As a graduate admissions director at a major university for 26 years, I have read tens of thousands of college application essays. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when writing your essay:
Writing a single generic essay
Some applicants write one essay, change a few words, and then basically submit the same application essay to all of the remaining schools. These types of college application essays are easy to spot and are usually ineffective. One size does not fit all. Each essay needs to be carefully tailored to fit each school. Read the application essay questions for each school and be sure that you answer the questions! When I served on the admissions committee, we paid special attention to this detail, and gave additional points to applicants who answered our essay questions well. Also, if the essay should be 500 words, don’t submit a 200-word or 1500-word essay!
Lack of clarity
A common problem with many college application essays is that they contain stereotypical, trite statements and lack clarity. For example, rather than saying “I am looking forward to taking classes with the outstanding faculty at your university” say something like “I am especially interested in The Cold War and am looking forward to taking Professor X’s class on The Cuban Missile Crisis and Professor Y’s class on The Soviet Union in the Khrushchev era.”
Failing to proofread your application essay
Bear in mind that your application essay is not only a personal statement – it is also a writing sample! A poorly written essay may cause members of the admissions committee to question your ability to do college level work at a competitive university. Admissions committee members typically read 30 or more application essays a day during the reading season, and will appreciate essays that are clear, concise, and well written. So before you submit your application, carefully proofread your application essay for typos, grammatical errors, and awkwardly worded sentences. Delete unnecessary words, sentences and/or paragraphs that just add clutter.
Avoid careless mistakes such as misspelling the name of the school or the degree title. Also, if you cut and paste a paragraph of your application essay from a previously written essay for another school, be sure to carefully proof that section and delete all references to the first school in the second essay. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot — these types of silly mistakes happen more often than you might think!
Applying to the wrong school or degree program
In many college application essays you will need to identify the specific degree program you are applying for and explain why you are a good fit for that program. It’s important to research and understand the school and the program, including the curriculum, faculty, requirements, and other relevant features (e.g. study abroad options, internships, etc.), and to demonstrate your knowledge of the program in your essay. I read more than a few essays where it was clear that the student had not done adequate research and had applied to the wrong school and/or program.
This former admissions officer from George Washington University is one of AdmissionsCheckup’s 60 former admission officers who evaluate applications before they are submitted. For more information, call 203-762-6500 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to read our other blogs, click here.
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