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What Makes Bad College Essays Bad
Choosing the right essay prompt for you

The Common Application essay prompts are available here. Obviously, if you are moved by one prompt over the other and feel you have a really great idea, then any one of them will work. I love this question because it allows you to take the theme of your special talent and weave in a larger connection to the world.

This almost always makes a great essay. Remember though, this piece also has to tie into your academic and professional goals. If you want to discuss your prowess as a soccer player, make sure you talk about how it taught you leadership, teamwork, and responsibility Learning from failure can show thoughtfulness, strength, and maturity.

But I've also seen this prompt become an exercise in making excuses and needless confessions. It's important to think carefully about the example you share. First, admission adjudicators dislike reading excuses as to why your grades might have been low one semester or why you may have tanked the PSAT even if your story is legitimate: Second, revealing something like the time you were once suspended for skipping school or worse can easily backfire and paint you in an unfavorable light.

If you choose this prompt, be sure to focus on what you learned and how you're better because of your "failure. Like all Common App essay prompts, this topic has the potential to reveal a lot about your values, beliefs, and character. But, again, I recommend treading lightly with this prompt, because it's easy to venture into unintentionally off-putting territory. For example, if you write about something politically charged, it might have a negative effect—you just never know.

If you choose this prompt and write about an idea or belief you challenged that you would repeat, discuss why you are even more certain of your actions today, showing confidence in your trajectory. This is another great prompt. If you have worked on a notable project in or outside of school , this allows you to brag about it. Again, make sure to tie the story into your professional and academic goals.

One specific really loud kid? Why were their clothes dirty? Did they have Sunday clothes? Traditional clothes they would put on for special occasions? Did they make their own clothes? The rewrite should either make this section more specific and less reliant on cliches, or should discard it altogether. What did their leader tell them? What was different in real life?

What was the light like? What time of day was it? Reading vague generalizations is like trying to make sense of this blurry picture. And after a while, who cares? Without a framing device explaining that this initial panic was an overreaction, this section just makes the author sound whiny, entitled, melodramatic, and immature. Just how much mortality is typically associated with these very standard college-application-boosting service trips?

In a rewrite, I would suggest including more perspective on the author's outsized and overprivileged response here. This would fit well with a new focus on the different points of view on this village the author encountered. Is it really believable that this is what the author learned?

This conclusion is rather vague, and seems mostly a non sequitur. It's important to include deep thoughts and insights into your essay - just make sure your narrative supports your conclusions! Want to read some excellent college essays now that you've seen some examples of flawed one?

Need some guidance on other parts of the application process? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:. Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

You should definitely follow us on social media. You'll get updates on our latest articles right on your feed. Follow us on all 3 of our social networks:. How to Get a Perfect , by a Perfect Scorer. Score on SAT Math. Score on SAT Reading. Score on SAT Writing. What ACT target score should you be aiming for? Anna Wulick May 18, 9: College Essay Topics To Avoid Want to know why you're often advised to write about something mundane and everyday for your college essay?

Writing in too much detail about your illness, disability, any other bodily functions. Detailed meaningful discussion of what this physical condition has meant to you and your life is a great thing to write about.

But stay away from body horror and graphic descriptions that are simply there for gratuitous shock value. Waxing poetic about your love for your significant other. Confessing to odd and unusual desires of the sexual or illegal variety. Your obsession with cultivating cacti is wonderful topic, while your obsession with researching explosives is a terrible one. Writing about committing crime as something fun or exciting.

Even if you're in a state where some recreational drugs are legal, you're a high school student. Your only exposure to mind-altering substances should be caffeine. You're unlikely to be a good enough fantasist to pull this off, and there's no reason to roll the dice on being discovered to be a liar. Unless you have a great story of coping with one of these, leave deal-breakers like pathological narcissism out of your personal statement.

Too Overconfident While it's great to have faith in your abilities, no one likes a relentless show-off. Bragging and making yourself the flawless hero of your essay. This goes double if you're writing about not particularly exciting achievements like scoring the winning goal or getting the lead in the play. The application already includes your resume, or a detailed list of your various activities. Every athlete tries to write this essay.

Unless you have a completely off-the-wall story or unusual achievement, leave this overdone topic be. Did you learn a valuable lesson about how privileged you are? Unfortunately, so has every other teenager who traveled on one of these trips. Unfortunately, many of the hard, formative events in your life are fairly universal. Only detailed, idiosyncratic description can save this topic. It's a technique that seems clever, but has already been done many times in many different ways. This is especially true if your solution is an easy fix, if only everyone would just listen to you.

Starting with a famous quotation. There usually is no need to shore up your own words by bringing in someone else's. Of course, if you are writing about a particular phrase that you've adopted as a life motto, feel free to include it. B ut even then, having it be the first line in your essay feels like you're handing the keys over to that author and asking them to drive. They are like this, and like that, and people love them for all of these reasons.

On August 1 the Common Application went live letting students send out applications to the over colleges that participate in the program. The following are some of the most common mistakes counselors at International College Counselors have seen students make on this college application. Learning from mistakes helps them not get repeated.

Failure to Follow Directions. Answer spaces should not be left blank unless there are spaces on the application that clearly do not apply to the student. Students must also make sure to stick with the word or character limits on essays and other responses.

Spelling and grammar mistakes must be avoided. Students should have at least two people proofread their application, including the essay. Waiting too Long to Ask for Letters of Recommendation. Students should give their references at least one month before the earliest deadline to complete and send the letters. The earlier a recommendation is asked for, the better.


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Eliminate Common College Application Errors (iStockphoto) Applying to college is a stressful time for any student, so don't risk sabotaging your hard work by making avoidable mistakes during the process.

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25 College Application Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure For every open slot at an Ivy League college, there are 10 to 12 eager applicants vying for it–and you're one of them. On paper, most applicants appear very similar.

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There are, however, many common mistakes that applicants make that can be easily avoided by planning ahead, taking your time, and being mindful of the information that you’re giving to the admissions committee. These mistakes or “red flags” could send your application to the “no” pile if you’re not careful. Check to make sure you haven't made any of the common mistakes on this list. Tone-Deafness. Admissions officers are looking for resourcefulness, the ability to be resilient, and an active and optimistic approach to life – these are all qualities that create a thriving college student. Essays that don't show these qualities are usually suffering from tone-deafness.

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For example, “country” and “county” should not be mixed up. Answer spaces should not be left blank unless there are spaces on the application that clearly do not apply to the student. Students must also make sure to stick with the word or character limits on essays and other responses. Not Proofreading Applications. Spelling and grammar mistakes must be avoided. Students should have at least two . Even the most beautiful essay may not sway college admissions officers if the writer did not follow the prompt. The Common Application essay also has length limitation, typically around words. That’s approximately three double-spaced pages, so every word counts, and every sentence must serve a .