A theme of my career has been supporting individuals to reach their self-selected goals; it is a privilege for me to share this process with someone as they identify their goals but also the resources they have to reach a successful result. It requires more than writing a lyrical essay; this collaboration brings me to the candidate's most personal and sacred space and remains immensely rewarding to me. Often the candidate also ends with greater clarity and sense of purpose. I see this process holding true even as I studied for ministry after college and later worked with people with disabilities as a job coach and finally as a licensed teacher.
Writing represents thinking more than any other expression. As a teacher, it is the clearest window into a student's mind and should guide my instructional decisions going forward. More relevantly, writing is a person's public voice and self-expression and carries the weight of how someone participates with others, finding affirmation and meeting personal and social needs. As a writing teacher, I have encouraged students to pay attention to every aspect to improve their communication, to be selfish in the best sense of the word. Grammar and syntax rarely cause writing to shine, but they can doom a piece. I will worry about them so you and I can get the ideas properly collected, aligned and charged to present you, the candidate, in the best light.
As a special educator, I have invested more time in listening to and reflecting on the dreams and needs of my students, because I have followed students through their curriculum. There are many factors in considering college choices, e.g. climate, costs, aid, public regard in a certain major, and overseas education opportunities. Some investigation into the 'facts' is useful to clarify choices.
I think as long as someone considers strong schools, then the educational value difference is small and entirely up to the student's specific effort on campus. It is useful to consider one's own interests and needs as a student. In some sense, as society, work, and technology change so quickly, it may be more effective to build an agile or resilient mind than one trained thoroughly in some discipline as before. I can say further, if you know your path will require a further degree, plan coursework or experiences now to complement the later challenges. I used undergraduate work to create synergy with later career-focused work. As your life develops in unexpected ways, you never know what academic credential will rise in importance or give you an edge in an interview. Also, if you know a further degree will be necessary, you may choose the prior school to lower costs or smooth the path into the program for the consecutive degree. It is easy to learn about the interests of the faculty based on published work. I took many classes from teachers who inspired me without regard to my own prior curiosity in the subject matter. These are all legitimate considerations for an applicant.
The application process has many moving pieces. There are many discrete steps to plan, with some hard deadlines. Some steps have written parts and others have live performance such as an interview, which can still allow for preparation.
One particular reflection is that the application process can be stressful, especially as the candidate is finishing the current program with its own demands. Many people are tempted to take short cuts and just finish without doing their best work. Many schools use these materials to award scholarships and other benefits. Don't regret later that you could have made a better application.