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3 College Application Essay Mistakes Admissions Officers See Every Year

By Scott, IvyWise Master College Admissions Counselor

Your college essay is like your personal introduction to the admissions office and will say a lot about you. Of course, you want it to say the right things. While a well-written essay can boost your chances of admission, a poorly-written one can result in getting the “thin envelope” when decisions come out. Over the years there are a few college application essay mistakes that I’ve seen students repeat that you should avoid.

Not Providing Any New Information
Every component of your application should add new information to the picture. You don’t want to repeat what your admissions officer is going to read elsewhere, and that includes information from your resume. Many students will mistakenly list their activities or tell the admissions office about their great grades as a response to topics that ask very personal questions. While some essays will ask you to discuss your extracurricular activities in more depth, every question isn’t a trick designed to see how quickly you can turn things back to your resume and GPA. Tell them something they don’t know about you that you have a unique perspective on. Your resume and transcript may tell a college that you’re a star student, but only you can share your motivations and inspirations for pursuing your college dreams.

Stifling Your Voice and Personality
Students often ask if a particular talent or activity will make them stand out. The simple answer is no, because admissions officers read thousands of applications from talented students. But your story is your story, and your voice and personality will help you stand out. Your essay topic is unlikely to be entirely unique amongst the thousands of essays admissions officers will read, but you are. So don’t be shy about sharing what makes you tick. Show them the joy you get from dance or what motivates you to dedicate your time to robotics. Your story is unique, so tell it in your own words.

Not Tailoring Essays
Remember when the host of the Miss Universe pageant named the wrong contestant as the winner? Colleges sometimes feel like that when you write essays that are clearly generic and not tailored to them. While at Yale I regularly received essays from students telling me how much they wanted to go to Harvard, having just cut and pasted that essay to us. I could only think, “Well, good luck there!”

Colleges have thousands of eager students who want to be there, and you have to show them that you know them and want them. So do your research and write essays with specifics about what the college offers and how that’s a match for your long-term goals. Colleges do pay attention to their yield rates and want to admit students who are likely to come. If they sense that you haven’t really researched them, they’ll also wonder if you’re likely to enroll if they admit you.

Writing a great essay is actually easier than it seems. You basically just need to be yourself. Share your goals, tell colleges why you do what you do, and be sure you help the college picture you there. If they read your essays and you sound like you’re practically already a student there, you’ll make it easy for them to decide that you should be.

Want to learn more about Scott? Read his biography here and watch his video below!