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So you’ve narrowed down your list of schools. You’ve filled out all the demographics information for the application, and now it’s time for the essays and short answers. You’ve got everything covered…or do you? Here are some common mistakes that college admissions see, as well as how to fix them.

Starting Late

In the hustle and bustle of senior year, it’s easy to leave your college application essays on the back burner. Unfortunately, this can result in a underdeveloped essay. Get an early start on your essays: Each set of revisions will make them better, and you want to put forth your best effort. Set goals for yourself throughout the semester, and make sure you spend time on your application essays every week at the minimum.

Not Proof-Reading Your Essay

Just as you probably judge people on the internet for bad grammar or a misspelled word, so too will someone be judging your essay. And let me just say, your college application essay is a wee bit more important than that tweet you just sent out. Always proof-read your work before sending it in. Read it aloud to see if it actually sounds as good as you think it does. Have someone else read over it to make sure everything is actually there (our brains have a way of filling in missing letters or words for us, so it really is better to have multiple readers).

Not Answering the Question

There is nothing more frustrating than a well-written response that does not actually answer the prompt. Read the essay prompt fully before you start jotting down ideas. Then read it again. Halfway through your essay, refer to the prompt to make sure you are still answering it. You should consistently check to ensure that you are on the right track. And when you give it to someone else to read over, give them the prompt as well. Ask if they can follow your thoughts and if it answers the prompt fully.

Using a Generic Reason for Applying to College X

Students who show real passion or interest in a given school are more likely to want to stay and graduate. So coming up with a wishy-washy reason for why you’re applying is only going to hurt. Demonstrate your interest. Show that you have researched the school, that you’ve considered what program you want to go into, that you visited campus and you liked these things, etc.

Writing a Generic Essay for All Your Applications

If you write an essay that you can just swap out one school’s name for another, you’re doing it wrong. College admissions officers can tell when minimal effort was put forth. You want you essay to stand out, and if you write with the mindset of one-essay-fits-all then you will be washed away in the flood of essays just like it. Take the time to craft your essay to fit each school individually. Even if the general idea is the same, make each one unique.

Don’t Overuse the Thesaurus

How you use words matters. It is indicative of your vocabulary and your comprehension of a given language. With that in mind, never insert a larger word because you think it will make you sound smarter, especially when a smaller word fits the context of the essay better. Improperly used words reflect poorly on you. It is always better to use the vocabulary you are comfortable with because you will have a better command of the language and what you can do with it.

Try to Avoid Oversharing

When it comes to an application essay, you want to keep all information relevant. It’s not your life-story or a confessional. 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. How did you overcome? What did you learn about yourself? Use every opportunity to demonstrate growth and the ability to look at yourself critically (but don’t be overly critical; there is a difference). Schools are looking for someone who will benefit the student community. Show that you can be that person.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

While there is much to be said of your personal victories, don’t forget to credit the people who have helped you along the way. It’s never a good idea to throw your teachers – or your school in general – under the bus. Regardless of your opinions of them, they have all contributed to put you in the position you are in now. Friends and family are also important. We humans are social creatures. We have to be able to work with others, especially in our modern world.

Still, this essay is meant to demonstrate your strengths. Don’t forget to give yourself the credit you deserve as well!

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