Steering Clear of College Application Essay Mistakes

by
CollegeXpress Student Writer

Feb   2017

Mon

13

One mistake on your college application essay can prove fatal to your odds of being admitted. Okay, it would have to be a pretty big mistake, like using a different college’s name. A misplaced comma isn’t going to ruin your chances of going to college, but still!

Keep yourself on the sunny side of your target college’s radar by avoiding these simple yet costly essay mistakes.

Don’t force yourself out of your comfort zone too much

While you’ll probably have multiple application essay prompts to choose from (the Common Application has a bunch), it is up to you to decide which one suits you best. However, don’t feel obligated to choose the most complex question simply because you feel it would “impress” the college or university. Choose the essay prompt or question that will compliment you. Read a step-by-step example to get a feel of what you want your essays to sound like.

Those generic essays aren’t gonna cut it

Remember that essay you wrote with the same topic for that one school? Scrap it. Don’t copy and paste the same essay for another college or even scholarship. Even though you might have a sentence or two that might work for multiple colleges, it’s crucial that you tailor your application essays to each college on your list. The time you take trying to alter the essay to fit the next college or university will only consume time you could have spent in creating a fresh essay that feels authentic and more you. And heaven forbid you forget to exchange school names or big, glaring details about a completely different school.

Read and re-read the essay prompt or question

Read the essay prompt carefully so you truly understand it is extremely important in showing the admission officers that you are dedicated to their college. (This is also another reason why I recommend not reusing essays.) Even while in the midst of writing, go back and re-read the question. Make sure—and keep making sure—that you are on the right track and are adequately responding to the original prompt. It’s okay to digress a little bit, as long as it keeps true to the question.

Don’t be a stranger

Don’t be afraid to be personable and personal with your essay. Talk about your family, your hometown, your school, your favorite activities, your goals. After all, with the application essay the college wants to get to know you as a person, not just as a student. Present yourself for who you are. Don’t put on a façade—and don’t be fake. But do add some flair to the generic student essay.

Be specific

College application essays work best when they are exploring a specific aspect of your life and how you changed and grew from it. For example, if you are writing about your time on a sports team, don’t just talk about your accomplishments on the field. Talk about how the experience translated to the classroom, at home, when volunteering, or your future plans. Colleges want to know what you gained from all those years playing a sport. Even if you played a minimal role, chances are you learned a lesson or two. Ask yourself: How did working together as a team affect me? Was there a time I needed to step up if someone was injured? Was there a change in my leadership position from freshman to senior year? How did this leadership translate into my personal life?

Read your essay out loud

This is an everyday writing tip that works great on your college essay. Even if your essay sounds fantastic in your head, read it out loud. This can help you identify any awkward parts or choppy sentences that upset the flow of the application essay. This is also a great way to find any grammatical or spelling errors that you or even your computer may not have picked up on.

Related: College Application Proofreading Tips from an Editor–in–Chief 

You need an extra pair of eyes

It is always recommended that you have a teacher or parent look over your application essay(s) for anything that doesn’t fit. I tore the first draft of my essay torn apart after my English teacher looked at it; she very quickly saw the essay did not capture who I was as a person. The final result was very different from the first. You may experience this as well—and that’s okay. Changes are great for essays! I also highly recommend having a close friend look it over. They can add that final missing piece of the puzzle that makes your essay truly stand out.

Have you managed to avoid all these college application essay mistakes? Do you have any to add? Leave a comment or get in touch.

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About Emily A. McKeon

Emily A. McKeon

Emily A. McKeon was raised in a small town on the Jersey Shore, located precisely between two major cities. This offered endless opportunities. On top of countless AP courses, she spends her time doing freelance editing and working on her own numerous works in progress. She is extremely excited to join the CollegeXpress team!

 
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