12 Do's and Don'ts for College Application Essays

What are the most important Do's and Don'ts of the College Application Essay?

There are a many factors to weigh when writing your essay for the common application, including what topics to consider, how to create a captivating opening, and how to structure your essay properly. When setting out on this journey, or simply reviewing your draft, it is important to consider some common do’s and don’ts from previous admissions advisors. This will make sure you are avoiding frequently observed pitfalls of the application process, while including the elements that are recommended for success.

DO’s for College Application Essays

Do's for College Application Essay
  • DO read carefully over the essay prompt options, and write a few ideas down for the prompts that elicit great subject ideas to discuss from your own life. Pick the prompt and story related to it that tells the most about you as an applicant. Remember, if you are not passionate about it – no stranger reading it will be either.
  • DO include 1-2 meaningful experiences in detail that you are most proud of related to your topic of choice, and expand on them to show the admissions committee why they are so important and integral to who you are as an applicant
  • DO plan in advance and take a few minutes to briefly outline your essay structure with an idea for an opening, experiences you wish to expand upon in the middle, and a take home-message in your closing to the admissions committee (this can take a few minutes, but save you significant time in the end because you have now set your essay structure and have a roadmap for how to write the entire first draft).
  • DO utilize the space that is offered to you, and aim for at least 500 words in the essay
  • Choose a story that reveals something about your character and you as a person – not just simply highlighting your accomplishments (these will be evident in your C.V. and activities section already).
  • DO go through multiple draft edits, ensure that it is free of spelling errors and mistakes, and that you transition logically from paragraph to paragraph so that the essay flows well
  • DO have someone else with experience (preferably multiple people) read through your essay to proofread it and confirm that you are relaying your intended message across as planned

DON’Ts for College Application Essays

  • DO NOT simply write the bare minimum of 250-300 words and leave the rest to chance – it shows the committee you only did the amount that was necessary to submit the application
  • DO NOT use cliches such as ‘read between the lines’ or ‘truly broadened my horizons’– get someone to review your essay to make sure it is free of overused terms
  • Avoid using negative or overly derogatory language such as ‘dumb’ or ‘ignorant’ (instead think of ways in which it can be framed in a manner that gets the point across without being insulting)
  • DO NOT use overly large words and complicated constructions to try to impress the admissions committee – they read many essays per year and can tell an authentic voice from those that are pulled from a thesaurus. Write in a way that is true to you as an applicant
  • DO NOT simply list many of your C.V. or resume accomplishments out in sentence-form. The essay is an opportunity to share something unique about yourself as a person that reviewers can’t easily gleam from simply reading your resume
  • DO NOT ignore the supplemental essays – they are read just as carefully by admissions committees for that school or program, and can be just as helpful or detrimental to your application depending on the effort that is put in

Frequently asked questions

How important is the personal statement for college applications?

Since universities can receive thousands of applications, and many of these applicants all have average or above average GPA and standardized test scores, the personal statement is an important differentiator that lets the admissions committee know who you are as a person and what you can uniquely contribute to their institution.

How important are secondary essays for college applications?

Many admissions experts agree that the secondary essays for specific colleges are even more important than the personal essay in the common application. The reason for this is that the college in question has specifically posed these essay questions because they believe that they reveal a more telling story regarding their applicants. Since this determines who they will then want to accept at their institution, it is important not to rush through the secondary essays and make the best effort possible in standing out in your essay.

Should I go through multiple drafts of my college essays?

Absolutely. You should have multiple people review your essays for grammar and spelling errors, transition quality, and overall message. The most polished essays that are application-ready have usually been through at least 2 or 3 revisions prior to submission.

What is the most common interview format for college?

The most common format for college interviews is one-on-one or panel interviews (two or more interviewers with one applicant). It is important to prepare and practice answers to the most common college interview questions.

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