10 Common College Admissions Essay Writing Mistakes — and How to Fix Them

Check out these 10 common college admissions essay writing mistakes — and how to fix them.

by Leslie Anglesey

You can have the academic chops to get into the school of your choice, but if you don’t perform well on the writing part, you may not get that all-important acceptance letter.

While the competition for college admission is rising, the quality of the essay is becoming a more important factor of acceptance.

Before you even think about composing something that will be seen by the admissions committee, carefully review these 10 common admissions essay writing mistakes — and how to fix them.

1. Submitting an Essay that Is Not Authentic

College admissions people see thousands of admissions essays. They know who is being real and who is serving up what they think the Admissions Committee wants to hear. Don’t be in the second group. Tell YOUR story.

2. Submitting Facts that Appear in Your Resume or other Parts of Your Application

The essay is an opportunity for the Admissions people to get to know you. Express yourself. Don’t waste this chance by writing about things they can learn by reading through your application. Tell them what makes you so special and why you would do well at “their” school.

3. Submitting a Generic Essay

Writing an admissions essay is not a “one size fits all” process. You need to craft each one separately. If you are applying to three, five or 10 schools, then you will need to write a separate essay for each one. Make sure that each one discusses the features of a particular school and why they appeal to you. Being creative is not so easy, but the goal is worth it!

4. Trying to Write Your Essay Like You Read the Thesaurus

The people on the Admissions Committee are well-educated. You hope to be just like them someday. It doesn’t mean you need to impress them with your ability to use fancy words now. Your admissions essay should not sound like a dissertation. You shouldn’t write it like you would compose a casual note to a friend, either. Go for the middle ground, and you should be just fine.

5. Failing to Follow Instructions

Read through the instructions carefully and follow them to the letter. If you are asked to write 500 words on a topic, make sure you have at least 500 words. You should wrap up your writing shortly after that point, though. Five hundred words do not mean 2,000 words. You are being evaluated on your ability to follow instructions, which is one of the important elements to doing well as a student.

6. Failing to Answer All the Questions in the Prompt

Some prompts have more than one question. You will need to make sure you cover all of them. Part of this exercise is to evaluate whether you have the skills to do well as a student at the college or university. The Admissions Committee wants to make sure you can follow basic instructions.

7. Forgetting to Check Spelling and Grammar

You may have wonderful ideas, but if you haven’t checked your spelling and grammar, the reader will get distracted by typos and sentences that don’t make a lot of sense. Go over your work with a fine-tooth comb. Then have someone else proofread it for you before you submit it. Ideally, you’ll want to have more than one person review it before you send it in.

8. Brown Nosing

The fact that you have applied to a certain school indicates you are interested in attending. You don’t have to lay it on thick with a trowel about what a great place it is to learn in your admissions essay. Try not to sound too materialistic and self-interested.

9. Being Trite in Your Topic

Some topics have been done to death. Everyone wants world peace. College Admissions committee members know that hard work eventually equals success. If you write about a trip to a foreign country you took in high school that your parents paid for, you may come across as shallow. Dig deep and write something that only you can come up with. Take some chances. You’ll get bonus points if you add some humor. Give some character to your essay.

10. Waiting until the Last Minute to Write Your Essay

Give yourself time to compose something that will be of good quality. You will want your work to reflect who you are and why would be an asset to the school. Chances are very good that you will need to write two or three versions of your admission essay first. Rushing the process will only make you feel frustrated and may make you turn in something that you are less than proud of.

Final Thoughts on College Application Errors

It may help to write an outline or make a chart so that you stay on track. Ideally, the thoughts in one paragraph should flow into the next.

By avoiding these 10 common admissions essay writing mistakes, you will increase the likelihood of being accepted to the school of your choice.

For more tips on writing your college application essay, please see our, Writing the Successful College Application Essay: Tips for Success.

Leslie Anglesey Leslie Anglesey is an associated educator at University of Southern California and a contributor to EssayTigers. Apart from academic life she loves travelling with her family.

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