The 5 Biggest Mistakes in College Admissions Essays
Oct07

The 5 Biggest Mistakes in College Admissions Essays

College admissions essays are important — and different. The following is a guest post by Janson Woodlee, co-founder of Ivy Eyes Editing. Your college admissions essay is probably unlike anything you’ve ever written. What other class or context has demanded you compose a self-actualizing, authentic piece of prose that also subtly “markets” your life experience? The admissions context is unique in this regard, and requires some strategic understanding of your audience: what they’re reading and what they want to be reading. At Ivy Eyes Editing, we have read thousands of college admissions essays and established a solid calibration for what makes an admissions essay extraordinary. So, what are the 5 biggest mistakes that we see applicants routinely make? 1. A lack of authenticity. Most applicants obtusely write what the AdCom (Admissions Committee) wants to hear (“winning the swim meet was amazing—I’m so proud I won!”) rather than the more difficult, reflective alternative (“winning the swim meet was amazing but surprisingly difficult—my swim career was over”). Authenticity makes you you, it makes you a stronger community member, and it makes you likeable. Keep it authentic! 2. Tackling too much. Most applicants try to compress their life story into their admissions essay; however, remember that your essay isn’t your resume in narrative form. Focusing on a seemingly insignificant moment in a coffee shop will likely yield more interesting, thoughtful content. Typically, you only have 800 words or so. Get granular and dig deep! 3. Generic angles. The hyper-descriptive intro that starts with the onomatopoeia (“KA-BOOM!”), the one-size-fits-all, resume-supporting framework (describing the photos on a nightstand), the melodramatic essay that explores a difficult circumstance (“When my dog died…”): we’ve all read these essays before. Your admissions essay is somewhat like a 1st date or conversation, and hackneyed narrative tactics will cause most listeners to tune out. 4. Language level. Your admissions essay must be fundamentally reader-friendly. It should not read like a dense PhD dissertation OR an informal e-mail to your best friend; it should strike a balance between the two. Don’t use a series of clichés. Do write in your own language and remember to show rather than tell. 5. Misusing the admissions essay. Your essay can truly be a marketing opportunity. There is a correct, subtle way to articulate your strengths and strengthen your candidacy. So, take a step back. Given the rest of your application, what should your reader know about you—and what does your essay tell them? Admissions writing truly requires a new set of skills which most high school applicants don’t frequently get to practice or cultivate. However, avoiding some of these pitfalls will help you as...

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