Common College Application Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Week 4: Common College Application Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

College essays, also called Personal Statements or personal essays, are a big deal when applying to college. They let students show off who they are beyond the academic portion of the application. However, students often make mistakes that dampen the impact of their college essay.

7 Common Mistakes To Avoid

  1. Using cliches or platitudes
  2. Making a “grocery list” of accomplishments or activities
  3. Repeating information found elsewhere in the application
  4. Writing about someone else
  5. Sloppiness (grammatical or spelling errors, casual language, slang)
  6. Plagiarizing
  7. Waiting until the last minute to write the essay

Be Authentic and Introspective

The most impactful college essays are deeply personal and reveal something meaningful about the student’s character, values, or worldview. Admissions readers can easily spot superficial writing, so being genuine and introspective is crucial. Students can reflect on formative experiences, challenges overcome, or realizations that have shaped their growth.

Be Specific

Rather than simply stating qualities about themselves, students can provide specific details, illustrative anecdotes, and other storytelling techniques to showcase their traits. Showing through concrete examples is powerful and memorable..

Focus on One Moment or Experience

While it can be tempting to try to cover many aspects of one’s life, the most effective essays often concentrate on a single significant event, realization, or obstacle that fundamentally influenced one’s perspective or growth. Students should explore the experience in-depth, unpacking its impact and lessons learned.

Step Away From the Thesaurus

The essay is one of the few places in the application where a student’s unique voice can shine through. Students should use a natural writing style that reflects how they express themselves. Appropriate humor, metaphor, or even formatting can help make their personality more palpable.

Avoid Clichés and Overused Themes

Admissions readers read thousands of essays, so commonly used topics like scoring the winning goal or volunteer trips can feel unoriginal. Students should explore experiences through a fresh lens and make even conventional topics feel distinctive.

Adhere to Guidance on Length and Prompt

While allowing their authentic voice to come through, students should follow all instructions regarding length, formatting, and responding fully to the provided prompt or question.


The college essay is an opportunity to showcase what makes a student unique beyond just academics. By being introspective, vulnerable, and focusing on formative experiences told through a compelling narrative, a student’s essay can truly make their application stand out.


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