Common Mistakes Students Make in Their College Essay

Common Mistakes Students Make in Their College Essay

Every college applicant hopes to craft a piece of writing that makes their admissions reader sit back and say, “wow.” With millions of students applying to college each year, it's imperative to write an essay that stands out. On the other hand, no student hopes that their essay stands out for negative reasons. Whether it be an ill-considered topic, or simple carelessness, there are a number of factors that may deter your admissions officer, and hurt your chances of acceptance. Don’t let these common mistakes overshadow your skills, triumphs, and talents!

Overusing the Thesaurus

While it is important to vary your word choice and prose, overusing the thesaurus can easily become a detriment to your essay. Oftentimes, words from the thesaurus may not have the same exact meaning as the original. Choosing an unfamiliar word may change the meaning of your sentence, and may not fit within the context of your writing. Before selecting a word, research its definition to be sure you are saying what you mean. In addition, using big words to make yourself sound smart, can often do the opposite. This will stifle your own voice, and can make your writing sound insincere and clunky. 

Forgetting to Revise

Easily fixable grammatical and spelling errors will quickly deter your admissions officer. This illustrates that you are careless about your work, and in turn, don't really care about the university. Always be sure to proofread your work, and have someone else proofread it as well. ESAI’s College Admissions Tool can proofread your essay, and make suggestions to improve your writing.

Too Personal

The purpose of your college essay is to give college a sense of who you are, but remember that your work needs to remain professional. Showcase your personality and humor, but leave out inappropriate details of your life. Topics to avoid include your love life, vivid descriptions of an injury or illness, and underage drinking (or anything illegal). Writing about one of these topics will make your admissions reader uncomfortable, and will cause them to question your judgment. A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything you wouldn't tell your grandma!


Coming off as tone-deaf is a difficult issue to work around, since it's challenging to spot it with in your own writing. No matter what you write about, be sure to put a positive spin on it by the end.  If you are writing about a hardship, remember to consider what you’ve learned from it, rather than focusing on the negative. In turn, remember your privilege. Writing about a “first-world problem” can make you sound out of touch. 

Forcing Humor

While admissions readers enjoy well-placed, clever humor, if your jokes don’t land, it will leave a worse impression than forgoing the humor entirely. You can still write a stand-out essay without using any humor at all! In addition, don't over saturate your essay with jokes and bits. This can come off as gimmicky, and often distracts from the main point of your essay. 

At the end of the day, having an awareness of these common mistakes can make all the difference. Remember to start your essay early, so you have plenty of time to review and revise. Another common mistake students make is not asking for help when they need it. ESAI’s College Admissions Tool can help you pick an appropriate and unique topic, and help you edit it when you're done!

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