The Ivy Coach Daily

April 19, 2011

College Admissions Essay Tips

Bragging in the college essay is unwise and yet so many students make this mistake.

In this first part of our series on exploring common mistakes college applicants often make in their college admissions essays, we’re going to present you with a paragraph we’ve written that is emblematic of so many essays students submit to colleges. Some of the paragraphs will feature huge mistakes while others will have only minor mistakes. But even those minor mistakes can very easily lead to a denial.  In this blog, we will also analyze why this essay paragraph will more likely lead to a denial than an acceptance. We hope that these college admissions essay tips prove helpful as juniors begin thinking about writing their college essays.

Here’s our fictitious paragraph:

I have always excelled in math. Numbers are my passion. During eighth grade, I placed first in a Math Olympiad Competition in which students from across the state competed. I followed up that performance sophomore year with a sixth place finish in PUMaC (Princeton University Mathematics Competition) and a solid finish in HMT (the Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament). I’m looking forward to competing in more math competitions this coming year. Math is definitely my focus area and it is the discipline I wish to pursue in my college studies.


This paragraph features a plethora of mistakes but which one of these mistakes is more egregious than the others, you ask? The answer is – the listing of accomplishments. Too often, students feel the need to brag in college essays. This student bragged about winning a math olympiad, placing sixth in the Princeton University Mathematics Competition, and mentioned a whole lot of other stuff that makes this essay just plain boring.  All of these accomplishments are not only redundant (the student probably listed them on her activity sheet) but they will also likely lead the admissions officer reading the essay to cringe.

College admissions essays are not a forum to toot your own horn. Instead, it is a forum to share your unique POV, your perspective, your voice. There are also other mistakes in this paragraph. Besides the fact that no one is going to care about what this applicant accomplished in eighth grade, this entire paragraph is one big tell.  In writing a great essay, it’s important to show rather than tell. This candidate told us that she is passionate about math and then listed her accomplishments in math. Instead, she could have shown us how she did math puzzles while eating Cheerios or how she sees mathematical patterns on billboards or how she believe “Numb3rs” was the greatest television show ever made.

We hope this first installment of college admissions essay tips proved helpful. Check back for future installments in this series.

And check out our related blogs: College Admissions Essay and College Essay Mistakes.

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