Competition for admission to the best schools is tough. You need top-notch grades and excellent test scores to make it to the top of the pile. But once you’re among the best of the best, then what? The college admissions essay can be the final piece of the puzzle that leads to a coveted acceptance letter.
When your application hangs in the balance, a mistake on your college essay can mean the difference between a hearty “yes” and a heartbreaking “no.” Before you send off that all-important essay, check to make sure you haven’t made these missteps along the way.
Blunder #1: These example essays online are perfect! Maybe I can use a few paragraphs here and there to spice up my own work.
Fix: Plagiarism is a guaranteed way to get your application rejected. Several colleges now use technology such as Turnitin for Admissions that scans essays and detects any patterns that match other works. Not only will schools turn you down outright for plagiarism, there are far-reaching consequences as well—if you are admitted and later it is discovered that you plagiarized your essay, you could be expelled from the college.
Avoid this blunder by always writing original work. Don’t pull ideas from other essays, and don’t lift words from other authors. If you choose to quote someone, make sure it is clear that you are citing their words, not actually passing them off as your own.
Blunder #2: There are so many things to tell them about me. How will this ever fit into their word limit?
Fix: Of course colleges want to learn about you, but there is such a thing as too much information. A long list of your accomplishments starts to sound just like that–a list, not an essay. An exhaustive study of your hopes, dreams and reasons why you want to attend that particular college can get in the way of your actual answer to the essay question.
Avoid these things by focusing on the simple reasons you want to attend that particular school. Highlight the best of your accomplishments. Explain where you hope your degree will take you. Keep it sweet, to the point and under the word count limit. Admissions counselors who have to read thousands of essays will see yours as a breath of fresh air.
Blunder #3: I have to impress them. This has to be the best writing of my life.
Fix: The decision-makers want to see your best writing, but they also want to see your personality shine through. Long-winded prose or using words that you would never utter in the course of a real conversation can make you stand out, but not in a good way. Now is not the time to channel Hemingway or Thoreau.
Avoid this by writing your essay with a professional yet friendly tone. Write as though you were speaking face-to-face before the admissions committee. Read it aloud to make sure it flows.
Blunder #4: I have worked on this essay for weeks. It is edited and polished to a high shine. Time to send it out!
Fix: Not so fast. When you have spent weeks working on a piece of writing, it is more important than ever to hand it to someone else for proofreading and editing. Working on your essay for a long time can make you blind to the little mistakes that others might catch in a heartbeat.
Avoid this by turning your essay over to someone for further editing, proofreading and suggestions. After that, give it a few days before you come back to make the corrections. This time away from the writing will give you a fresh perspective and you might catch things you missed before.
Blunder #5: There are so many of these to do. Maybe I can copy and paste to make the process easier?
Fix: When you simply copy and paste your essay into different applications, you aren’t actually answering the essay question posed by the admissions committee. Tweaking can help, but if the answer to their question is not at the core of your essay, they will notice.
Avoid this by keeping the focus on the essay question. Outline how you are going to answer it and then tackle the essay one paragraph at a time. The extra time you take to tailor your essay to a particular school will be noticed and appreciated by those who read your words.
Fix the blunders and get back on track
If you have stumbled into one of these college essay blunders, it’s time to back up and reassess. Start fresh if necessary. Stick to the topic of the essay, write it in your own style and then turn it over to someone else to proofread, edit and critique. Rewrite it until you are satisfied with the final product.
Then send it in with the application, cross your fingers and wait for the verdict. You’ve done your best; now it’s time to sit back and reap the rewards as those acceptances start rolling in.
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