As it is the beginning of September, school is starting back up again and that means we are getting back into college application season. As you are drafting your college application essays, be sure to keep these common mistakes in mind so you do not fall into the same traps!
I have compiled this list of common college application essay mistakes through reviewing your essays via Study Hall College Consulting. If you would like a current UC Berkeley student or recent graduate to review your application essays, definitely check out our website and services: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/services.html. Good luck drafting your essays!
Biggest Essay Mistakes:
1. Typos, Misspellings, and Grammar Errors: This seems like an obvious tip that you would fix before submitting your essay, but students have actually submitted essays to us for review where they have these errors prevalent. You do not want to submit a college essay with simple errors like this because the college admissions officer may think that you did not spend a lot of time on your essays, are lazy, or even that you do not know how to write at an academic level.
To help catch these errors, you want to proofread your essay before submitting. Additionally, you may want to try reading your essay out loud. As the writer, you have probably spent hours and hours working on your essay, that when you proofread your essay in your head, your brain fills in the next words and sentences. Reading out loud will help you focus on each word on the page and not allow your brain to fill in the gaps. This will help you to catch grammar and other English-related errors.
To help catch these mistakes, you can also ask a friend, family member, or an outside resource like Study Hall College Consulting to review your essays. Having a fresh pair of eyes read your essay will help you catch sentences that do not make sense.
2. Actually Answer the Essay Prompt: Read the essay prompt carefully and make sure that your essay idea and final essay actually answer the question at hand. If the essay is asking you to write about a time you overcame a failure, but you never actually share an event from your life that relates to this topic, then your essay is not really answering the prompt. Similarly, make sure you are not writing about an idea that is off-topic.
3. Picking a Bad Topic: This tip is related to my last point - a good essay topic will help you answer the prompt. If you have a bad essay topic, like an idea that is off-topic or doesn’t answer the prompt, your essay will feel forced because you are stretching for details or information. You do not want your essay to drag on and on with a topic that does not make sense with the specific prompt at hand. Maybe this essay idea would be better suited for a different prompt or a short answer question rather than a full essay.
Additionally, if you are stuck on essay ideas, check out my blog about College Application Essay Brainstorming: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/college-application-essay-brainstorming.
Sarah also has a blog about this topic which would be helpful to check out as well: https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/college-essay-brainstorming.
4. Repeating Parts of One Essay in Another: I have reviewed essays where the student repeated the exact same sentences and paragraphs across numerous essays for the same college. Repeating essay ideas and topics can be helpful when you are applying to many colleges that require supplemental essays, but you should not be copying and pasting the same essay multiple times for one school. For example, your UC Application will consist of four Personal Insight Question essays - all four of these essays should be sharing new information. You can have a similar topic or theme in your essays, but do not copy exact word for word phrases across every essay.
5. Using the Thesaurus too much: Try to refrain from using large words in your college application essay that you are not familiar with or do not use in your everyday life. I’ve had to look up what words meant because the student was using words in their essay that I have never heard of. If you are using words you are not familiar with, along with being confusing for the reader, you increase the chance that you use the word incorrectly in your essay. Keep your writing simple, if you wouldn’t use the word in your daily life, using the word in your college application essays can come across as fake and the reader can tell you found the word in a thesaurus.
Using a thesaurus is helpful if you find your writing to be repetitive where you are repeating certain words like “passion” or “interest” over and over again throughout your essay. If this is the case for you, then use a thesaurus to find a replacement word, but just make sure you use the word correctly in your sentence and that the word is common enough that readers will know the meaning of the word.
6. Threatening, Ultimatums, Condescending Writing: Similar to not having typos in your college application essays, this tip may seem obvious, but I have read various essays where the student effectively threatens the admissions team or writes in a condescending manner. For example, saying something like “I have dreamed about attending this college since I was 5 years old, so if you do not accept me, my dreams will be crushed” comes across very negatively. Similarly, a phrase like “once accepted, I know I will thrive” comes across very presumptuous as you are not accepted to the college yet. When writing, be careful how you come across with your words. It may not be your intention, but the reader may assume or understand your words in the wrong way.
7. Writing an Entire Essay about a Time/Moment/Person: A lot of colleges have an essay prompt that asks you to reflect upon a significant time, moment, or person in your life. When writing this kind of essay or using a time/moment/person as the main focal point of an essay, make sure that you are not telling the reader more about the event or person than about yourself. Be sure to always bring the focus of the essay back to yourself and how you learned, grew, or navigated the situation. Briefly explain the time/moment/person, but do not spend the majority of your essay explaining the circumstances that relate to another person.
8. Starting the Night Before: Finally, you do not want to start writing your college application essays the night before they are due. Essay writing takes time! I had to write and rewrite my essays so many times before finalizing and submitting them. I even wrote drafts for prompts then scrapped those ideas and rewrote the essay using an entirely different idea. Starting your essays the night before they are due will rush you and potentially lead to the mistakes I’ve listed in this blog.
Hopefully you found this blog helpful! Good luck writing your college application essays!
Rachel is the Founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2020 where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.