Bad College Essays: 10 Common Mistakes

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Sometimes admission offices see so good essays that they want to publish them and share these examples of wonderful work with others so that people like you could see what they’re expecting form you. At the same time, there’re a lot of horrible essays, and you can find many of them on Reddit.

Of course, we can’t make you a perfect writer, but we can surely say that if you follow all our useful advice, you won’t be the worst writer in the world. Just make sure that you don’t do some common mistakes that make your essay bad. We’ll take a look at some bad topics and features of bad essays. We are also going to tell you what to do in case you’ve just written a bad essay.

So, what is so special in bad essays? Do they have anything in common? Yes, they have. Students often choose wrong topics, they write controversial thesis statements that are not supported by evidence, etc.


The easiest way to write a bad essay is choosing a wrong topic. Don’t write a lot about how you decided to consider such an issue, or what your essay is about. Content really matters, and if it’s poor, you will get a corresponding grade. Your essay is aimed to show your strong sides, to let the commission of some university or college choose you. You have to express your character, your talents, and personality. In other words, you have to impress the commission, and poor content will ruin this impression.

Some topics can say a lot about you, for example, that you are not mature enough, or your judgement is not logical enough. Such an impression will play a bad joke with you, since the campus life requires you to be independent and adult.

There are also topics that will represent you as a quite boring person. If the commission will think that you live a quiet and boring life, it will be definitely an undesirable impression, since the college life implies various dynamic activities and an active schedule.

When applicants choose some specific topics, the commission can conclude that they are out of touch with the outside world or too selfish. This is a big problem, since you have to be open to other people and new ideas. All commissions search for students who are able to do both these things.


Obviously, topics are not the only important things. You may choose a good topic, but write about it in a bad way. The point is that your thoughts must be structured and coherent. If you’re unable to express your thoughts in a proper way, it will lead to a bad essay. Don’t forget that commissions assess your maturity, as well as your writing skills.

The first major problem with writing itself is incorrect punctuation or syntax mistakes. In other words, you can make some technical mistakes. Such a problem is of key significance, since if you’re applying to a college, you must be able to write appropriately. High school graduates should know grammar well.

Another common mistake is forgetting about prompt instructions. Maybe you’re too creative to follow them, or maybe you don’t care about what others say. Anyway, the commission will consider it like the second case. They are looking for people who can receive new information and follow guidelines given by professors.

Topics to Avoid

You may have noticed that most topics are about some trivial everyday things. If you want to know why, here’s the answer: such topics increase chances for you to choose one of the following categories and fail.

Too Personal Topics

If your essay is too personal, there’s a high risk that you will reveal too private things about your life. You have to understand boundaries, because it’s a key to a natural way of life when there are many people around you.

You may think that such a problem is rather rare, but you would be surprised to know how many applicants do such mistakes. We suggest using a simple test. Imagine yourself sitting on a plane besides a stranger. If you won’t tell something this guy, you certainly shouldn’t write it in your essay.

Here are a few examples of too personal things:

  • How you’ve lost your virginity or other juicy details about your sexual life. We don’t mean that you cannot mention sex or your sexual orientation, just leave all the intimate moments out.
  • Too detailed description of physical disability, illnesses, or any body functions. The story of your struggle with some physical problems may be inspiring and impressive, but make sure that you keep your essay meaningful and don’t shock your readers with some vivid horror pictures.
  • Focusing on how awesome is your love and how great are your relationships. People who are related to your private life may be excited about your feelings, but don’t expect everyone to be so.
  • Strange confessions. Some of us may have strange fantasies or desires; some of them may be sexual or illegal. You can always talk about it to your friends or therapist, but the commission of the college is definitely not the best audience for such confessions. If you’re obsessed with breeding cats, it’s a good thing to write about, but if you’re thinking about cooking drugs in your basement, don’t tell anyone.

Too Revealing Topics

Once again, there are things that you would better not share with others. If you did something immoral or illegal a long time ago, it might rather create a bad impression. However, there are a few exceptions, and we are talking about cases when you’ve been in a completely different state or unusual circumstances (facing serious danger, being forced to do something, or being too young). You can write about how you have completely changed your live and turned the page, but even in this case don’t be too focused on bad things that you did.

Here are a few examples:

  • Crime. If you have something bad in your permanent record, you can take a chance and explain how you’ve learned this important lesson, and how you’ve changed. Don’t describe a crime as a something exciting or fun.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Even if cannabis is legal in your state, we suggest not writing about getting high. If you like to drink, it’s not what the commission should know about you. The only drug that you can write about is caffeine.
  • Made up stories about your life. Don’t test your luck, because you don’t want to be caught on a lie. Do it only if you’re a brilliant fantasist.
  • Details about your personal flaws. Everyone has bad sides, but it’s not what your essay must be about. A little exception may be a story about how you overcome procrastination or how you quit smoking.

Overconfident Topics

You must be self-confident, but don’t turn your essay into a narcissistic story of how great you are. If you want to write about your significant accomplishments, we suggest focusing on moments of doubts or difficulties rather than on your triumph which makes you love yourself so much. Here are some examples of overconfident things:

  • Image of you as a superhero who can do everything. The story of your flawlessness will look even more miserable in case you’re writing about something which is not really significant, like scoring a goal.
  • Exaggeration of your accomplishments. Maybe you like helping others, but if you fed homeless people a couple years ago, it doesn’t make you a great philanthropist.

Boring Topics and Cliché

Don’t forget about your audience. Admissions of any colleges have read thousands of essays, and you have to make your paper noticeable. Don’t lose such an opportunity by writing about something obvious or boring. Thus, don’t write following things:

  • Your resume. Don’t turn your essay into your resume or a detailed description of your main activity. You can do it only in case you’ve got a specific assignment. Usually applications include a separate part devoted to your activities, so don’t repeat yourself. An essay must describe your personality and other interests.
  • Sports. All the athletes think that such an essay will impress others, but they are wrong. It could be a nice solution only in case your story is really unique and mind-blowing. Otherwise, we suggest choosing a different subject.
  • Exciting trips to third-world countries. Let us guess: you’ve been surprised by the culture and how happy are these people, even though they are so poor. And yeah, you’ve suddenly realized that you have so many opportunities that they don’t have. You’re not the only one who has such an experience. Thousands of applicants have written the exact same things before.
  • Something sad happened, and you felt so sad about it. We suggest realizing that most difficult things in your life, such as a death of somebody close to you or divorce, also happen to almost everyone. If you really want to write about such a life experience, focus on your personal feelings in details, and make this essay unique.
  • A story of how you’ve got an essay assigned, and you wrote it, and look, now readers hold it in their hands, and they are reading your thoughts! Maybe you think that such an approach is quite original, but you’re wrong. You are just one of a million applicants who discovered this method.
  • Ideas on how to solve all the problems in the world. So, you’ve got a simple solution, but people just don’t want to hear you and apply your brilliant ideas? Maybe they have reasons for that. Let’s be honest, you’re not really qualified in establishing world peace.
  • Quotations from famous people. There are no doubts that George Washington was a wise man, but your essay must reflect your own ideas. If some phrase became your life motto, you can write about it, but anytime you start an essay with somebody else’s words, it looks like you want another person to speak instead of you.
  • Everyday objects that reflect your personality. “Have you ever noticed how much shoes tell about their owner?” Yes, we have. Shoes are so different, and everybody loves them, and your shoes are just like you… just stop it and try something else.

Off-Topic Things

Your admission essay isn’t what you’ve been writing in school. In school, they often ask you to consider something that isn’t related to yourself, but here, on contrary, you have to stay focused on your background, experience, skills, and your future. Write about something else, and your essay won’t attract necessary attention. Here are some examples:

  • A story about somebody who’s very important for you. It’s good if you love you granny and want to tell everyone about her extraordinary life, but you shouldn’t do it in the admission essay. A good solution would be to write about how you‘ve been impacted by some person, or how you learned something from others.
  • Somebody else’s achievements while you’re a background actor. Some applicants like to write about important projects where they’ve assisted. Such an experience may be really interesting and significant for you, but it’s an essay about you, so you shouldn’t play a supporting role here. Just like in a previous example, we suggest focusing on how this experience was useful for you, not on somebody else’s achievements
  • Description of an artwork that deeply inspired you. You can write about your feelings related to some work of art, but don’t dig deep into it, focusing on it and turning your essay into an analytical paper.

Offensive Topics

Each time you choose an extremely controversial subject, there’s a risk of showing your lack of self-awareness. Choosing a strong position against something, you tell others that you’re not open to new ideas, and maybe you have problems in communication with some kinds of people.

Remember that no one wants to be taught by you, especially members of the commission. Make sure that you don’t look close-minded, and your point isn’t one-sided.

  • Discussing controversial issues on politics or religion. Even if you don’t want to accept any other point regarding a certain issue, keep in mind that you don’t know who will read your essay, and what this person thinks about it.
  • The death penalty, abortion, immigration, gun control, and so on. Topics of such a kind imply a certain point – either pro or against. These are good topics for persuasive essays, but it’s definitely not what you need to write while applying to the college. Here you don’t have to be one-sided.
  • Negative facts about the college you’re applying to. Just keep in mind that your readers work there, and they may be proud of it. Your thoughts shouldn’t question their life choices, so we suggest leaving such things aside.

Execution Mistakes

Even if you choose a proper topic, you still may fail because of the writing details. There are many ways to present your thesis statement, and if you choose a wrong one, you may look immature or just not ready for the life in college. Make sure that your thoughts are presented in the right way, and we will help you by suggesting what to avoid.


First of all, college commissions are looking for optimistic and active people who can be resilient in any situations. If you’re unable to demonstrate such qualities in your essay, it may be called tone-deaf.

  • Complaining about your problems. Don’t write about people doing something to you, or about circumstances that affect your life. The whole essay must be written from your perspective, so don’t turn it against you.
  • Failing attempts to joke. We suggest not counting on readers’ sense of humor, because these people don’t know you at all, and your essay isn’t a place where it would be easy to joke naturally. However, if you really want to write a joke, keep it low-key and simple.
  • Self-aggrandizing, or looking down upon your readers. It’s probably the worst tone to choose because it makes your essay narcissistic. Nobody likes to read such things, so take your time and work on your writing style.
  • Depressive, pessimistic, or cynical tone. What is your attitude towards life? If you want to ply to college, you must have an optimistic position and some good thoughts about your future. You may have some dark existential feelings, but they certainly won’t make you a student that the college is looking for.

Lack of Personality

As we have mentioned above, you shouldn’t forget that there are many other applicants, so your essay must be unique. Just take a look at your essay and ask yourself if someone else could write the same one. You have to express your personality and provide readers with your own, unique look. Here are a few examples of what you must avoid:

  • Lack of emotions. Writing essays in school, you may have learned how to keep yourself out of your essays, but now it’s time to switch these settings to the opposite values. Now you shouldn’t sound like a robot. On contrary, you must put as many emotions and personal feelings in your essay as possible.
  • Lack of details. Don’t be too general, or your personal story will look like a horoscope from a newspaper. Pay more attention to particular feelings, reactions, and so on.

Too Much Eccentricity

You have to be creative, but you shouldn’t sound like a postmodern writer. Some applications may offer you some alternatives to the essay form, like portfolios, or some artworks. However, if you work on the essay for a standard application, be traditional. Build a proper structure of paragraphs and sentences. Don’t do the following things:

  • Submitting something different from the required materials. Don’t create a YouTube channel about your achievements; don’t try to impress the admissions officers with clothes or food. Don’t print your essay on t-shirts, even if some websites contain stories about a guy who became really successful due to such approaches.
  • Turning your essay into a poem, play, or song. It’s a risky method. Use it only if you’re 100% sure that you can do it well, and that your form of the application allows you to do such things.
  • Using too sophisticated language and trying to sound unnaturally. Every commission understands that you’re not an expert, and they want to hear your voice, even if it seems to be a little immature. In other words, use the whole range of your vocabulary and do your best, but don’t try to find complicated synonyms for every word.

Lack of Proofreading

Let’s be honest, many of us have problems with checking our own papers. It’s hard to estimate your own work objectively, so we suggest asking somebody to proofread your essay. Of course, such a person must be perfectly familiar with spelling, punctuation, and all the grammar rules.

Don’t forget about such an important part of work, or you’ll risk looking like a careless student who forgets basic writing principles. Thus, avoid following things:

  • Grammatical and punctuation mistakes, incorrect spacing. Obviously, we don’t do such mistakes intentionally, but if you fix them, you’ll demonstrate that you take your task seriously.
  • Exceeding the word limit. Maybe you want to impress somebody by writing more than is necessary, but such a thing may be interpreted as a lack of self-control and inability to follow strict guidelines.
  • Repeating the same words over and over again. Nobody likes to read such texts, they sound monotonous and boring.

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