Admissions officers are looking for an amazing application essay – not a perfect one. However, there’s a difference between a gaff and a pitfall, and some mistakes mean more than others in how the admissions committee will view your essay. Because of this, we’ve created a list of the biggest errors and what you can do to eliminate them from your application essays.
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1. Trying to write on the fly
Yes, you actually can write quickly – but only if you plan ahead. Thinking that there’s a great essay inside your head and that you can come away with something brilliant in just a few minutes probably isn’t the case. To create an effective essay in the shortest time, plan ahead with brainstorming and a strong outline. The whole prep process shouldn’t take a lot of time. Brainstorm for five minutes two or three times. Jot down a brief outline in one minute. Most applicants try to sidestep this process, but you’ll spend more time revising your essay if you skip them.
2. Trying to impress
With all the talk of needing to ‘wow’ the admissions officers, applicants can start to feel that they’ve got to present themselves as more than they are in order to have a chance. This is not the case. Instead, write with sincerity. The admissions officers genuinely want to get to know you. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with presenting yourself in the best light, make sure you’re highlighting the real you.
3. Trying to get around the prompt
There might be a question that you wish the admissions officers had asked, but you don’t see anything about that in the prompts. Unfortunately, there’s not really any way around this situation. You have to respond to the prompt that you were given. However, don’t give up hope. Many schools will give you the opportunity to write a brief essay about anything you feel that the admissions officers need to know.
4. Trying to go it alone
Don’t be afraid to reach out about your application essay. Ask people who know you well about the ideas that you brainstormed for your essay. They might remember details or other stories for you to consider including in your essay. Also, ask qualified people to take a look at your drafts. Are you getting your message across? What do you need to change so that your ideas are clearly conveyed to the reader?
5. Trying to write about too much
The trend in application essays is toward shorter word counts and character limits. Therefore, you’ll probably need to narrow down what you want to include in your application essay. It’s better to write about fewer topics in depth than write about many topics but only superficially. You probably have quite a few accomplishments under your belt that show you to be a qualified applicant. Therefore, look for the ones that have made the biggest difference in your life or in the lives of others.
6. Trying to use words from standardized tests
This is partly the fault of the tests themselves. In trying to craft something in a test format, standardized tests tend to use advanced vocabulary in slightly awkward ways that people would not use in real life. It’s important to include vocabulary at the appropriate level, but go beyond the flashcards and look online for some examples of the word in action to see if it fits with your intended meaning.
7. Trying to skimp on the intro and/or conclusion
Your introduction and conclusion should have the same level of quality as the rest of your essay. If your intro doesn’t catch the eye of the admissions officers, they might skim your essay instead of focusing as they read. If your conclusion doesn’t tie everything together for the reader, your essay probably won’t be memorable to the admissions officers. The intro and conclusion don’t need to be genius, but they do need to be solid in order to leave a lasting impression.