4 Things in College App Essays That Admissions Officers Don’t Like

Student typing on computer, wondering "what do colleges look for in app essays?"

Flickr user Marco Verch

Ever wonder “what do colleges look for in an app essay?” To answer that question, let’s go over what colleges don’t want in an app essay. Many students turn in essays that miss the mark, and instead of being memorable, become just like thousands of others turned in that year. Here are some things admissions teams don’t like:

Bragging

While you may want to talk about your accomplishments in your essay, you don’t want to come off as bragging. No person is without flaws, and that includes you. If you approach your essay displaying yourself as a pinnacle of achievement and with only not-so-subtle brags, the admission officer is going to notice.

The best way to avoid bragging is to use the “show, don’t tell” rule that is often used for creative writing. Show what makes you special, instead of just telling the reader “I was the best at…”. Using facts to back up your claims is also a great way to get your accomplishes across. 

Stories That Focus on The “Incident” Rather Than How You Changed

Many students write their essays about a particular “incident” or “moment” that was big in their life. It may be the death of someone close, a big moment in a football game, or some other life changing event. Students often spend too much time talking about the incident, rather than how they were changed as a person or how the experience affected their life.

If you want to write about something important that happened in your life, make sure you write more about how it reflects upon you as a person, rather than the details of the actual event.

Choosing Off Putting Topics

Most colleges provide students with an essay topic, but others may allow you to write about anything that speaks to you. However, it’s a good idea to stay away from “off putting” or extremely personal topics.

It’s also a good idea to avoid extreme rants on political and religious topics. You never know who is going to read your essay and if they find it off putting, it could hurt your admission chances.

Essays That Aren’t Proofread

Mistakes happen and everyone’s writing won’t be perfect. Admission officers understand that, but it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward when submitting your college application essays. If your writing is plagued with grammatical or spelling errors, it could severely hurt your acceptance chances. Have a teacher or someone else you trust read over your work before you turn it in.

You’ll also want to make sure your essay actually follows the requested topic. The admissions department would like to see that you followed instructions. If you’re struggling with this part, talk to your guidance counselor about suitable subject matter.

You absolutely want to write a college essay that shows you off as a person; after all, you’re selling yourself to the school. But you also want to be mindful of what the admissions department wants to see. Avoiding cliche topics, bragging, and grammatical errors are great ways to put your best foot forward.

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Hilary Cairns

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