What makes a bad college essay, you ask? Well, there are lots of things that can contribute to a bad college essay. And if you’re not already aware from reading our college admissions blog, the vast majority of college essays that are submitted to the highly selective colleges are atrocious. Atrocious is no exaggeration either. We often roll our eyes to ourselves when a student comes to us and says something along these lines, “I have finished putting together my 650-word Personal Statement. I just need someone to look it over. Can you do that?” Well of course we can do that but we promise you that just because you’ve managed to string together 650 words on a piece of paper (congratulations?), those 650 words strung together are most likely awful. And we say this with about 99% confidence because it is the rare — extremely rare rather — exception when a student writes a good college essay on his or her own.
So what makes for a bad college essay? Telling cliche stories like that time you came back from injury to help your high school soccer team win the league title. Or that time you worked really hard to earn first chair violin. Or that service trip to Nicaragua where you installed whiteboards in classrooms across the country. Sure, that’s nice. But would it surprise you to know that an admissions officer at a highly selective college might think (1) you did this because you thought it would help you gain admission to highly selective colleges, (2) you lack creativity, and (3) mommy and daddy have money to send you to Nicaragua and lucky you got to go. Keep in mind, admissions officers don’t make a whole lot of money. Many of them would love to go to Nicaragua!
Don’t write about grandpa. Don’t write about your chronic illness. Don’t write about your grandpa’s chronic illness. Avoid bragging. Avoid words like “nevertheless.” Don’t listen to what your English teacher tells you. There’s a very good chance he or she doesn’t know what makes for a good college essay. We apologize to English teachers everywhere but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
While you’re here, read more about what makes for a bad college essay.