Common College Essay Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

These are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make on their college essays. Here’s how to avoid the pitfalls and write an outstanding college essay.


Straying from the Essay Prompt

Many applicants make the mistake of straying too far from the essay prompt and not really fulfilling the requirements or answering the question. Make sure that you read the essay prompt thoroughly and structure your essay so that it completely answers all questions posed in the prompt. If you find that you are starting to go on a tangent in your writing, it’s time to go back and revise.


Not Charting Growth

A college essay should not just be a description of an experience, it should be a narrative about how a particular experience prompted you to grow. The admissions department is looking for self awareness about how experiences have helped to form you and contribute to your learning, so your college essay should clearly chart your growth and show how your experiences have shaped the way you navigate the world around you.


Exceeding the Word Limit

Many people think that as long as they write enough, there is no problem. However, this often leads to people writing college essays that go over the specified word count limit and this reflects poorly on the applicant. Part of the challenge of the college essay is demonstrating that you can articulate everything you need to say concisely and clearly within the word limit. 


Focusing on Excellence Instead of Uniqueness

When choosing your topic, think about what makes you unique, not just what makes you excellent. Everyone applying to top universities is a high achiever with excellent grades and a number of impressive accomplishments. If you merely describe those things, you will not be setting yourself apart from all of the other essays that university admissions receive every day. In addition to highlighting your achievements, you need to highlight what makes you and your circumstances unique and how that impacts what you bring to the table as an applicant.


Not Editing

Editing is one of the most important steps in writing a good college essay, but because it is also one of the last steps, it sometimes gets overlooked. Make sure that you thoroughly edit your essay after you’ve finished writing a draft. This means more than simply correcting grammar errors (but that’s a crucial part of it!), it also means reading over what you’ve written with a critical eye and considering whether there is anything you should cut, add, or reorder to make your essay flow better. 

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