Should I Avoid Cliches in My College Admission Essay?

Is it okay to use a cliche in your college application essay? The answer might surprise you. Read our expert's advice here!

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
Last year, a counselor from Atlanta asked what advice I would give a student who wanted to use his personal statement to show colleges that he “gives 110% to everything he does.” She knew it was a cliché—an overused or tired phrase that’s both unoriginal and a bit boring. The counselor wondered if clichés were bad to use in a college admission essay. She thought they might be, but the answer is no, not really! Phrases like “I give 110%” and “I’m a hard worker” are clichés, but it’s perfectly fine to start your essay with familiar phrases when you want to demonstrate that you persevere or face challenges with grace.

You and your classmates have a lot of the same experiences: working as camp counselors, making pizzas, watching your little siblings while your parents work, bagging groceries, holding leadership positions in school organizations, joining sports teams and youth groups, and more. You face similar tragedies too: someone you love dies, your parents’ divorce, you or someone close to you struggles with mental illness, etc. Colleges want to know who you are beyond accomplishments, tragedies, and experiences. As long as you answer the essay prompt and demonstrate your positive characteristics, any topic can work.

I don’t know where my students' stories will end up when they start writing. I know what they want to convey, so I trust the process and listen. I pay attention. I follow the student’s lead, no matter what words they choose—even if they start with a cliché. At Wow Writing Workshop, we usually suggest our students edit out cliché statements later. The topics themselves still shine through. So embrace the cliché. You never know where it might lead you!

If you want to learn College Essay 101 basics, sign up for Wow’s free monthly class for students or listen to the recordingAnd for more quick answers to your college admission questions, check out our Ask the Experts section!

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