There are a number of mistakes students make in their college admissions essays, mistakes that significantly hurt their cases for admission. But there are certain mistakes that so many students make each and every year that we figured we’d highlight for the loyal readers of our college admissions blog in the hope that maybe, just maybe it’ll dissuade students from writing these sorts of things in their admissions essays in future years. These sorts of mistakes, mistakes committed not only within the Common Application Personal Statement but also within supplemental essays are, in our view, egregious blunders.
1. Dialogue. While there can be exceptions, when college applicants start off their essays with dialogue, it typically reads as juvenile.
2. Webster’s Dictionary definitions. Thanks for letting us know how Webster’s Dictionary defines a word. An admissions officer is hoping to gain insight into you. If they wanted to study the dictionary, certainly they could find a Webster’s Dictionary somewhere.
3. Life lessons. That time you fell down in a track meet but got back up and realized the importance of perseverance — you bet it rings as cliché. Big time.
4. Starting too many sentences with ‘I’. Mix it up. “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.” It’s not all about you. And if you’ve never seen “The Brady Bunch,” you surely won’t understand our reference but we’re ok with that.
5. Spelling and grammatical errors. Yes, it’s obvious. But sometimes we feel the need to state the obvious. Proofread every word of every sentence of every essay. It’s rare when we read an essay that we didn’t work on with a student that doesn’t have spelling and / or grammatical errors.
6. Subtle or not-so-subtle brags. Don’t try to impress. You’re going to turn admissions officers off. Don’t write about winning some competition. That’s an award to list under Honors. It’s not something you should be writing about in essays.
7. Generic sentences in Why College essays. “I want to go to UPenn because the school offers a great liberal arts education.” Fantastic. So does every other highly selective school. You’re fooling nobody that you wrote that sentence specifically for UPenn.
8. Windows into your youth. College admissions officers want to read about you in the present day. They don’t want to read about what you were like as an eight year-old. Bring your story into the present — from the beginning.
9. Disparaging others. Don’t put down classmates or others to try to make yourself look better. It’ll have the opposite impact.
10. Summaries. Admissions officers didn’t forget what you wrote earlier on in the essay. They aren’t goldfish. There’s no need to repeat things. Use all of the real estate you have to offer new insights.