How to Write a College Application Essay: Avoiding Common Mistakes

Despite all of the help and preparation guides out there, students still trip over a number of common obstacles in their college application essays. Unfortunately, making these mistakes can keep you from attending the college or university of your choice. Here’s a list of some common mistakes and ways to avoid them:

  • Choosing a hard topic. Applicants are often given a choice of the essay topic they would like to write on. But students often make the mistake of choosing the most difficult topic, with the belief that this is the best way to impress admissions committees. Make an inventory of your key achievements and experiences, any adjectives that describe you, as well as anything significant in your background. Then use this summary to select your essay topic.
  • Not answering the question. Be sure to read the prompt carefully and watch out for the two part question. If you decide, for instance, to discuss an issue and its importance to you make sure you spend time describing why it is important to you. Your readers are looking for a window into your character, passion and reasoning.
  • Not being specific. You’re not going to let the admissions committee know much about you with a generic essay. Strong essays should have more “show” than “tell” – this means they should have specific examples that answer the essay prompt directly. If you are asked to give reasons for your desire to get into a specific school or program, make sure you address this part with clear explanations.
  • Not following length requirements. Many application prompts give a desired number of words or a range. If it’s 300 to 350, don’t insert your 700 word essay. For applications with an upper word limit, don’t stress if your application essay appears too short. You want to show that you can express an idea clearly and succinctly. Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
  • Being self-interested and materialistic. Most college admissions officers are turned off by applicants who are more concerned about what the school can do for them, rather than show how they can be a contributing member of the campus and how they can benefit from the education. Try to show some unselfishness and talk about how you will make the school a better place.
  • Not proofreading. Applicants who solely rely on their computer’s spellchecker might find themselves submitting an application with poor grammar and misused words. Remember that just because everything is spelled right, doesn’t mean it’s correct. Print and read your essay slowly and aloud to check for word choice, grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes.

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