What Makes a BAD College Essay

There is little doubt that the college essay represents one of the most crucial steps of the entire college application process in the United States. Given the holistic approach to university admissions that remains so prevalent all across the country, the quality (or lack thereof) of your essay has the potential to play a decisive role in the outcome of your college application. This is why we believe it is important that you are fully aware of some of the most common mistakes that students make on their application essays and that you avoid making the same mistakes at all costs.

Bear in mind that the formant, content, and structure of your essay will vary depending on the nature of the essay prompt. Nevertheless, in this article we will be discussing 4 common mistakes that you should avoid regardless of the prompt at hand. It goes without saying that not making these mistakes alone is not enough to put together a high quality essay, but it will certainly put you on the right track. So, without further ado, let’s review 4 things that you absolutely want to steer clear of when writing your college essay:

  • Writing an Essay that Lacks Relevance​

Let’s make something very clear here: your college essay should be about YOU. Your writing abilities, no matter how strong, will have no impact on the strenght of your essay if you fail to address the main point of this exercise, so be sure you do. Avoid any content that turns the focus of your essay on its head and that fails to address who you are, your background, and your future.

This is a common mistake among those who, for example, start off their essays by writing about someone else and then fail to discuss how that person has shaped and influenced their lives. In doing so, students run the risk of developing a story that fully revolves around the life and achievements of a third-person, inadvertently removing themselves from the focus of the essay. 

  • Writing an Essay that Lacks Originality​

If there is something that you must understand about the university admissions process in the US is that it can get extremely competitive. Because of that, admissions officers are tasked with the difficult task of reading through thousands of essays every year in order to identify the strongest possible applicants, and their job is only made easier when they come across memorable essays that are worth paying attention to. If you resort to uninteresting, trite topics, chances are your essay won’t last long in the hands of your university of choice. 

Topics that have been addressed many times before include sports, service trips, or using everyday objects as metaphors. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing about these things. If done correctly, essays that choose to focus on such topics can offer very unique insights into your life and personality. Unfortunately, many students fail to deliver an original account of who they are through these stories. So, unless you feel that you can put together a completely off-the-wall story that very few people before you have been able to pull off by resorting to these hackneyed ideas, we strongly suggest that you turn to a different topic for your college essay.

  • Writing an Essay that Lacks Perception​

So far we have talked a lot about what you should be writing about in your college essay, but now it’s time we discuss the end goal of this exercise. Remember, you are writing your essay because you want to get into a good college, which means that you are very likely looking forward to a period in your life of growth and self-actualization. Consequently, admissions officers will be expecting an essay that offers a description of someone who displays a very ambitious, optimistic, and energetic personality.

With that in mind, try and stay away from cynicism. Also, try not to turn your story into a detailed description of complaints that you may have or of problems that may have negatively affected your life. If you choose to do so, do remember to tackle the positive sides to the story. For instance, you may want to discuss how you overcame those challenges and the lessons that you took away from the experience. In other words, keep things real but don’t forget to stay hopeful and confident about your future. 

  • Writing an Essay Marred by Writing Errors​

We will not extend ourselves here because proofreading is a necessary step of the essay-writing process that should be apparent to anyone who engages in a writing exercise of any kind. Making grammatical, structural, or spelling mistakes is something that admissions officers don’t easily forget nor forgive. And why should they? By the time you are ready to embark on your college journey these mistakes should not be following you into the classroom.

So there you have it. Writing the perfect essay is by no means an easy thing to do, but you will be much closer to that goal as long as you adhere to these simple recommendations.


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