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5 Mistakes to Avoid in Your College Essays

Your application has made it past the initial round and is waiting on a table with a hundred other applications to be scrutinized by yet another admissions officer. The difference this time, is that your application is just another 2100 in the pool of over-achieving applications. Your high scores and GPA won’t be enough alone to get you past this final round.

Yale’s most recent year of enrolled students averaged a 2260 on the SAT.  This means that even if you got a 2200 on the entrance exam, you really aren’t impressing anyone in the office. The applicants that make it past the first round all submitted near-perfect scores, so some other part of your application has to really stand out to gain admission. This is when your underestimated college essay comes into play.

Your college essay is your opportunity to show the admissions office that you are more than just a number. This piece of your application is the tiebreaker between you and your neighboring school’s salutatorian, who sent in a comparable GPA, SAT score and extracurricular activities. When all else is equal, the final decision comes down to how effectively you can convince the admissions office that you are of value to the school in 250 words or less. No pressure.

Many students are not aware that the college essay is considered this heavily in the admissions process.  This misjudgment has caused too many students to send in poorly written essays with recurring mistakes.

Here are the top five mistakes that you should avoid when writing your college essays:

  1. Don’t mention your resume/application. The admissions office has already reviewed your grades, awards, activities and everything else that you included in your application. Don’t waste the extra five minutes you have repeating something your reader already knows unless it’s to extend on a topic that you’re passionate about, like how your AP Psychology course developed a desire to do research at the pediatric hospital by your school.
  2. Don’t make it too long. If the prompt asks for a 250-word essay, give them just that. They already know you’re intelligent based off your grades so do not send them a philosophical, 700-word dissertation. The admissions process requires an essay to learn more about your curiosity about the world, passion in life and what motivates you.
  3. Don’t use it to explain a weakness in your application. The essay is a chance for you to show the admissions office what you excel in, not to give an excuse for why you failed AP Calculus. Don’t misuse your extra five minutes you’ve earned with an admissions officer reminding them of the weaker parts of your application.
  4. Don’t brag. This is related to tip #1. Again, whoever is reading your essay has already reviewed your overall application. They know you were the valedictorian of your school so don’t waste this space describing how unchallenged you felt in all of your AP courses. You make yourself come off cocky and it makes them think that you have nothing else to offer them but your grades.
  5. Don’t just tell them something, show them. The admissions office receives hundreds of essays about students who “want to make a change in the world”. Everyone does, but rarely anyone acts on this desire. Stating what you want to do won’t impress these readers. Instead, describe how fulfilling your commitment to feeding the homeless every Saturday morning has been for you during your high school years. If you don’t have a story to share that shows your dedication to making a change, then stray away from making these empty statements.

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