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  • Michele Turk

Six College Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

1. Wasting time choosing the “right” topic or “perfecting” an essay. The students with the highest GPAs and test scores don’t necessarily write the best essays. Why not? They know that the essay can make or break an applicant’s chances at competitive colleges. Yet many of these kids waste time looking for the perfect topic, or tinker with their essay for weeks; it’s as frustrating as driving in circles. Our tutors act like a GPS, guiding students toward their destination — and we get there on time. When we nudge students to meet deadlines, it’s not the same as a parent nagging them, and as a result, many parents report that we take much of the stress out of the college admissions process. 2. Skipping the revisions. One of the biggest mistake students make is procrastinating, then scrambling to finish the essay, leaving no time for revisions. This never ends well. When it comes to college essays, you can’t expect to write one draft and be done. The author Cheryl Strayed once said, “I write to find out what I have to say. I edit to figure out how to say it right.” 3. Writing a boring essay. Because many students have not been taught how to write personal essays (it’s not required by the Common Core), there’s a learning curve, and it can be confusing. So many students fall back on what they do know — the five paragraph essay. The result: a lackluster, predictable essay that doesn’t give any insight into who they are or what’s important to them. That is not how to impress an admissions officer tasked with reading dozens of essays every day. 4. Writing an autobiography. Many students try to squeeze too much information into the essay, telling their life story, or worse yet, listing achievements in chronological order. The college essay is not an autobiography. When you are coming up with essay ideas, think in terms of moments in your life, not your life story. 5. Giving short shrift to the supplemental essays. A lot of students fall behind because they haven’t finalized their college lists, and they end up writing supplemental essays required by colleges at the last minute. These essays are not optional, and they are not a formality; in fact, many colleges use these short essays as a way to weed out students who aren’t really interested in their school. When my alma mater, Boston College, added a 400-word supplemental essay a few years back, the number of applicants dropped by 10,000, and it increased their yield. 6. Choosing to go it alone or asking the wrong person for help. It’s rare for a student to ace an admissions essay without any help. While most students ask someone to check their college application essay for grammar and punctuation before they hit send, larger problems loom with many essays in terms of content, tone and message. Self-editing a college essay is a bit like cutting your own hair — it’s hard to pull off. Likewise, there are a lot of “experts” offering college application essay tutoring services who can steer you in the wrong direction.

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