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Common Mistakes To Avoid In College Essays

Stephen Friedfeld, Ph.D.

Common mistakes to avoid in college essays

Your college application essays play an extremely important role in the overall presentation of your application. The essays are one of the few places where you can truly show your voice and convince an admissions officer why you’d be a great fit for their college or university.

Unfortunately, many students don’t take the appropriate amount of time to check (and double-check) their essays for errors. To write a compelling, effective college essay, make sure you avoid these common mistakes:

●     Making simple spelling and grammar errors. Missing a comma here or there isn’t going to ruin your application, but too many spelling and grammar errors are distracting and can leave an admissions officer confused about what you’re trying to say.

●     Relying on spell-check. There, their and they’re; too, two and to; rose and rows; bored and board. Spell check on your computer will not catch everything – but you (and another reader) should.

●     Using vocabulary that you normally wouldn’t use. Doing so can make your essay sound contrived and fake. The essay needs to have your voice coming through loud and clear – throwing in vocabulary words that sound out of place could annoy or distract an admissions reader.

●     Answering the question that is asked of you, and then some. For example, if you want to write about a significant experience, you should do just that. Don’t write about two experiences that are completely unrelated, just to give admissions officers more to read about you. It will make your essay too long and disjointed.

●     Or, not answering the question at all. You could write a masterpiece, but if it doesn’t answer the question being asked, admissions officers won’t be impressed. Be sure to read the prompt thoroughly before crafting your response.

●     Assuming the admissions officer has an extensive knowledge of pop culture. References to hit TV shows, your local town hangout, clubs at school or research projects, without any context or explanation, could be confusing. You never know who will be reading your essays, so it is always best to provide some extra explanation.

●     Avoiding the word “I.” You don’t need to start every sentence with “I”, but you shouldn’t be afraid to use it either. Remember, the essay should be about you!

●     Using too much humor. It could be good, for an appropriate essay topic, to let a bit of light humor (perhaps in parentheses) come through in your writing, but this isn’t stand-up. You don’t want the essay to be a joke, after all.

(Stephen has 10+ years of admissions experience at Cornell University and Princeton University. He is a founder of AcceptU, an admissions counseling group comprised entirely of former admissions officers from highly selective colleges and universities. For questions or to learn more about AcceptU, contact Stephen (stephen@acceptu.com, 617-424-0700) or visit www.AcceptU.com. )

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