may 6, 2022

5 Common Admissions Essay Mistakes to Avoid

5 Common Admissions Essay Mistakes to Avoid

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So, you’re applying to a university or college. Congratulations! This is a very exciting step. But we know you’re also feeling a bit of pressure.

Whether you’re applying at the undergraduate or graduate level, your application package will be what determines whether you get into your dream program.

Not to sound too dramatic, but the quality of your admissions essay can alter the course of your entire life. That’s pretty nerve wracking!

But don’t stress. Admissions essay writing is a skill that can be learned, and we’re here to help.

By checking out our guide for how to write an amazing admissions essay and avoiding the 5 common mistakes below, you’ll be well on your way to writing an authentic, compelling essay that will get you noticed for all the write reasons.

So, without further ado, here are five common mistakes that you should avoid when writing your admissions essay:

Mistake #1: Not responding directly to the essay question or prompt
Mistake #2: Sharing irrelevant information
Mistake #3: Including vague statements and unsupported claims
Mistake #4: Forgetting to include an introduction and conclusion
Mistake #5: Only talking about yourself

Illustration of a student sitting at a desk while thinking about what to write.

Mistake #1: Not responding directly to the essay question or prompt


Those guidelines will usually include information about what you’re expected to write (for example, a single personal statement or statement of purpose versus several Common App questions) and what your essay(s) should cover.

Sometimes, you’ll be asked specific questions, such as why you’re pursuing this particular program, what your short- and long-term career goals are, or what you will contribute to the school’s community.

Other times, you’ll be asked to provide a slightly more general overview of who you are as a person, what got you interested in your intended field of study, and what your research or career goals are.

Either way, you will be given instructions for what your essay should include, and it is super important that you follow these instructions carefully.

This means responding to the essay questions and prompts directly.

For example, imagine your essay prompt is the following Common App question: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

Now, imagine that you wanted to tell a story about your childhood friend Harriet and how she once falsely accused you of letting the class gerbil loose.

A weak essay response would include:

-A lengthy, unfocused explanation of what happened between you and Harriet
-No clear/direct mention of what was challenging about the situation
-No clear/direct mention of how the experience affected you
-No clear/direct mention of what you learned from the experience
-No clear connection between what you learned and your application

A strong essay response would include:

-A concise, engaging summary of what happened with Harriet on that fateful day
-A clear and direct mention of what was challenging about the situation
-A clear and direct summary of how the experience affected you
-A clear and direct summary of what you learned from the experience.
-A clear connection between this experience and your overall application 

Ideally, the example you choose will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you’re the right candidate—that you have the skills, qualifications, or personality traits that will ensure your success in their program.

Mistake #2: Sharing irrelevant information

There’s probably tons of information you want to share with the admissions committee. But it’s important to not overload your reader with too much information. There’s a time and a place for TMI, and it’s not in your admissions essay.

There might be times where things about you that you think are super important or interesting don’t relate to the essay question or prompt. In these cases, you shouldn’t try to find a way to force that information into your essay; that information will likely stick out for all the wrong reasons, and the admissions committee will notice if you deviate from the assigned topic.

So, try to think about the most important relevant information about you, your experiences, and your goals, and only share those details.

Be sure to only include the important information that relates clearly and directly to the essay question or prompt that you’re working with and/or that demonstrates you’re the best possible candidate for your target program.

Similarly, don’t reuse the same essays for multiple schools without first editing and customizing them. It’s pretty easy to spot generic essays that are being fired off to multiple schools, especially if the schools’ admissions essay requirements vary.

Pro tip: information that’s demonstrated or mentioned in other parts of your application also doesn’t need to be touched upon in your essay.

For example, you’ll be submitting your transcript, so there’s no need to go into detail listing off which courses you got an A or A+ in—the committee will see those details when they review your official transcript.

However, if you want to mention that you’ve received straight-As since you were 5 years old, that’s probably fine.

Just try to keep your response as focused and direct as possible.

Mistake #3: Including vague statements and unsupported claims

The admissions committee wants to know that you understand what makes you a good fit for their school or program and convince them that you’re the right candidate.

To make your case, you’ll have to get pretty specific.

Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to say things like, “I’m a really empathetic and helpful classmate,” “I’m super passionate about insects,” or “You won’t regret admitting me to your program.”

You’ll need to illustrate these claims—you need to provide evidence for them.

For example, if you want the admissions committee to believe that you’re an especially empathetic and helpful classmate, you could tell them about how you volunteered to take notes for absent students all through high school or worked as a peer tutor every summer.

Similarly, saying things like “My goal is to change the world” or “My goal is to be an active member of the university community” probably won’t cut it.

Such statements are a bit too vague and require further explanation. Your reader will be appreciative if you share more specific information and tell them in more detail how you plan to accomplish these things.

Mistake #4: Forgetting to include a clear introduction and conclusion.

Even though writing an admissions essay isn’t quite the same as writing an academic essay, you should still include a clear introductory statement or paragraph that sets the tone of your essay and tells the reader what you’ll be talking about.

Ideally, the opening of your essay will be both engaging and informative; it will give the reader a glimpse into who you are and give them an idea of the overarching theme of your essay will be.

Again, don’t be afraid to answer the essay question/prompt as directly as possible in the first paragraph of your essay. So, for example, if you’re tasked with describing a challenge you overcame, don’t be afraid to to use direct language like, “The biggest challenge I ever faced was…” Your reader will likely appreciate the clarity of your writing.

Similarly, it’s important to include a clear, focused conclusion to your essay. Our brains are such that we typically remember the beginning and end of documents quite clearly but forget much of what’s in the middle.

Hence, ending your essay with a brief conclusion that summarizes what you’ve demonstrated or argued for can be super helpful; it’s a great way to jog your reader’s memory and let them know what their takeaway should be.

Mistake #5: Only talking about yourself

You’re probably thinking, “It’s my essay. Of course I should be talking about myself!”

While this is true, it’s also often helpful to try to connect your goals and aspirations to others and tell the admissions committee a bit about how your success will impact others.

For example, we see a lot of essays that basically say, “You need to let me into your program because I won’t be happy unless you do” or “You need to let me into your program because I won’t be able to accomplish my goals unless you do.”

Statements like this are usually true, and it’s already assumed that your education is an important part of your personal and professional development. If you’re applying to a radiology program, it’s already understood that your ability to work as a radiology technician is contingent on your admission to (and completion of) the program you’ve applied for.

However, more and more schools want to know a bit about how your admission will impact your peers, their community, and society in general.

So, instead of only talking about what you hope to get out of the program for yourself, don’t be afraid to also talk about how you will help elevate your peers, contribute to the school’s community and unique mission statement, and give back to society (both during and after your studies).

Summary

Writing a top-notch admissions essay may seem daunting at first, but there are clear steps you can take to ensure your personal statement or Common App essay stands out for all the right reasons.

First, check out our article “How to Write a Great Admissions Essay: 7 Simple Tips.”

Then, be sure to avoid the 5 common mistakes covered in this article.

Of course, don’t forget to have someone edit your essay and give it a final proofread.

If you’re interested in learning more about our admissions essay editing and proofreading services, you can get in touch with us here.

Jess Blackwell

Jess Blackwell

Jess is the founder of Lumida Ltd., a passionate environmentalist living a low-waste life, and a lifelong writer. When she isn't helping our clients make their writing shine, Jess can be found working on her writing projects, experimenting in the kitchen, or taking nature walks.

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