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College Application Essay Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Written by CB Experts

Let’s face it: Essay-writing is one of those tasks that many students dislike.

Although a lot is said and written about essay-writing, the fact remains that a majority of students stress over writing a college application essay that “stands out”.

While essay writing isn’t always a complicated affair, the obsession to make it unique and impressive is what complicates the process of essay writing. As is the case with every process, the process of writing an essay too requires taking one step at a time. This means you have to give yourself and your essay enough time. And if you don’t, then there is every chance that you’ll end up making the same set of mistakes that several students before you have done and several students after you will do.

So if you really want to write an essay that appeals to your admissions officer (or officers), here are some classic essay pitfalls you would be better off avoiding:

Sticking to an essay-writing formula

An internet search on any essay-writing-related query will fetch innumerable results for you. There a bajillion websites that have their own version of essay-writing advice, one more useful than the other. That said, a majority of them would vouch for the five-paragraph formula:

Introduction -> Thesis statement -> Body of the essay -> Evidence -> Conclusion.

While the five-paragraph formula gives you an idea about how you can approach your essay, it shouldn’t stop you from getting creative. And getting creative doesn’t mean going bonkers and breaking all writing rules. It’s all about writing an essay that tells your story and highlights your personality. If there is something that matters to you the most or a personal belief that you think sets you apart, write about it. That way, your essay will be more specific and less generic.

Writing too much

If the essay prompt specifies a word count, then stick to it no matter how tempted you are to write more. Remember that admissions officers are busy people and have to read each and every application essay that comes their way, and that is no mean feat! This means you’ll be doing yourself and also them a favor by being concise.

If you’re wondering how you’ll do yourself a favor, well, let me tell you how: You’ll be saving your application from being rejected. Some colleges are very specific about the stated word limit and reject applications that don’t follow guidelines.

Narrow down your points and say only what needs to be said rather than saying everything you want to say. Also, chuck clichés and details that add no value to your essay.

Projecting yourself as an invincible person or putting yourself down

When you’re obsessed with yourself, it shows. Obsession can sneak into your essay and you won’t even know! Self-obsessed people think they are superheroes, but the truth is something that the whole world knows and admits: Nobody is perfect. We all have flaws. Taking your flaws too seriously isn’t a good idea either. Too much self-criticism paints a negative picture.

So what’s the best approach to take? Writing about your flaws without putting yourself down. Again, it is very important to tread carefully. As long as your flaws are not the kind that would cause you great embarrassment or make your readers uncomfortable, it is okay to talk about them. And if your flaws have the potential to tarnish your image, then, hush!

Rehashing your resume


Your resume is about all your achievements and your application essay is all about your qualities that build your personality. The objective of an application essay is to give people an understanding about who you are and what makes you, you.

If people want to know what you’ve already achieved they’ll look at your resume. And if they want to know what you are capable of achieving, well, that is something your essay can tell them, if it is written properly.

Keep It Simple, Silly (KISS)

You don’t have to go all out while writing your application essay to prove that you’re smarter than a 5th grader.

Long-windedness doesn’t make you look sophisticated. It’ll do quite the opposite instead. It’s important to keep your language simple and crisp.

For instance, instead of saying:

The constant manifestation of everlasting change in its various forms bears testimony to the fact that change is inevitable.

Simply say:

Change is constant and inevitable.

Having the ability to simplify things is believed to be one of the best personality traits. So if you can keep your application essay simple, it can earn you brownie points.

Remember, your application essay isn’t a dissertation to cover a given subject in great detail. It isn’t about how knowledgeable you are about a particular topic. Instead, it is all about understanding how you choose to look at a particular topic.

Keeping the above points in mind, while attempting an application essay, can help you tell your story better.

Author Bio:
Sophia is a newbie online ESL/EFL instructor and a passionate educator. She found her true calling — teaching — while she was juggling writing and a 9-5 desk job. When Sophia is not busy earning a living, she volunteers as a social worker. Her active online presence demonstrates her strong belief in the power of networking. If you want to connect with her, you can find her on facebook, twitter, and her personal blog Essay Writing and More.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.