Five Mistakes to Avoid On College Admissions Essays
College admissions essays will become more important in the upcoming admissions cycle. Especially now that over half of US colleges have made the decision to go test optional. While more admissions offices will accommodate applicants who did not have enough opportunities to raise test score, most require essays.
If you apply test optional and do not submit scores, good essays are essential for success in admissions. If you submit scores and have your heart set on a school with very selective admissions, good essays help get the reader to say yes.
As a college advisor who has read many essays I ask that students handle essays by:
- Choosing a Common App prompt where you can offer the most positive information
- Answering the question
- Providing an honest answer in your voice
- Researching the school for the “Why Our School?” essay.
- Aiming to provide information that makes the reader smile
But sometimes people make mistakes that could be the difference between being “in” or “out” with a college admissions office.
Aside from poor grammar and outright dishonesty, these are some mistakes I recommend that students avoid:
Do not restate your resume
Highlight as many as three accomplishments within your academic work or outside of school in some detail. Ask yourself: How does this experience answer the prompt? Then write down each answer to that question.
Do not place blame on others
All of us have had setbacks in our lives caused by the decisions, mistakes or perceptions of others. A teacher may not believe that you are ready to take an advanced class. A bad relationship could lead to a bad grade. Coaches may not believe that you can play a larger role on a team. College admissions essays are not the place to apologize, vent or whine.
Do not boast as if everything depended on you to save the day
Few things in life are resolved by one person. We must sell ideas to others, or lend them a hand. Leaders are not effective leaders without followers. College admissions officers want to know your strengths, But they also want to know how you get along with people, and how you can make others stronger.
Do not create “high school drama.”
The winning goal, run or touchdown makes you a hero for a few hours, to a small group of people. Same with being the understudy for the lead in a high school musical. Your life is not hanging on stepping into these roles, or having someone step in for you.
Do not think about what “admissions officers expect you to write.”
College admissions officers use essays to give you an opportunity to tell them who you are. Some of us are loners, but curious within our own interests. Others are natural leaders who are good at bringing people together. Some of us have individual talents that we would like to develop, possibly for life after college. Others have hobbies or interests that mean a lot in their lives. An effort to guess what “the admissions officer wants to hear,” is not worth the time.
College admissions officers for the most part are nice people. But they are also human. Imagine if you were in their chairs and had to read hundreds of files. You have only a few minutes to devote to each one.
Would you want to read college admissions essays from arrogant, boastful, insincere, self absorbed, nasty and lazy people? Of course not.
Would you want to read college admissions essays where you simply did not believe the student? I strongly doubt it.
Would you want to read essays that left you worried as to whether the school had the resources to help a student? Good admissions officers make it a point to know their school as well as the clubs, organizations and services that could help a student. Tufts University made an entertaining admissions video that hit this point really well.
Because admissions officers are human, they are more likely to remember people who make them happy rather than sad. This will be more true in the upcoming cycle, especially for schools that have only recently gone test optional. An admissions office will be pressured to look away from scores. But it’s still up to the students to sell themselves through good college admissions essays.
Need help in preparing to write college admissions essays? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062
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Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
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