Five Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Your College Essay

There is no such thing as a perfect college entrance essay, but you can make yours as great as possible by avoiding these common college essay mistakes.

college essay mistakes

Mistake 1. You relied on your computer’s spell check

This is a piece of writing where your spelling and grammar must be perfect, and many spell check programs aren’t as smart as the people who are going to read your essay. Keep in mind spell check doesn’t always point out improper grammar or use of proper names. Check each word over, even if it means reading through the essay veeeeeery slowly. Then ask two people you trust to read it over as well.

Mistake 2: You had so much to say that you went over the requested word count.

Admissions counselors read a lot of essays, so if they ask for no more than 500 words, give them no more than 500 words. This is a good place to show off your ability to read instructions and follow directions. Some schools might have more lax word count requirements, but there’s still no need to send 12 single-spaced pages. Editing down your thoughts might be tough, but cutting out the unnecessary stuff will make your essay a lot stronger.

Mistake 3: You wrote about your 10-day trip to volunteer at an orphanage in China.

Volunteer trips abroad are some of the most common subjects of college essays. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid travel and volunteer topics at all costs, but it does mean that you need to do an extra good job with them in order to stand out from the crowd. Sometimes writing about a simple incident—getting lost on a road trip or playing chess with your grandpa or trying to bake a pie—and what you learned from that experience can be more engaging than a routine story about all the good deeds you did in a faraway place.

Mistake 4: You’ve decided to use the essay as a way to show off all the reasons the school should take you.

So you’re an oboe-playing horseback-riding volunteering trilingual valedictorian? Good for you—but the essay isn’t the spot to expound upon your resume. That’s what the application is for. If one of your interests would make a good essay topic, then go with it. But listing your grades and accomplishments isn’t a good way to show off your storytelling skills and your critical reasoning.

Mistake 5: You used at least one big word in every sentence.

Feel free to show off your extensive vocabulary, but be careful—you don’t want to sound like you are trying to impress. If you use words you’ve only just learned, you run the risk of using them improperly and you might come across seeming like you have something to prove. The college wants to get a sense of who you are, not how many consonants you can fit into one word.


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    […] Five Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Your College Essay: Lots of students fall into these college essay traps; don’t be one of them! Get advice from to help you write a college-worthy essay. […]

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