It is not a secret that for every open slot at a prestigious college, there are from 10 to 15 eager applicants. Looking at their achievement history, all applicants seem academically qualified individuals with high grades.

However, very often it is the college application essay that sets one lucky applicant apart from the others.

The essay provides students with an opportunity to express themselves and to explain why they would be perfect for the college.

While writing is very personal, and styles can vary, the mistakes students make in their admission essays are the same. So if you want to find out 10 application essay mistakes to avoid, just read on!

1.  🔄  Pretending to Be Someone Else

Here’s the thing:

Most students are trying to present themselves in the best light in a college entrance essay, so it often happens that a student makes him or herself someone they aren’t. So many applicants are trying to satisfy the expectations of the admission officers that they forget the most important thing, in the end, is staying true to oneself.

2.  😔  Choosing the Wrong Topic

If you are brainstorming to come up with a great topic for your essay, try to choose something that is dear to your heart, not just a theme that sounds good. The reality is that when you are writing about something that does not strike your interest, you will quickly get stuck with what to write and will probably end up being insincere. Admission officers are very skilled at determining whether a student is interested in the topic at hand, so be inventive and don’t fall into the trap of sounding cool.

Lesson on the ground near school

3.  👥  Forgetting About the Target Audience

Before starting to write, remind yourself about who the target audience is of your college admission essay. No, it’s not your friends or colleagues; it is a busy man or a woman that must go through hundreds of essays before choosing the most outstanding ones. Keep that in mind when writing an essay. Otherwise, you will lose their interest. In the majority of cases, you are probably used to talking to your friends, but a good essay sample is not the place to be too informal. Remember that admission officers are not your peers, so stay respectful.

Advice alert:

Ask an “adult” to read your essay for some feedback on the tone and the approach toward the target audience.

4.  😴  A Boring Introduction

Do you know the most important difference between an academic essay and an application letter?

It’s the introduction!

You don’t have to state your topic over and over again to capture attention in an entrance essay. Application officers read too many boring essays, so you have to stand out and introduce yourself as an individual.

Don’t go straightaway to the topic because you’ll lose the reader’s attention too quickly. Think about an effective way in which you can “set the scene” and describe the situation that you experienced, convey the theme that you would like to explore or include an unexpected anecdote.

George Orwell Quote

5.  😵  Vagueness

In most cases, excellent stories that you have heard or the best college essays you have read were filled with details. A brilliant storyteller is a person that pays attention to minor components of the storyline in order to convey everything that they once experienced. If a story is great, a reader or a listener will feel as if they have participated in the story themselves.

Think about it.

This precise feeling is what you need to achieve when writing an application essay. You need to persuade the application officer that he or she has also participated in your story to some degree. This means that you have to be very precise about what is on your mind and what you were feeling about a particular situation. Even if you felt stressed or disappointed, acknowledge the negative emotions and don’t be vague. Your sincerity will be highly appreciated.

6.  ❌  Repeating/Having No Connection with the Application Form

Here’s the kicker:

Repeating what is already written on the application form is as bad as simply not having any connection to it.

While it may sound like a paradox to some of you, it is a mistake to lose balance and lean to either of the sides. A college admission essay is not an application form to any extent, so you should pay attention to expanding the themes you mentioned in the form without resorting to listing them once again.

Importance of watching the word count.


If an essay has no connection to the application form, you may be dealing with incoherence and a lack of clarity, so it is a good practice to try and tie the two together to create “the perfect package” for your entrance to college.

For example:

If your passion is riding a horse and you spend 10 hours per week riding, you should initially mention it in your application form since writing about a hobby that was never previously mentioned can seem disjointed to the application officers. They look at your “package” in its entirety rather than separately.

7.  ❗  Failing to Proofread

There are many minor mistakes like putting the wrong year for the date that you can easily eliminate while proofreading. However, proofreading will also help with grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors that do not take away from the content of the essay. But they certainly create a mixed impression and distract from the actual point you are trying to make.

What can you do here?

If you have a friend or a relative available, you can give the essay to them to read. There are also excellent helpers like Grammarly that detect more mistakes than Microsoft Word. So, keep an eye on those pesky mistakes.

If you want to know how to write a college application essay, the last three common mistakes to avoid will definitely be helpful.

Being overconfident

8.  👉  Choosing a Very Personal Topic

Right, this mistake is commonly made by many students that want to tell more about themselves and describe past experiences. However, there is always a risk of revealing very personal information when college essay writing. When application officers see this mistake, they instantly think that a student has no boundaries when it comes to sharing private details.

What is unfortunate is that stepping into the “too much information” zone is much easier than you might think, since entrance essays require you to mention details and be sincere when writing.

Advice alert!

A great method to check whether you have included TMI in your personal essay topic: if some information is so personal that you would be unwilling to share it with a passenger sitting next to you on an airplane, don’t include it in your essay.

9.  👑  Being Overconfident

While the majority of students applying to college have a rational fear of not succeeding and being rejected, there are some who are trying to show off their superiority in essays about their lives. Of course, it is crucial to be truthful about your abilities; however, you should not praise yourself for your accomplishments when writing an application letter.

To show self-criticism and personal growth, you’d be smart to describe a situation when you were doubtful of your skills. Don’t be afraid of showing a little vulnerability since every human being is vulnerable to some extent; the key here is finding the right balance between your achievements and setbacks. Develop an awareness of your accomplishments and don’t present yourself as a hero.

Stephen Fry quote

10.  ✍  Using Clichés

If you are trying to make yourself look memorable to the admission officers, do not fall into the trap of the traditional approaches to college essay writing.

Just think about it!

Using famous quotes that admission officers already know by heart or describing the time you moved to a third world country to volunteer are just not cutting it anymore. There are so many new alternative approaches you can take to impress your audience, and one of the most effective ones is being yourself and writing about what truly interests you.

For example:

  • If you are passionate about sports and have an interesting and extraordinary story of achievement, mention it.
  • If you have five adopted dogs and you can’t imagine your life without them, write about how pets enrich people’s lives or stress the importance of adopting them from shelters.

With an application letter, there are so many ideas you can use, so try to leave clichés out and be inventive.

Business student working laptop

While there are many more mistakes students make in college application essays, the 10 mistakes described above are the most important ones to avoid. You may think that some of them are not that bad, but don’t forget about the end goal of writing an admission essay–impressing the reader and standing out from the crowd.

The key takeaways from this article are:

  • Staying true to your interests
  • Avoiding overdone topics
  • Being attentive to minor spelling or grammar errors
  • Writing from the heart

Good luck with your college application!

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