8 College Essay Mistakes that Could Cost You Your Admission


Article Summary: Wondering what not to write about in a college application essay? Worried your essay won’t wow the admissions committee? This guide has got you covered! In it, we’ll go over things to avoid in college essays and how to ensure you leave a lasting impression on the decision-makers.

A bad college essay is like a bland, generic dish. It will leave the admissions committee unsatisfied and hungry for more. But with some effort, authenticity, and maybe even a little bit of spice, you can steer clear of the most common college yet costly essay mistakes and create an outstanding essay!

What Makes Bad College Essays Bad

Put simply, bad college essays are boring and fail to capture the reader’s interest. They lack focus and/or a personal touch, are vague, rely on cliches or overused topics, and offer no real insight into the writer. Bad college essays leave the readers uninspired, unimpressed, and unsure of whether the applicant should be put in the “yes” or “no” pile. 

To ensure you submit a stellar essay, avoid these eight college essay mistakes:

Overusing Cliches

Using cliches is a surefire way to make your college essay unoriginal and less impactful. If you find yourself opening your essay with the line, “the dictionary defines…” or using a quote by an influential historical figure, know that the admissions committee has seen it thousands of times before.

You should also avoid vague, overused statements in your body paragraphs. Simply stating you want to make a difference in the world, know the value of hard work or have never given up on your dreams, doesn’t offer the admissions committee enough insight into who you are.

The goal is to present a unique perspective about yourself, so use specific examples, your own words and experiences, and dig deep!

Sharing Too Much Information

Remember, the admissions committee isn’t your therapist or best friend. Of course, sharing meaningful experiences that shaped who you are is essential to a good college essay, but there's a limit to how much you should spill. 

The TMI or Too Much Information zone is a big no-no when it comes to college essays. So, be genuine and insightful, but keep it balanced. You want to leave a positive impression without overwhelming your readers.

​​Relying on the Thesaurus Too Much

Many students make the mistake of thinking the vocabulary they’re comfortable with isn’t advanced enough for the admissions committee. As such, they open up their thesaurus and look for the biggest, fanciest words to replace their own. The result? A college essay that’s drowning in complex jargon and has lost its authentic voice in the process.

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Don’t fall for this trap! Big words do not equate to intellect. The committee is more interested in how you use words to convey your ideas with clarity and sincerity, so use simple words you understand and feel comfortable using. In 2023, there are five exceptional tools available for providing assistance with essay writing

Writing Robotically 

Another one of the college essay mistakes students frequently make is impersonal essays. These types of essays are written very formally and resemble a textbook more than a personal narrative. They typically do not include any anecdotes and come off as robotic, lacking any emotional depth. 

These essays are difficult to connect with as there is no glimpse into the writer’s thoughts, feelings, or experiences. Use vivid descriptions throughout your essay, show don’t tell, and try to immerse your reader into your essay and life’s story as much as possible!

Being Overconfident

Being confident in your college essay can be a slippery slope. Sure, you’ll want to highlight your achievements and prove how awesome you are, but going overboard can leave the wrong impression. So, while confidence is great, arrogance is not. Nobody likes a show-off!

Trying to Evoke Pity

Admissions committees look for students THAT are resilient, dedicated, and can overcome challenges with a positive attitude. If you try to play the sympathy card, it will likely backfire on you. While you should share some of your struggles, you should also focus on your strengths and what you learned through these struggles.

Maintain a positive tone throughout your essay. You cannot guilt the admissions committee into admitting you into their competitive school! Instead, demonstrate your potential to thrive in college, as you will be met with various challenges that won’t be solved through tears or sob stories. 

Overlooking the Editing Stage

Students often overlook the editing stage thinking it won’t make or break their essays. This is another dire college essay mistake that can make what could’ve been an amazing essay just mediocre. 

If your essay is full of grammar mistakes, unclear sentences, or run-ons, it will reduce the power of your words. Amidst all these distractions, your message can get lost, and the admissions committee might perceive your essay as careless.

Rushing Your Masterpiece

The Mona Lisa took four years to complete and was still considered unfinished after all this time. Nonetheless, it is heralded as one of the most renowned paintings in history. While your essay shouldn’t take nearly as long to write, you can't rush art! 

If you want to submit an outstanding college essay, you need to give yourself enough time to perfect it. If you look over successful college essay samples, it’s evident a lot of time and effort went into them!

For your own essay, give yourself time to reflect, brainstorm, write several drafts, and revise your essay until you’re completely satisfied with it. This process will take a couple weeks at the very least, but it’s best to give yourself a few months.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know of the common college essay mistakes to avoid, you have the recipe for success. You should be able to add some flavor with authenticity and effort and whip up an outstanding admissions committee that’ll be a true feast for your readers’ minds!


This article is produced by Mary Banks, Guest Writer. Join SOL Team here.

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