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Most Common Mistakes in College Application Essays

College applications are some of the most stressful activities that students endure. You have to take SATs, excel in school with a strong GPA, ask for letters of recommendation, and ultimately write that college essay. Many people gloss over this portion of the application, thinking it the most unimportant. However, it is your only time to shine as yourself. Your personality will come through. So, it is better to write the best essay you can, otherwise, committees might second-guess your top scores or glowing letters of recommendation. Here is list of common errors we have found while editing college application essays.

  1. Reiteration of Resume
    • Explanation: Students sometimes re-write their resume in their essay. The problem is that it takes up so much space and doesn't tell them anything new. The committee already has your resume in front of them. They don't want to read it in prose. They want to hear something new.
    • Fix: Look at your essay and if all of it can be found on your resume, then find a new story and tell it to them. Mainly write about experiences that cannot be found on your resume.
  2. Reiteration of Grades/Scores
    • Explanation: Students also praise themselves in their essays for strong grades and scores. Do not do so. Again, the committee already has your scores written elsewhere in the application.
    • Fix: Go through the essay and take out excessive discussion of your academic achievements. You can mention your GPA if you want to, but it is not necessary. The committee wants to know YOU as a person, not you as a grade-making machine.
  3. Excessive Praise (Brown-nosing)
    • Explanation: While schools love to hear praise about themselves, they already know how amazing they are. They want to hear how amazing YOU are. They will think you have little substance or little self-praise if all you do is worship them.
    • Fix: Look through your essay solely for brown-nosing. While it is important to show a school why you want to go there, ways exist to do so without looking too one-sided.
  4. Lack of Personal Growth
    • Explanation: If your essay is simply about thing you have done, without any personal growth or change, you have not thought through the question long enough. Schools want to see how you have changed from people you have met and experiences you have had.
    • Fix: If you are frustrated and feel you have never changed, then just make it up. You have inevitably changed somewhat from year to year. Find someone in your life and create a growth. It will be hard, but it is better than not showing any sort of intellectual and/or personal exploration.
  5. Doubt/Attention to Weaknesses
    • Explanation: Most students have one thing that is less than stellar on their applications (be it SATs, GPA, lack of extra-curricular activities). Do not draw attention to this weakness in this essay. There will be other places on the application to explain a weakness.
    • Fix: Read your essay solely for weakness and take them out!
  6. Spelling errors/Typos
    • Explanation: Typos and spelling mistakes can ruin your entire essay, flawless as it may read. You don't want committees thinking you can't spell well enough to get into their school.
    • Fix: Do not simply use spell-check on your computer. Do a word-by-word spell-check and give it to someone else to read for these type of errors. Sometimes other people can catch errors that you miss.
  7. Punctuation problems
    • Explanation: Like spelling, punctuation can ruin a perfectly well-designed essay. Be careful of those commas and periods.
    • Fix: Read through your essay for punctuation only. If you don't know how to use a comma or a semi-colon, ask someone or pick up a grammar book. This is something so easily fixed, it would be a shame to ruin your essay in its basis.
  8. What the University can do for YOU
    • Explanation: So many students write about what the school can do for them. So many of them forget to write about what they can do for the school. Schools know how great and powerful they are. They know how much they can help every student. They don't want to hear just that. They want a bit more.
    • Fix: If you don't already have one, add a paragraph of how you can help the school. Yes, this may sound rather pompous, but schools want students who will bring pride to their name.
  9. Lack of structure
    • Explanation: If an essay is just a bunch of thoughts thrown together, it is hardly cohesive and convincing.
    • Fix: Write an outline, paragraph by paragraph, on what you want to say in your essay. Follow the outline!
  10. Self-Doubt
    • Explanation: Many essays are plagued by self-doubt. The inner confusion of the student may inadvertently come through in the writing of the essay. You do not want the school's admission committee to think you doubt yourself in any way.
    • Fix: Give the essay to someone else to read to make sure it is confident. Do not talk about negative issues in it.