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25 College Application Essay Mistakes that Guarantee Failure

What Makes Bad College Essays Bad

❶Tackling too much of your life.

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If you come across as a spoiled child, a stuck-up rich kid, lazy, sarcastic or a cynic, the admissions team might decide that you are not the right fit for their school. While few applicants are genuinely altruistic, most colleges are turned off by students who appear more focused on what the school can do for them, rather than how they can benefit from the education and at the same time be a contributing member of the campus community.

If you are applying to a business program, the average starting salary of recent graduates should not be your stated motivation for seeking admission! A good way to catch mistakes is to read your essay very slowly and out loud. Some of the best and most memorable essays are based on a simple conversation between people.

The impressions and takeaways from such a conversation can be extremely engaging and provide a valuable window into the personality and values of the writer. Skip the Volunteer Trip. Dedicated community service over a period of time can be a strong topic for an application essay. Volunteer day at the local park, or two weeks of school building in Africa, will probably not impress the admissions committee. They see many essays of this type. Not only is it difficult to stand out from the pack, but these experiences are often more about the experience than about you, or convey that money buys opportunity.

The admissions committee relies on essays to learn additional things about you such as your initiative, curiosity about the world, personal growth, willingness to take risks, ability to be self directed, motivation and ability to make the most of a situation. They are interested in your personal qualities such as leadership, confidence, ability to work in a team, strength of character, resilience, sense of humor, ability to get along with others and what you might add to the campus community.

In short, use your essays to showcase a side of you not visible from other parts of the application. Peruse the Entire Application. Many applications, especially for some of the more competitive schools, are complex and require multiple essays and short answers. For example, if you have five key areas you wish to cover, and there are five essays, try to strategically focus on one area in each essay.

Resist the temptation to be a sesquipedalian or come across as a pedantic fop! Use caution when showing off your extensive vocabulary. You risk using language improperly and may appear insecure or overly eager to impress. Check Your Ego at the Door. While self doubt is generally undesirable, a bit of humility can be well received, especially in an essay about overcoming adversity. Few students have a perfect resume, which is apparent in the application.

The key to being memorable is providing as many details as possible. What thoughts were going through your mind?

What did you see or hear? What were you feeling during the time? Details help bring the admissions offcers into your mind to feel your story. Some students take to heart the advice to share something about themselves, but they end up sharing too much. They think that they must be so revealing that they use their essay to admit to something that they would never have confessed otherwise.

There have been students who have writ-ten about getting drunk, feeling suicidal, or pulling pranks on their teachers.

But for the most part, these kinds of topics are highly risky. The essay is not the application form, and it is not a resume. Not having a connection with the application form. Not going deep enough. Ask yourself why you wanted to do this. Your answer is that you wanted to help the homeless. Ask yourself why this was important to you. Your answer is that you imagined your family in this situation.

You would greatly appreciate if others showed compassion and helped you. Because you wanted to gain hands-on experience as a leader. Keep asking yourself why until you have analyzed the situation as fully as possible. The answers you come up with are what will make your essay stronger.

Not getting any feedback. Practically every article that you read in a magazine, book, or newspaper or on the Internet has been edited. The reason is that writing should not be an isolated experience. You may know exactly what you want to convey in your own mind, but when you put it on paper, it may not come out as clearly as it was in your mind.

It helps to get feedback. Ask parents, teachers, or even friends to read and comment on your essay. They can help you identify what can be edited out, what needs to be explained better, or how you can improve your work. Getting too much feedback. Asking one or two people for feedback on your essay is probably enough.

If you ask more than that, you may lose the focus of your writing. Having too many editors dilutes your work because everyone has a different opinion. If you try to incorporate all of the opinions, your essay will no longer sound like you.

Trying to be extraordinarily different. Ruling out common topics. There are topics that admissions offcers see over and over again such as your identity, your relationship with your family, extracurricular activities, and the Big game. Your topic is not as important as what you say about it. For example, many students choose to write about their moms or dads. Explain how your dad made banana pancakes every morning and what that taught you about family, or how your mom almost got into a fght with another mom who made a racist comment.

Make a common topic uncommon by personalizing it. Maybe you groaned at the Tv or gave it an un-amused expression. Keep in mind that the jokes on Tv are written by professional writers who earn large salaries to be funny. Just be sure to ask an adult or two to read the essay to see if they agree with you that it is funny. Also, be careful how you write about your high school teachers, administrators, and classmates.

Of course, schools read applications contextually—for students who are first in their family even to graduate high school, going to a premier college and getting a well-paying, white-collar job IS ambitious.

Readers know this and adjust their thinking accordingly. Lack of familiarity with school: Most schools use some sort of admissions rubric to normalize their applicant pool. Some schools factor the amount of interest an applicant seems to have for the school—i. All schools want to admit students who genuinely know and like the school and might actually attend if admitted. Your essay should be full of specific details about the academic programs and student activities that attract you to the school and how you would contribute to the school community.

Each of us has a dark side—we have personality flaws and the emotional baggage that accumulates simply from living in an imperfect world. The application is a place to celebrate the other side, your best self. Also avoid the other type of TMI: In general, application readers have a TON of stuff to read in a very short window of time.

You are what you do! For anyone who still thinks perfect grades and SAT scores get you into highly selective colleges in the US, think again! What you do outside of the formal classroom—your extracurricular activities—is one of the most important things that separates merely qualified applicants from desirable ones.

Also, provide an explanation of any obscure activities. Answer each essay prompt individually! You can score low marks on the demonstrated interest test if it is obvious to the reader that you have repurposed an essay for another school to kinda, sorta fit their prompt.


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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.

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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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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. U.S. News asked admissions professionals from around the country to weigh in on . For the application cycle, the Common Application essay prompts remain unchanged from the cycle. With the inclusion of the "Topic of Your Choice" option, you have the opportunity to write about anything you want to share with the folks in the admissions office.

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The application process is time-consuming, even with the Common Application, so be sure to set aside plenty of time for completing the essay itself. The essay should be thoughtful and show your capabilities and potentials, not likely something you want to simply churn out in a few hours. This guide explains the common pitfalls students face and which college essay topics to avoid. Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes You Must Avoid. Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.