Application Essays: 19 Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Many students have to overcome various obstacles trying to create a good application essay. One of the most common mistakes is that applicants don’t pay enough attention to their personality, interests, and character. Often applicants tend to write a list of their achievements, thinking that it will impress the commission. The truth is that application essays are aimed to show your personal qualities and your way of thinking.

We’ve asked admission consultants about common mistakes and decided to provide you with a list of useful suggestions that will help you create a proper essay.

  1. Choose the best topic. The Common Application gives you an opportunity of choosing a topic. Most of the individual college applications also imply such a chance, so you have to use this opportunity.

Don’t hurry up, take your time and choose the best subject. We suggest noting all your strong sides and developed skills that may be useful in your college life, such as your background, unusual experiences, achievements, and anything else that describes you as a person (sports, dance, music, etc.) Right after that, rake a look at college requirements and decide which of these topics would fit your task and describe you best. Some applications may require several essays, so you would need to choose a few subjects that are able to provide readers with the complete picture of you.

  1. Answer the question. Pay particular attention to your prompt, and make sure that you understand questions.

For example, if your question consists of describing some issue and its impact on you, we suggest focusing on the impact, because that’s what gives information about your personality. If you’re asked about your experiences or achievements, you also must focus on how these things impacted you.

  1. Be specific and personable. Don’t be generic, because such essays won’t tell the college anything about you in particular. If you’re asked why you’re interested in a particular college, you have to explain what exactly you’re looking for, and which particular features of this college attracted you.

You can brainstorm with your friends. There’s nothing wrong with rejecting ideas. Don’t forget that best essays are vivid, they show rather than tell. Thus, details matter.

  1. Remember the number of words. If your essay must be 300-350 words long, don’t try to write 500 words. Moreover, most colleges won’t accept an essay that exceeds defined limits.

If your essay has only an upper limit, don’t be afraid to make it short. Get rid of unnecessary details and ideas. Avoid clichés and don’t repeat yourself. Make sure that your ideas are clear and concise.

  1. Tone matters. Don’t look down upon your readers, don’t focus on your privileges, and don’t be cynic or sarcastic. All these things will be a reason why admission officers conclude that you don’t fit the college.

You can use a bit of humor, but only in case, it looks natural. Don’t try to make your essay funny.

  1. Don’t look too self-interested. We know that there are a few really altruistic applicants, but you don’t need to be one of them.

Just show the commission that you’re interested in what you can learn and what contribution you can make to the college life, instead of asking what the college can do for you.

  1. Don’t rely on spell checkers installed by default. It’s nice if Microsoft Word underlines some mistakes, but it’s not the only tool that can help you get rid of grammar errors.

Moreover, even if you don’t have such mistakes, it doesn’t mean that your essay is correct regarding its sense. Read it slowly, or ask somebody to help you.

  1. Don’t ignore the mundane. Some of the best essays were inspired just by a simple conversation.

Talking to people, we sometimes get a new perspective or enlightenment, which is a great experience to share with others. Details of conversation also will help readers understand your values and what kind of person you are.

  1. Don’t write about your trips and volunteering experience. If you’ve devoted your life to helping others, it may be a strong basis for your essay, but if you’ve been a volunteer in some school for a couple weeks, you certainly won’t impress admission officers.

The truth is that too many students write about their journeys and volunteering practice, so you won’t be unique. Such essays are also usually focused on experiences instead of personal aspects.

  1. Never repeat your resume. There are other parts of the application where you can describe your achievements. Essays are aimed to reveal your qualities that are not visible in other parts of the application.

Admission officers want to know such things about you as the ability to work with others, initiative, motivation, confidence, character, leadership, resilience, etc. In other words, your essay must represent you as a person.

  1. Assess your task generally. Some types of applications require you to write several essays, each one of which gives a brief answer to a certain question. We suggest not considering each essay in a vacuum.

Take a look at the whole task and plan which essay will be devoted to a particular question. You have to create a holistic picture.

  1. Don’t overuse the thesaurus. If you think that long and sophisticated words in every sentence make you look smarter, you’re wrong. It only makes your essay unreadable, and you also risk using some words in an inappropriate way.

Don’t force admission officers to check a dictionary while reading your essay. Moreover, if your English level in the essay is much higher than your SAT/ACT scores and school grades, they will assume that you’ve just purchased it.

  1. Forget about your ego. Maybe you really love yourself, but nobody likes narcissists. Colleges are not looking for bullies or people who boast about their achievements.

Of course, you have to be self-confident, but make sure that you have some self-criticism.

  1. Focus on positive things. Don’t write about your weak sides.

The only exception may be if you want to tell how you’ve changed and overcome these weaknesses.

  1. Proofread your essay. Don’t try to submit your application as fast as you can. Take your time and make sure you haven’t missed any mistake.

Find somebody who can help you with proofreading, or order professional proofreading online.

  1. Organize your essay. Good essays are distinguished by a proper structure. Your essay must begin with the strong introduction, well-organized body part, and impressive conclusions.

We suggest starting with an outline which helps you plan the whole text and draw up the paragraph structure. Make sure that you provide your readers with necessary background information so that they would understand all the details of your topic. For example, there was a student who has written an essay about his difficulties at school, but he forgot to mention that his family just moved into the town from another country, and he barely spoke English. Invest your time in planning your work, and you’ll be rewarded for sure.

  1. Get information about a particular college. Every college has its own mission, slogan, or specific areas it’s really good at.

Learn some facts about your college and let the commission see that you’re interested in this particular college for a reason.

  1. Pay attention to the introduction. Admission officers have to read hundreds of similar essays, and your goal is to grab their attention and make your essay really unique. The very first sentences of your essay may make them either want to read further or roll their eyes and yawn.

Your introduction must be intriguing. Give your readers a little hint of what you’re going to talk about and omit some details, so that they would want to learn more.

  1. Start early. Time management is really important. Don’t start writing when it’s only three days left before the deadline. Prepare that your essay may take much more time than you expect.

Re-read your essay a few times, and give it to your friends, to get some useful suggestions. Remember that most of the great writers gained their success because they had excellent editors.

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