Is it okay to use footnotes in my college essay if i feel that explaining the terms in the essay itself would take away from its cohesiveness?
I don't think so because the people reading it will be reading thousands of essays and it would be better for your application if the essay was easy to read. Can you simplify what you want to say?
Obviously it depends on what your essay is about.
Yeah, also a lot of people are submitting essays online these days, so footnotes might not appear correctly.
I think you SHOULD be able to use them if you want to, because they exist for a reason. Yet, it is a weird phenomenon when people read a lot of essays and try to compare them. If one is different in such a dramatic way, the reader might become biased against it while trying to keep a neutral point of view.
You know what... I think you should avoid it. Let's see an example of what you mean! :-)
I would avoid it. You want to make sure those who will be reading your essay can read it in a concise, straight fashion, without having to search footnotes for definitions, sources and the like.