Never Do This On Your College Application Essays

“President of the National Honors Society. Captain of the Varsity Volleyball team. Lead actress in the high school musicals. With so many talents, it’s hard to focus on just one extracurricular.”

Imagine being the admissions officer reading this college application essay. What would be your first thought? You’d probably think this person is predictable and doesn’t stand out amongst the other applicants. It’s possible that this application won’t make it to the next round. Don’t colleges want to know about all of your accomplishments and what a well-rounded applicant you are?

Without proper guidance, students write their college application essays the same 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 deeper thought and a narrative approach.

There are seven prompts to choose from 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. Here’s what to not to do on your college application essays.

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 doesn’t give too much away on your opinion. 

Let’s look at two examples:

Excerpt #1
‘Marching through the streets, hand in hand with my sister, I felt a rush of energy and fear. What if this was all for nothing? Would writing letters to congressmen work? What about phone calls? It was in that moment, amidst the sweaty bodies and chants, that I knew I had to be part of policymaking.’
Breakdown
This first snippet is referencing some sort of political march. We don’t know the cause but we know that this event is the catalyst for the student wanting to pursue public policy. We know that they are passionate enough about politics to attend these events and reach out to political figures. Which end of the political spectrum they fall, the reader does not know.
Excerpt #2
‘Listening to Hillary talk was like nails on a chalkboard. Her voice was piercing and I couldn’t believe the lies she spewed. 45 kept his composure so well. I was inspired by his poise. He was tall not just in height but in confidence.’
Breakdown
This snippet makes references to political figures both by name and symbol (45). This is someone who is obvious in their political views. While it is okay to have political role models, we want to be cautious when referencing them in our college application essays.
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Repeating accomplishments

The next faux pas students make on their college application essays is rehashing all of the accomplishments that were previously mentioned in their application. 

Similar to how this blog post started, listing your academic accomplishments, extracurricular involvement, 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 know about the color of the walls of your childhood bedroom or your favorite flavor of bubble gum. 

Admissions officers read thousands of essays a day. They want to read essays that will excite them about the student and see the applicant from a unique lens. 

starting a nonprofit

Let’s look at some more examples:

Excerpt #1
‘Outside of my AP classes, I spent a huge portion of my time leading my Student Government. As president of my class, I have been able to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in my school. This, combined with my efforts as the President of the Green Earth Club has really helped me further my interests in ecologically friendly lifestyles.’
Breakdown
While this isn’t the worst paragraph in the world, it definitely places too much emphasis on being the president of two clubs. The student could speak about their interest in eco-friendly efforts and lifestyles in a way that doesn’t repeat what we likely already know about them. Admissions officers know about your extracurricular involvement (should you tell them). It isn’t really necessary to repeat it in your college application essays.
Excerpt #2
'I look around my school cafeteria and see a sea of plastic water bottles. Sea is the perfect word since that is likely where they will end up. I mount my bike and ride home, trying to avoid the cloud of fumes that are emitted from the trucks exiting the parking lot. Paper straws were just a bandaid on a much larger problem. The conversations we have during Green Earth Club only helped me open my eyes to the deeper issues involved in climate change.'
Breakdown
This paragraph is also not perfect, but it provides more color to the student’s surroundings without repeating their clubs and extracurricular activities. We learned about the Green Earth Club in a way that complimented the rest of the imagery.
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Losing the main character

Finally, students oftentimes get caught up writing a story about someone who is a role model or a motivator for them. This can be a parent, a friend, or a teacher. However, they make the focal point about that person and not about them. The reader learns more about the student’s parent, friend, or teacher and in the end has learned nothing about the student themselves. 

Let’s look at one final example:

Excerpt #1
'My mom sacrificed everything for me growing up. Working three jobs, then coming home in time to cook dinner was her way of showing me and my siblings love. She would cook anything she could find, but I never noticed she never sat down to eat with us. I never noticed she was tired as she hastily cleaned the kitchen before leaving for her final shift. She would walk 15 miles to work both ways in worn-out shoes never once complaining about the heat.'
Breakdown
So if the essay continues in this pattern we learn more about the mom than we ever do about the student. Some information about the student is revealed such as the fact they have siblings and were likely alone a lot. Other than that we learn very little about them.
Excerpt #2
'My first-grade teacher was an excellent writer, or so I thought at seven years old. The way her writing swooped across the page in swirls and loops, entrancing me with every word. I would feverishly practice every night replicating her handwriting, and soon I found myself replicating her words. I would write tales of creatures, beasts, and goblins. I couldn’t wait to get to school and show them to her, anxiously waiting for her approval. Finally, she uttered those six words that changed my life forever: “You could be a writer someday”. '
Breakdown
While this paragraph starts out talking about someone else, the reader soon learns how that person was a motivator and inspiration to the student. The story then shifts to the student and the reader learns about their passion for writing. While the teacher is still intertwined in the story, they are more of a side character than the focal point.
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There are many more mistakes students can make on their college essays such as spelling and grammar errors, going off-topic, and just writing a generally vague story. However, if a student remembers the story is about them and what makes them special, the rest should fall into place. 

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At Prepory, we recognize there is more to college applications than demonstrating interest. Contact us now to learn more about how we can guide you through each part of the college admissions process!

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