College Essay Traps to Avoid

lightbulb momentOne of the most stressful parts of the college admissions process for many students is writing college essays. Before you or your student becomes frustrated, learn about common college essay writing pitfalls and make a plan to avoid them.

The College Essay Book Inferiority Complex

Student, or their parents, must love to buy books of sample successful college essays because there are dozens of these books available. Titles include Essays That Will Get You Into College, 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays, Accepted: 50 Successful College Admissions Essays, and 100 Successful College Application Essays. Notice how even the titles all start to sound the same?  Some students totally shut down after reading these books. When you plan to major in engineering holding yourself to the standard of a creative writing major who aspires to write for The New Yorker can really undermine your confidence. Some of the techniques that work for the most talented and creative of writers, such as particular kinds of humor, can be a real flop for the typical applicant. Teens are best advised to keep their own original voice and ideas rather than to push themselves to sound like a model version that is published in a book.

Last Minute Rush

Essays written at the last minute nearly always sound like they were written at the last minute. Nearly every essay improves with time and revision. It is very common for students to spend some time on an essay and end up discarding it for another topic. That is part of the process. Look at the deadlines and give yourself some time to work on essays and let them sit so you can come back to them with fresh eyes.

Too Many Editors

I do not advise that students keep their essays entirely private. It is important to have other people read and comment on your work. This should happen in two phases – both in the early idea stage and again as a final proof read to catch those pesky little proofreading errors that can be hard to spot yourself. While it is important to have other people read your work, it can also be stifling if you invite too many highly opinionated people to offer opinions. It can be difficult and discouraging if too many people try to insert their ideas. Choose your readers carefully and keep the numbers down.

Getting Carried Away with Recycling

It is true there can be overlap in essay topics between different colleges and scholarships. It is good to look for common themes and find ways to make one strong essay work for more than one purpose. There are limits to repurposing, though. Seeking to cut down on the drive-by applicants who just throw in applications with no real interest in the school, some colleges ask much more specific essays that require more careful writing. Try not to push the bounds of recycling in these situations because it will be obvious, particularly if you make the classic mistake of including the wrong college name in your essay.

Diminishing Returns

Assemble a realistic college list that includes both schools that you have a good chance to be admitted to and can afford, but also that you have time to really put good effort into the application. Make sure you prioritize your applications and put the most effort into the schools where you have a realistic chance at admissions. Some students will getting excited about questions from a school with slim admissions odds, and then shortchange the application to a more realistic chance school that might offer a good scholarship. Try to get a sense of the overall number of essays you need to write before you start and only put in the number of applications you can do a good job on.

You may also be interested in:
Common Application Essay Strategies
Admissions Essay Tip: Think About your Audience
Admissions Essays: The Importance of Originality

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