well. So colleges use whatever means at their disposal to distinguish themselves in a crowded field.
Stanford sociologist Mitchell Stevens spent 18 months embedded with admissions officers at an unnamed top-tier liberal arts college and found that, even in cases where students were within the admissible range in terms of scores and grades, officers rarely looked to the personal essays as a deciding factor.
And they are as eager to do this as you are. There seems to be a pattern to the questions schools are using now. Linkedin Admissions officers review hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of applications in an application season.
You work for months, bundle your entire life together into a neat, page application, send it off, and wait. Other schools might be so overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications that they make their admit decisions based strictly on statistical requirements.
In an ever more harrowing race to seats at top colleges, giving applicants and their families something to direct their anxiety towards provides a paradoxical kind of comfort.