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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Essays

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Jordan Sanchez in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:


In this post, we discuss mistakes to avoid when writing your college essay. For more information, check out this post about how to write this year’s Common App essays


Essay Length


A common college essay mistake is writing an essay that’s too short. For example, the word limit for the Common App essay is 650 words, and you should try as hard as you can to reach that number. A 400-word essay is definitely too short. Make sure you’re using all the words available to you.


If you’re having difficulty meeting the word limit, your essay topic may be too specific. Also, you may not be including enough details or descriptive language. Conversely, if your essay is too long, you may have sections that could be simplified. Look for any areas where the writing may be repetitive or redundant. Consider whether your essay is too broad. Are you trying to cover multiple topics? It can be helpful to break down your essay paragraph by paragraph and ensure that everything you’ve written aligns with the goals of the essay.


Since supplemental essays tend to have low word limits, you can do more telling than showing when writing these. That said, while you don’t want to waste words, if there’s an opportunity to add a bit of personality to a supplemental essay, you should take it. 


Cohesive Writing


Another common mistake is incohesive writing. Cohesive essays are easy and enjoyable to read. If an essay is jumping around and doesn’t have a clear narrative or connection between ideas, it can be distracting. The reader will be wondering what’s relevant and what they should be caring about, which takes attention away from the content and purpose of your essay.


Incohesive writing happens in two major ways. The first is when a writer doesn’t use effective transitions. These show the reader how different ideas are related, and without them, an essay can be disorganized and difficult to understand. Transitions can be as short as one or two sentences or as long as a whole paragraph.


Incohesive writing can also happen when the writer is inconsistent. Your essay should maintain the same tense, point of view, and writing style from beginning to end. Don’t use extremely complicated vocabulary in one paragraph and incredibly simple language in the next. Write in your natural style and voice, and you’ll never go wrong. 


To check the cohesion of your writing, go over your first or second draft and answer the following questions: “What is the main idea of this paragraph? Does it align with the central theme of the essay? How does this relate to the previous paragraph? Do I illustrate the connection here or later in the essay? What point of view is this written in? What about tense? Is it narrative or creative? Distant or close and engaging? Informative or persuasive?” Your answers should be the same or similar for each paragraph. 




It’s crucial to write your essay in the correct form. The Common App essay is similar to a narrative or memoir in that it’s a short personal story. Many students have little to no experience writing in this form, and if you’re one of them, that’s okay, you’re not alone.


Keep in mind that this is not a five-paragraph essay. You won’t have an introduction or conclusion in the traditional sense. Your introduction will be the hook of your essay, whether it comes in the form of dialogue, descriptive language, or imagery. The conclusion will be a short wrap-up, perhaps a few sentences in length. 


The essay isn’t a thought piece either. You shouldn’t be writing something speculative. You want to include specific personal details from your life. This will ground the essay so it doesn’t feel lofty, and it will help the reader get to know you better. 




Not sounding like yourself is a big issue in college essays. The admissions committee is not expecting the most beautiful prose or intelligent language. They want to read an essay by you and about you, so be sure to write your essay in your own voice.


Don’t include words in your essay that you don’t use regularly. You don’t need big, fancy words to impress admissions officers. Your character and your story will impress them for you. In the same vein, your essay should center around who you are today. It’s okay to write about something that happened in the distant past, but the bulk of your essay should be about events that occurred between 10th and 12th grade. Don’t talk too much about your past without connecting it back to who you are today. 


Reusing Essays


Throughout the college application process, you’ll write several essays, including personal statements and supplements. A few of these essays can be used in applications for several schools, but be careful not to reuse the wrong ones.


Admissions officers can tell when you’re reusing an essay that you shouldn’t. It shows carelessness and a lack of interest in the school and can lower your chances of admission. To avoid this mistake, before writing any of your supplemental essays, copy and paste all the prompts into a single document, and take inventory of how many you’ll actually have to write and how many you can reuse.