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  • Swati Chopra

15 Mistakes to Avoid When Writing College Application Essays

If you’re a senior, August is a good time for you to start working on your essays. There’s no doubt that some will procrastinate and put them off until October, but it’s worth your while to at least glance at the prompts and questions on the Common App and UC websites.

Here is a list of 15 mistakes that might cost you admission to your favorite college. Some mistakes might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many students still fail to correct them.

1. Not proofreading your essay. Once you’re done writing, wait for 24 hours and then go back and proofread. You’ll be surprised at the grammar and spelling mistakes you missed (autocorrect is not always your friend). If you’ve already proofread half a dozen times, you may benefit from a fresh pair of eyes.

2. Not really answering the question. This may sound surprising, but it’s easy to forget to answer the prompt, especially when you've got several other prompts waiting for you for different essays.To help manage this workload, recycling your essays is a perfectly fine strategy, as long as you ensure that each essay still caters to its respective prompt. Admissions officers are turned off when an essay doesn’t answer the question, no matter how well written. You’ll come across as someone who doesn’t care enough about the school you’re applying to or just doesn’t follow directions.

3. Trying to be someone who you think they want you to be. This may seem obvious, but you shouldn’t make yourself out to be someone else. It always backfires and admissions officers prefer to read about the real you. Besides, it’s always easier to be honest and genuine. Keep the essay true to who you are and let the real you shine through.

4. Writing about things that don’t matter to you. When you choose to write about something that isn’t close to your heart, you’re going to have a tough time putting it together. It’s much easier to write about a hobby or interest that you’re passionate about, no matter how common you might think it is. The goal is to take something (you might perceive as) ordinary and turn it into something interesting by showing the admissions officers how it affected your character, and how it contributes to who you are.

5. Not giving yourself enough time to think and plan out the essays. Procrastinators will procrastinate but you’ll be better off if you at least start thinking of what you want to write about. It won’t come together overnight. Giving yourself ample time to brainstorm before you start writing will make the whole process much more manageable.

6. Exaggerating. We all do it here and there but think twice before exaggerating on your application or essay. If you enjoyed babysitting, write about it but don’t call yourself a Child Care Manager. (Yes, someone did do that). If you give yourself enough time to think about what you want to write, you’ll find a lot of things to write about, without the need to exaggerate.

7. Understating. On the flip side, don’t be too modest. The personal statement is there to give admissions officers a peek into who you are. It’s your place to shine and write about why you’re the best choice for them. The application covers all the scores and grades but the essay is your chance to talk about you- who you are and what makes you stand apart from the crowd.

8. Including your entire life history. Most essays need to be under 800 words so there’s not much space to put down your top 10 life achievements since birth. You’ll need to find the top one or two and take it from there. The personal statement or essay shouldn’t be a list but instead you should find a memory or an occurrence that resonated with you and made you who you are today.

9. Forgetting who your audience is. Remember that the admissions officers are adults, not your peers. Your essay should be well written and comfortable to read. While keeping it informal is OK, stay away from slang. Period.

10. Inappropriate humor. Remember what’s funny to you might not be funny to someone else. While most admissions officers are not senior citizens, they are strangers to you. Laughing at yourself is different than making an off colored joke. Keep your humor at a respectable level or the joke will be on you.

11. Repeating facts found on your application. Think of the essay as an extra space to talk about yourself. This is prime real estate so keep it for your personal story and resist the urge to repeat your academic achievements or extracurriculars.

12. Not getting feedback from others. Once you’re done writing (and rewriting) you should get someone to look over your essays. Having one or two extra pair of eyes will help make sure your essays are easy to read and to the point.

13. Getting too much feedback. One or two proofreaders should be sufficient. Any more and you’ll risk losing control of your writing. Everyone’s style of writing is different. Remember, admissions officers don’t want a perfect essay, they want a genuine one.

14. Tackling the hardest prompt first. While this method may make sense when you’re doing homework, I think you’re better off going down your list of colleges in the order of deadlines or favorites. If you’re applying to 10 schools, look at their deadlines and work accordingly. Or better yet, tackle the essays of your top 3 favorite schools while you still have the energy.

15. Waiting until the last minute. This is another no-brainer but the applications will pile up and before you know it, you’ll be tired and drained. Procrastinating is something we all do. For different reasons. Your college application is not the place to test a last minute essay. You might get lucky and find that you wrote the best essay of your young life. But the odds of that happening are too low and there’s too much at stake.


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