essay 1590s, "short non-fiction literary composition" (first attested in writings of Francis Bacon, probably in imitation of Montaigne), from . essai "trial, attempt, essay," from . exagium "a weighing, weight," from L. exigere "test," from ex- "out" + agere apparently meaning here "to weigh." The suggestion is of unpolished writing. The more literal verb meaning "to put to proof, test the mettle of" is from late 15c.; this sense has mostly gone with the divergent spelling assay (.). Related: Essayed; essaying. Essayist is from .
I don't agree with this assessment. If a college requires an essay, it is because it has holistic admissions and wants to get to know its applicants as more than a list of grades and standardized test scores. The essay is typically the most powerful tool you have for conveying who you are and what you care about. If you've chosen the right focus for your essay—one that reveal something meaningful about you—you're going to need far more than 250 words to provide the type of detail and self-reflection that makes an essay effective.