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Mistakes to Avoid in College Application Essays

Writing college essays is a much more time-consuming process than most applicants expect. Depending on the colleges where a student applies, the essay requirements can vary from writing a single Common App or Coalition essay to writing many supplements for varying colleges. In my personal experience, I ended up writing about 15 essays for the six schools to which I applied. Some supplements vary from a few sentences to a full page essay depending on the prompt and word count limit. That is why it is imperative to start early – the summer before senior year. This gives you the optimal amount of time to go through several drafts with edits and revisions and allows time to ask others to read the essays and see if they can hear your voice in the writing. As you narrow your college lists, you can start to look at the specific prompts and word/length requirements.

In choosing essay readers, I suggest choosing someone who knows you very well in addition to a teacher who has read other works of yours in class. Ask them if they can get a sense of who you are through the writing. I say this because the whole point of the main “tell us about yourself” essay and additional supplements is to get to know who you are as an individual and how you might fit into a college besides grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

In light of this fact, below I will quickly highlight some common phrases from application essays that should be avoided.

1. “For as long as I can remember”

Used too commonly in essays

2. “Little did I know”

Again, used too commonly in essays

3. “I just knew” or “I just felt it”

This is specifically for the question that asks why you want to attend a certain university. This is your time to show just how much you know about a university you really want to go to, even if you didn’t get to physically visit or go to a college fair. Be specific in what makes you want to attend that university - special majors or departments, certain research or professors, campus resources, etc.

4. “I was at a loss of words” or “I have no words to describe”

Don’t be vague when describing your reaction to an event because that won’t help to set you apart from the rest of the applicants or give true insight into your feelings. Think of adjectives to describe how you felt.

5. “Like Minded Peers”

Again, this is specifically for the question about “why _____ university/college”. You most likely wouldn’t use this phrase in your common conversations.

Last Thoughts

  • Make each sentence unique to you. You don’t need to be overly formal in your language but also don't use slang.

  • Add personal details and not just generic phrases

  • Make sure what you say is in your own language and not a British Literature writer. You want your actual voice and personality to be heard

  • Don’t start essays with quotes. If you choose a quote, make it personal and incorporate it into your writing.

Admissions counselors read hundreds of these essays for many hours. They probably don’t want to hear the same phrases over and over, so it’s important to make your essay unique.

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