The Ivy Coach Daily

June 6, 2024

Using ’Impressive’ Vocabulary in College Essays

Previously Published on August 19, 2011:

The vernacular used in collegiate epistolary prose should be compendious and demotic. Did you understand that sentence? Neither would a college admissions officer! One of the biggest mistakes students make when writing their college application essays is using big fancy words in place of succinct, colloquial ones. You might think your SAT vocabulary terms will impress admissions officers at highly selective universities, but more often than not such words only serve to confuse your point and muddle the flow of your writing. Let your English language performance in the classroom speak for itself, and leave the verbose writing style to the academics!

The Pitfalls of Trying to Impress Admissions Officers with Your Vocabulary

The trouble with using big vocabulary words in college essays is that students often do not know their proper usage, context, or tone. For example, the word disillusionment might sound good in theory, but unless the student knows exactly what it means and how to use it, it could easily be inserted incorrectly into an essay and serve as a stumbling block for any reader. If one were to open some of the most renowned literary works in the canon, they might be surprised to see that celebrated authors use big words sparingly and with precision. Verbosity (or wordiness) does not a writer make!

In place of big words sprinkled into an essay like seasoning, students should write in a way that comes naturally to them. Admissions officers can tell when a student’s writing does not come from the heart. The last impression a student wants to give to their readers is that they are insecure about their writing prowess and seek to overcompensate with grandiose vocabulary, or worse, that the writing is someone else’s that they are passing off as theirs. If you got a B in English but suddenly have a strong grasp on college-level diction in your essay, that will come off as suspicious! Of course, every essay needs a top editor to take a look and point out any flaws, but no one should add big flourishes where they don’t belong.

What Makes a College Essay Successful?

The most competitive essays in applications to highly selective colleges communicate their ideas compellingly, concisely, and clearly (the three Cs!). The topic of a Personal Statement should reflect the student’s singular hook and personal passion. More important than any other factor, this particular college essay should be a window into its writer’s brain. What makes them tick? What inspires them? What is something for which they have a unique treasure trove of knowledge? Once a topic is chosen, it should be written in lay terms, as though the reader has an amateur’s knowledge. You might be an expert on next-generation solar technology, but your application reader probably isn’t!

Students interested in the humanities departments of their prospective colleges should, within reason, flex their vocabulary within their college essays, but only with words that are already a part of their own vocabulary. Do you use the word obsequious in your day to day life? Great! Feel free to include it in your essay, but double check that you’ve used it correctly. One wrong move and you’ve definitively proven to admissions officers that you will not make a good student of the humanities in their program!

How Ivy Coach Helps Students Craft the Most Compelling Essays Possible

Bo knows baseball. Ivy Coach knows good writing. Our team of college counselors and expert editors knows what plays well among admissions officers these days and what falls flat. We work collaboratively with our clients to craft an essay that reflects the student’s genuine passion and communicates its ideas as effectively as possible.

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s assistance in optimizing your child’s college essays for highly selective college admission, fill out our complimentary consultation form, and we’ll be in touch.

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