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Things to Avoid in Your College Essay
We’re sure that by now you’ve heard a lot about what to include in your college essays, but it’s also good to refresh yourself on elements you should avoid.
Portraying yourself as the “perfect student”
Often times students will try to write their essays in order to portray themselves as being what they consider to be the “ideal” student; studious, intelligent, active, and without flaws. They try to fit the mold of what they think the admissions officers want to see, rather than just being true to who they are as an individual. Unfortunately, admissions officers can see right through this type of writing. They know that no one is perfect, and they’ll also know if you’re lying or trying too hard. For example, students will sometimes try to replace all of the adjectives in their essay with more impressive-sounding synonyms from the thesaurus, thinking that it will make them come off as more intelligent to the reader. Sadly, it does the reverse, and readers will be able to instantly realize what has been done. Instead, write like you normally would write a paper, using your own voice and your own style. The admissions officer wants to know you as your true self, not who you think they want to see.
Using irrelevant quotes or examples
In school, students have often developed the practice of starting an essay with a famous quote. This practice often transfers over to the college essay, but many times, the quote will not be tied into the theme of the rest of the essay, thus wasting valuable word usage. Admissions officers want to hear your voice, not the voice of a famous individual. If a quote must be used in the essay, make sure it is highly relevant and necessary in order to make your point. If it is not, then discard it, and use the space to develop your own thoughts and ideas. The same goes for real-life examples. Sometimes students will elaborate on an example in their essay that strayed too far from the point they were trying to make. Be sure that all examples demonstrate what you intended for them to show. For example, if you wanted your essay to focus on your commitment to volunteer service, make sure all of your examples help demonstrate that commitment, and do not stray off into tangents.
Not answering the essay prompt
The biggest mistake that some applicants make, and one that can instantly get your essay and application thrown out, is failing to follow the directions and answer all questions in the essay prompt. It is imperative that you answer all parts of the prompt. Pay attention to multi-part questions and re-read your essay after writing to make sure that each part is mentioned and elaborated on.
Listing accomplishments
Your essay is your chance to demonstrate to the admissions officer why you should be accepted to their school, which causes some students to want to brag and boast about all of their accomplishments and successes. However, admissions officers are still looking for modesty and humility, someone who will contribute to both the academic sphere and the social sphere at their school; they don’t want to accept someone who seems too full of themselves or too much of a braggart to get along with others. It’s important to highlight your accomplishments, but it’s also important to check yourself and realize when you’re just bragging or when you’re being honest.
Writing about a popular topic in a general way
Because many college essay prompts are similar, and many students’ experience similar things in their high school or college experience, often times a handful of essay topics will be repeated by many applicants. These include things like sports events, volunteer work, coping with a death or a loss, and overcoming an injury or a natural disaster. After about the third time reading about how the applicant scored the winning goal on their school’s hockey team, you can imagine how bored an admissions officer can get by reading the same thing over and over again. This is not to dissuade you from using common topics (though if you can, that’s normally a better course of action), but is meant to persuade you to write about it differently. What about your telling of your story about your volunteer trip will set you apart from everyone else’s volunteer trip? Make sure to highlight those differences and truly make your telling of your tale personal to your experience, and your experience alone. Avoid general statements and focus on unique details and their significance to you.
Submitting an essay with errors
One of the most careless things that an applicant can do is submit an essay with grammatical or spelling errors. This shows that the student failed to proofread their own essay, something that should be done multiple times. This also demonstrates a lack of consideration of details or importance to the admissions officer. One way you can avoid this pitfall is to reread your essay out loud and have others read it for you.
Writing about everything other than yourself
Sometimes essay prompts will ask you to talk about your role model or someone who helped you. The challenge for these kinds of prompts is to write about your role model, while still making yourself the topic of your essay. Be sure to sufficiently describe and demonstrate how your role model or your family’s behaviors and actions have specifically impacted you and your values and behaviors. You need to make sure that connection is clear and prevalent.