Without proper guidance, students write their college application essays the same as they would write a five-paragraph essay in their English class. The difference is, college application essays like the Personal Statement and supplemental essays require introspection and a narrative approach.
There are seven prompts to choose from on the Common App for your personal statement essay. If you aren’t sure which prompt works for you, read our blog post on Choosing A Personal Statement Topic. There are hundreds of supplemental essay topics that a student could potentially write about, but the rules of crafting these college application essays are generally the same.
In this article, we will review common college application mistakes to avoid. We’ll also provide plenty of examples so you can review these mistakes in context. You also want to be aware of what topics to avoid in college essays. So if you’re curious about common application mistakes and cliche college essay topics to avoid, read on for further insights!
Avoid taboo topics
Imagine you meet the admissions officer through a mutual friend and this is the first time you’re meeting. You likely won’t talk about politics and religion. The same goes for your application essay.
While you can talk about these topics if they are important to you, it’s extremely important to speak on them in a way that will not offend your reader. Always be respectful. Context is also important. If you are applying to a religious school or a school known for having similar political values as you, you can discuss your views more freely.
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It’s also important to remain optimistic in your college essays. Topics about overcoming personal challenges can demonstrate positive personality traits such as compassion, resiliency, and maturity. It’s equally important, however, to avoid sounding too nihilistic. College admissions officers do not need (or necessarily want) to hear about your darkest moments. They’d much rather hear about what excites and inspires you. Keep this in mind as you consider what you should put in your college essay.
While your college essay should be personal and introspective, again, there is no need to overshare. There is a lot of pressure to write mature and moving essays. In the end, though, your college essay shouldn’t be a political, social, or religious manifesto; it should be about getting into college.
Let’s look at two examples:
The following excerpts are both political. While the first excerpt balances tone and content well, the second excerpt is too controversial for a college application essay. Let’s take a quick look at some of the do’s and don’ts when approaching political topics.
Avoid repeating accomplishments
The next faux pas students make on their college application essays is rehashing accomplishments that were previously mentioned in their application. This is another important consideration when thinking about college application essay topics to avoid.
Listing your academic accomplishments, extracurricular activities, and community work are redundant. An admissions officer doesn’t want to hear about how you’re the president and/or leader of all of these clubs and that is what makes you so great. They want to get a greater sense of your personality and how you interact with the world. The best college essays are introspective, unique, and self-aware.
Remember, admissions officers read thousands of essays. They want to read essays that excite them and are memorable. So, what do you write about in your college essay? Ideally, your college essay should inspire admissions officers to view the rest of your application from a new perspective.
Let’s look at some more examples:
While your high school GPA and level of course rigor are important college application factors, they should be highlighted in other sections of your application. There is no need to write about your academic accomplishments in your essay. The following examples both discuss extracurricular activities. Let’s take a look at what they could have done better.
Beware of losing the main character
Finally, some students get caught up writing a story about a personal role model. This can be a parent, a friend, or a teacher. However, students tend to make the focal point about that person and not about themselves. In the end, the reader learns more about the student’s parent, friend, or teacher and nothing about the student.
Let’s look at one final example:
College admissions officers want to know what inspires and excites you. When this is a person, however, it’s important not to focus on them too much within your essay. After all, your college essay should be about you!
Other common mistakes to avoid
Like with any important piece of writing, give yourself enough time to write several drafts. Seek out feedback from a few trusted individuals, such as your high school guidance counselor, an English teacher, or a parent. Avoid asking too many people for their opinion, however. This will likely lead to confusion and overediting.
You’ll also want to make sure that your essay is grammatically correct. If there are significant errors in your essay or other common app mistakes, admissions officers may believe that you do not take your college applications seriously. In some cases, they may even question your ability to write at a college level and therefore, succeed in college classes.
Key takeaways and moving forward
During your college research, pay close attention to what you should not write about in a college essay. You may also want to explore topics such as what happens during the college admissions committee review and reasons college applications may get rejected.
College application season can be a stressful time of year and it’s important to learn as much as you can about the different parts of the process. Whether you need help keeping track of important deadlines or knowing how to fill out financial aid documents, such as the FAFSA, remember to ask for help when you need it.
Here at Prepory, we have the resources to help students succeed. If you have dreams of attending a highly-selective college, such as an Ivy League, reach out to learn more about our services and how we can help you reach your college goals.