Bad College Essays

Terrible College Essays, Horrible College Essays, Bad College Admissions Essays

Your child’s essay is probably bad. You might just not recognize this. American high school students just can’t write. And international applicants are even worse in this department (photo credit: Yeungb).

Curious to know what bad college essays look like? Pick any college essay at random submitted to a college — even the highly selective ones — and there’s a great chance that you’ll pull out a bad essay. And why’s that? Because high school students just plain can’t write. It’s a conclusion we came to years ago, one reinforced over the last several years. In fact, in all of our years helping students with their college admissions essays, we can remember one (one!) essay that was actually great before we started helping with revisions. The writing of American high school students (and the international applicants are way worse!) is, quite frankly, horrible.

Let’s give our readers an example of some bad college essay writing. Here is a sample paragraph from an essay. Tell us what you think is wrong with it in the Comments section below: Winning the race was a really big accomplishment for me. It made me really proud to stand on the podium and wave to the crowd, surrounded by so many people I love. I’ll never forget that moment. I’ll never forget that win. It taught me so many valuable life lessons about never giving up and about what it takes to succeed. In this way, sports symbolize life.

And let’s hear your comments on this sample paragraph from a terrible college essay that we’re making up on the spot: Being first chair violin can, at times, be very stressful. If I mess up a note, the whole orchestra can follow my lead. I sit right by the conductor. I am who the audience is looking at. There is so much pressure. And yet I love it. Playing the violin makes me feel alive.

So what’s wrong with these sample paragraph? Is anything right? Definitely not! If you thought anything was right, you might want us to have a look at your college essays. We promise that they’re a whole lot closer to these sample paragraphs than you might think!

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  • Michelle Tara says:

    what’s wrong with these essays? is it what they were writing about? But that does not seem stinking at all. I guess the way they are expressing themselves needs to be fixed. Could you please set these sample paragraghs right so that we can get a clearer picture of what a college essay should look like?

    • Bev Taylor says:

      They are trite!

      • Michelle Tara says:

        is that all..?? i just have a nodding experience with all this so i cannot really tell whether they lack originality or not.

    • Donna Noble says:

      In the sports essay, it’s not great because while it is a great accomplishment, the writer says “It taught me so many valuable life lessons about never giving up and about what it takes to succeed.” But didn’t really talk about many of those lessons.

  • Michelle Tara says:

    no really…. i want to know.. is it just the “freshness” that they are lacking..?? i thought they are not crisp either.. i feel sorry for the folks who wrote these for using such words for their works.. but i am myself a terrible writer.. had i attempted to write an essay, i am dead sure it would have come out even worse… i am just trying to draw a line between an articulate and a bad piece of writing…

  • Michelle Tara says:

    it would be of great help if someone colud rewrite these paraggraghs in better way…

  • Erica says:

    As a writing instructor, I don’t think your description of these (out of context) sample paragraphs is very helpful. I think it would be pedagogically more sound to look at these as starting points rather than wrong versus right. If writing was only ever a game of wrong or right, then it would not be any better than a standardized test. Fortunately, language and writing are more fluid than that. That being said, so answer your question, if these are indeed complete paragraphs, they lack topic and concluding sentences to show the essay ready why these examples are relevant to their qualifications as a potential student. However, the fact that they do attempt to be specific about how they feel in both moments shows a snippet of them as people doing what they love. That’s a good start beyond merely telling an admissions committee why to select them, in my humble, opinion. I should also add that my three degrees come from two small private liberal arts colleges and a large state university. Perhaps we value our applicants differently than our Ivy League counterparts, but I would be loathe to think so.

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