9 Common Mistakes May Kill Your College Application Essay

June 3rd, 2019   |   Updated on December 7th, 2020

A well-written college application essay, can boost your chances of admission. But a poorly-written one can result in you getting rejected.

The essay is the one part of your application that you have complete control over. You can write it the night before it’s due and turn in a piece that is half-baked, or you can spend a little time on the essay and turn in one that can set you apart from the competition.

The best essays are the ones where somebody gets the chance of learning something new about you or learn about your true passion.

Your college application essay says a lot about you. It is like your personal introduction to the admission office. Say the right things in the right way. Avoid these common mistakes because they actually kill your college essay:

1. Bad Grammar


Bad punctuation and incorrect spelling are one of the easiest ways to lose the interest of readers.

Your College essay must be free of these common errors:

  • Confusing its & it’s; your & you’re; or there, their & they’re
  • Run on sentences & fragments
  • Verb/noun agreement and verb tense
  • Singular articles before plural nouns like “an alumni”
  • Misusing “me” and “I”
  • Split infinitives
  • Ending a sentence with a preposition
  • Missing apostrophes
  • Incorrect use of semicolons (Tip: If you’re not sure about semicolons, avoid them all together.)
  • Overuse of contractions
  • Poor use of the word “got” or “get” (Tip: Don’t write “get” when you mean “understand”.)
  • Too many exclamation points

Always remember, when it comes to your college application, grammatical accuracy is key.

2. Missing The Entire Point Of The Question

Avoiding Common Admissions Essay Mistakes: Watch Video

College essay questions often suggest one or two main ideas or topics of focus. Read the essay questions and/or prompts. Read them again. Then read them one more time. If you miss the entire point of the question, it does not say great things about your ability to follow basic instructions.

3. Using Cliches

Essays based on cliches usually leave scant impression on admissions readers. Many cliched topics exemplify asymmetrical importance: what matters dearly to a teenager matters not at all to an adult reader, especially one as detached, anonymous, and disinterested as a college admissions officer.

Example: Application essays ask students to discuss the most life-changing events of their young lives. For any student who immigrated to the U.S. from a non-English speaking country, that life-changing event is probably their immigration experience. Unfortunately, life-changing though it is, this experience is not unique.

4. Ignoring The Right Length

Many prompts specify a desired number of words or a range. If it’s 200 to 250 words, don’t insert your 500 word essay. In fact, many on-line applications will not even accept more than the stated limit. If there is only an upper limit, don’t stress if your essay appears too short.

The 2018-19 version of the Common Application has an essay-length limit of 650 words. Even though the essay prompts change regularly, this length limit has now been in place for four years.

You can trim personal statement and college essays without destroying content. Circle or highlight all adverbs—then take them out; Circle or highlight all adverbs—then take them out; Tighten up helping verbs.

5. Relying Too Much On Spell Checker

Spelling mistakes on your college application can be the kiss of death, hence, never rely too much on spell checker. Just because everything is spelled properly doesn’t mean it is correct.

The following are some commonly misused words that standard spellcheckers will not catch:

  • advise/advice
  • loose/lose
  • passed/past
  • dessert/desert
  • weather/whethe
  • then/than
  • site/sight/cite

6. Falling In Love with Thesaurus

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One of the most pretty silly mistakes applications make is turning into Thesaurus Theodore. Using a thesaurus is a great idea, but you must replace words in moderation.

Also remember that just because the thesaurus says a word is a synonym for another word, doesn’t mean it’s the word’s exact counterpart. Some words, when replaced by a synonym, no longer mean the same thing.

By using the thesaurus to change word you may end up sounding fake. Whatever words you know right now, you should use. This will help you develop your voice and sound unique.

7. Repeating The Prompt In Your Essay

You only have so many words, sometimes as many as 1,000 in the case of Villanova, and sometimes as few as 150 in the case of Harvard. Don’t waste words regurgitating the prompt admissions officers have already read a thousand times.

They know the prompts by heart, trust us. Additionally, it’s plain boring! Start your essay off with something that hooks the reader, not puts them to sleep.

8. TMI (Too Much Information)

TMI (too much information) means you are giving so so much information that could make you contradictive, incomplete or too irrelevant. When it comes to an application essay, just try to give only relevant information. It’s not your life-story or a confessional.

Here’s A List Of Don’ts For Your College Essay:

  • Don’t write about the relationship that failed
  • Don’t write about how much you love basketball, football, baseball, lacrosse, etc..
  • Why should you write about the night you went out drinking
  • It does not make sense of writing how you hate your mother/father/sister/brother
  • Don’t write about your cute cat or dog

You want to give a college the best possible reason for accepting you. So if you are sharing your fears, regrets, or vices, make sure to balance that information out with something positive about yourself.

The application is a place to celebrate the other side, your best self. Be very careful about revealing your neuroses, fears, failures, regrets, if those revelations aren’t convincingly balanced by highlighting the positives that came out of difficult experiences, by demonstrating that you have come through to the other side of the tunnel.

9. Leaving Out Vital Personal Details

Context is everything in the admissions process. Applicants from low socio-economic backgrounds, or whose parents did not attend college are measured with a different yardstick than affluent applicants who have had numerous opportunities for personal and academic growth and exploration.

The applicant who spends several hours every weekday babysitting younger siblings or who has to work 25 hours a week to help with the family finances, simply won’t have the extracurricular profile of her peers.