Common Mistakes Students Make on College Admission Essays

Common Mistakes Students Make on College Admission Essays :


What common mistakes do students make on essays year after year? How can they avoid these mistakes?


Peter Osgood - Director of Admission - Harvey Mudd College and Former Associate Dean of Admission - Pomona College

Sometimes students hear that certain essays work and try to copy them. What they end up with is a contrived essay that appears to have been forced to fit the student. This just doesn’t work. You need to write your own essay that is special and unique to you. My other big complaint : two-page essays with no paragraphs.

Gail Sweezey - Director of Admissions - Gettysburg College

Sometimes I think too many adults get involved with rewriting a student’s essay. It’s important to have someone look at your essay, but they should not try to substantially change it. What happens then is that the student’s voice is lost.

Michael Thorp - Director of Admissions - Lawrence University

One mistake is to let your assumptions about the reader be the primary guide for your essay. A student will assume that because the school I work for is conservative that I’m conservative too. Don’t make specific assumptions about your audience. I don’t care if a student writes about a conservative or liberal topic as long as it’s framed within the context of what the student has done. When students write that they should be admitted by virtue of their conservative values… that is not a compelling reason to admit them. I don’t care if a student is a member of the John Birch Society as long as she articulates why that’s important to her.

Lloyd Peterson - Former Senior Associate Director of Admissions - Yale University and Director of Education - College Coach

Having too many editors and too many people with their hands in the mix…If too many people try to change an essay you often don’t know whose voice it is.

The other big mistake is to submit an essay that earned you an A+ in English or History class. Often these essays do not make good admission essays.

Elizabeth Mosier - Acting Director of Admissions - Bryn Mawr College

One mistake is not being original enough. Don’t write about what everyone else will write about. For example, the school shooting at Columbine is a really important topic but it’s also difficult to say anything original about it. Basically, with so many people using it for their essays it has a built-in disadvantage. A really good writer may be able to pull it off, but for most students choosing this as a topic is a recipe for failure.

Another example is when students are asked to write a character portrait. The grandmother essay is hard to resist. I think the problem with writing about a grandparent is not the topic but the fact that the topic is fraught with the danger to sentimentalize and not reveal the truth. Most of these essays end up being something that is like a Hallmark card. Grandparents can be a great topic as long as you have something original and unique to say.

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