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Avoid These 5 College Admissions Essay Pitfalls

It’s here! College admissions season is well underway, and just as college students across the nation have started their classes, high school seniors are working to join their ranks for the upcoming year. As always, one of those key pieces to the admissions puzzle is the essay. And just like any component of your college application, the essay is easy to mess up with some basic mistakes. Here are five pitfalls that you should avoid like the academic plague:

Pitfall #1: Saying everything about your life in a single essay

You’re a really interesting person who participates in a lot of clubs and has gone on many trips. In fact, your resume longer than a Russian novel. But guess what? You can’t expect to talk about every facet of your life in 500-word essays. I mean, sure, you could say everything about yourself--or near it--in one-sentence bursts, but it wouldn’t be a compelling read. It would be rather boring, actually. The remedy? Focus. Make each of your essays about one thing, and dig really deep into that one thing to make it detailed and compelling. For example, write a whole essay about one club. And not just that: one event you hosted with that one club. Less is more.

Pitfall #2: Writing too much about other people (or things or ideas)

Hey, I get it. You are a little shy and don’t want to talk about yourself, because that would be like boasting or coming off as arrogant, right? Well, believe it or not, colleges want you to brag a little bit about yourself. You are selling yourself to the university, after all, so it makes sense to focus on your strengths, on your accomplishments--in short, on you. Sure, you can talk about your inspiring teacher or an idea that you think’s really cool, but don’t lose focus on the star of these essays: you. College admissions officers want to get to know the student behind the 4.0 GPA and 1600 SAT score.

Pitfall #3: Using a gimmicky format or topic to set yourself apart from others

I say this all the time: don’t write a college admissions poem. Poetry is great. It is an art form that has lasted for centuries--The Odyssey, anyone? But you are most likely not a great poet (sorry!) and now you have wasted precious essay space with a terrible piece of writing that has a mildly interesting rhyme scheme. Do yourself a favor and let your personality shine with solid prose writing that doesn’t employ style over substance. Get the college admissions officers’ attention with good ideas and execution, not wowey-zowee formatting.

Pitfall #4: Fearing honesty

Maybe you haven’t gotten in tune with your inner self. Maybe thinking about your feelings and that “emotional stuff” is not very appealing to you. Tough nuggets. You want to sell yourself as a human being who wants to attend college? Then crack a little bit of your personal shell and show the rest of the world what’s hiding down there. You don’t need to write a bestselling memoir, but you can’t give robotic, generic responses to your prompts. If you feel like your essays have the voice of Siri, then you need to reconsider your approach.

Pitfall #5: Expecting to write the essay in one sitting

Ain’t gonna happen. A mediocre essay, yes. But a good one? Nope. Plan on drafting at least two versions (to get above mediocre) and well into four or five. Just think: there are students who spend hours, weeks, and even months reviewing these essays with themselves, friends, family members and professionals. To stand out, you can’t go at this task like it’ll be a piece of cake. It will be a piece of stone. A hard, slimy stone. Ewwww.

That’s it. Don’t stumble into these pitfalls and you’ll be well on your way to crafting a decent essay. And if you need more help, we at B2A offer essay editing services. It just might be in your best interest to get someone to look over your work to give you the best guidance around. What are you waiting for?

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