Applying to college? Look closely at your essay.

High school counselors and others who have read lots of college applications and the essays associated with them say they’ve noticed a few common mistakes students make, writes the Talks with Teachers website.

Essays, which are intended to provide space for personal comments about why a college is a good fit for the student who’s applying, should be well written in a conversational style and informative as to the specific relationships between the applicant’s qualifications and the services the college provides. They should not:

  • List course or activity names or numbers like rankings or GPAs
  • Fill the page with clichés or big words
  • Include information related to drugs, death, or divorce

Team championships, science projects, and even travel to disadvantaged areas on service projects can reveal interesting information about the sports team, the science project, or the disadvantaged area without ever getting around to answering the most important question: What does this say about YOU?

The reason painful subjects should generally be avoided on college essays is that the experiences usually tell the reader more about the shortcomings of others, not the strengths of the writer. Instead of focusing on the adversity you may have overcome or helped others through, try to focus on why you’d be a good fit for the college.

Finally, don’t think you have to climb Mount Everest, the writer advises, just to have an experience worth writing about. It’s usually the most mundane experiences—how you get through your life day to day—that are most revealing about what makes a college the right choice for you. Just be honest.

Who Am I?
By Carl Sandburg (1916)

My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things
  I reach my hands and play with pebbles of destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs reading “Keep Off.”

My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive in the universe.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.