The Biggest Mistakes We’ve Seen on College Admissions Essays
Your admissions essay is an important part of the college process. Don’t disregard it as unnecessary. While it’s weight may vary based on the candidate, school, program, and other factors, your college essay always plays an important role in the admissions process.
Your essay should demonstrate your personality and voice. Yet time and time again, students make the same mistakes. We come across these repeat errors in CollegeVine’s essay coaching often. Here are six mistakes you should avoid when crafting your essay.
1. Repeating the prompt in your essay
Some teachers may have told you to repeat the essay prompt in essays for middle or high school. However, this is not a good approach for college essays, because they should stand alone as pieces of writing.
Instead of repeating a prompt from the Common App or the college in question, try developing a “hook”—a statement that draws the reader in—to capture your audience. For advice on crafting one, read How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay.
2. Coming across as phony or manufactured
When it comes to your college essay, stay away from a thesaurus. You shouldn’t use language you wouldn’t typically use because you’ll come across as phony. (Of course, don’t be overly informal!) For example, try to avoid using overly formal or complex language. (Why say “My behavior seemed incongruous to my family” when you could say “My behavior seemed out of character to my family”?)
Find a way to demonstrate your experiences in a unique way. For ideas, check out How to Develop a Personalized Metaphor for Your Applications and Where to Begin: 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises.
3. Not proofreading
Grammar mistakes are easy to catch if you do the work, so not double checking will come off as lazy. Read your essay several times. Try reading it aloud to catch errors. Here are some editing tips to help you through the process.
It’s also a good idea to get another set of eyes on your essay. Read Whom Should I Ask for Help with My College Essays? for advice the best people to consult.
4. Using cliches
Cliches are a no-no both in terms of choosing your topic and writing the essay itself. Common writing cliches include phrases such as “the next thing I knew,” “all that glitters is not gold,” “just a matter of time,” “every cloud has a silver lining,” “time heals all wounds,” and many, many others.
Your topic should represent you and your uniqueness—not something adcoms have seen a thousand times.
For example, sports metaphors—relating your life to an experience on the field or sports in general—often comes across as trite. Pet death is another all-too-common subject that can make adcoms wonder if you’re fishing for tragedies—or just haven’t had many meaningful experiences. If you do choose a topic along these lines, make sure you have a unique spin on it.
Volunteer or mission trips can also be an overused topic. These essays tend to be more about the experience than you and may convey that money buys opportunities. You don’t want to come across as too privileged or spoiled, so again, unless you have a unique angle, it’s best to stay away from this topic.
Never, never, never copy someone else’s work. Don’t ask or pay someone else to write your essay or parts of it for you. Colleges will likely find out—some even run plagiarism checks—and will reject you or revoke your admission if you’ve already been accepted. And, of course, it’s ethically wrong to plagiarize.
6. Rehashing your resume
You’ll have plenty of other room on your college app to list your extracurriculars, accomplishments, and awards. While it’s okay to mention an accomplishment that’s related to the subject of your essay—for instance, if you’re writing about a particular belief, you might describe an activity that allows you to express it—it shouldn’t be the whole subject of your essay.
Instead, use this as a space to demonstrate your personality and what makes you you. Check out 8 Dos and Don’ts for Crafting Your College Essay for tips.
Writing Your College Essay: The Bottom Line
When it comes down to it, your college essay is about you and your experiences. Your uniqueness should come across. Avoid these six mistakes, and you should be golden!
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.