What You Should Not Do in a College Essay

When we asked college admissions officers throughout the United States, we found that the likelihood of finding truly stellar college essay far and few in between. They point to common mistakes the majority of students make that could have easily been avoided with a little time and dedication. This article explores what should you not do when writing an essay for college admission.

Biggest College Essay Mistakes

Knowing what verbs or words should be used in essay will help you set yourself apart from other applicants even when you write on similar topics. Words have power and choosing the right ones will make a great positive impact on how an admissions officer views your ability to excel at the college level and your likely promising contributions to the campus community.

5 Common Essay Mistakes

  1. Not addressing the essay question in the intro.
  2. Getting off track or straying from the essay’s topic focus.
  3. Incorporating quotations without connecting them to the topic.
  4. Failing to give examples or references when needed.
  5. Using informal language or colloquial phrases.

What you Should Not Talk About in a College Essay

Some application topics might seem particularly interesting to you and inspire you to demonstrate your skills at creating an effective argument at the college level. But you need to keep in mind that the college admissions officers are looking to learn something about you. This being said, avoid controversial topics that can be polarizing. If a question asks for you to write about a person that influences you, make sure you focus on your reactions and behaviors instead of just writing about that person. Don’t take risks with topics that might seem as inappropriate for most readers. Also, don’t turn your essay into a book or article review which is a common mistake too.

What You Should Not Write in a College Essay

There a few things you never write in your application essay. These are three examples of what should you not do in a college essay:

  1. Never include info that is already in the application. This includes writing about your academic or extracurricular achievements;
  2. Don’t lie or exaggerate about your experiences or accomplishments. While some of these things will not be fact-checked, you can run into a lot of trouble if you are called in for an interview and can’t verify or remember what it is you wrote about; and
  3. Don’t tell the reader what he or she should think about a given topic. Your opinions are your own and you are not being asked to make a persuasive argument.

5 Words Not to Use in an Essay

There are certain words to not use in an essay if you want to demonstrate your command of the English language. These are the 10 words you need to avoid:

  1. Parenthetic Words: “Needless to say,” “It goes without saying,” “In conclusion” and others like these bring nothing to the table other than take up valuable word count limits. Be precise and concise.
  2. Slang or Jargon: There is a specific style of writing on the internet that thrives by using slang and jargon to reach wider audiences. These, however, should be avoided at all costs when writing a college essay.
  3. Run-on Expressions: We’ve all used these in text messages, e-mail, hand-written letters, and anything else that is informal. Words like “and so forth,” “so on,” and “etc.” should have no place in your application essay.
  4. Week Modifiers: Words should provide an exact or precise expression of meaning. But words like “very,” “already,” “actually,” “really,” and “quite” are far from exact or precise. They attempt to modify words that either has no use for them or can be replaced with other words.
  5. Clichés: These words and phrases come off as poor attempts to come off as witty but they are so overused that they have lost their appeal. “I’m an open book,” “I give 110%” or “sleeping like a baby” should be “avoided like the plague.”

Bad College Essay Topics to Avoid

The admission officers that shared their advice with us have seen their share of bad college essay examples. And two characteristics are found across most of the examples they shared: boring and predictable. Here are some examples of what you should not write your college essay on:

  • Sports Accomplishment: This essay topic is overdone. Most sports essays follow similar themes that involve words like determination, perseverance, and hard work.
  • Experiences in Volunteerism: Volunteerism is great but unless you have a unique experience that other volunteers have, then you’re likely just repeating what a reader already knows.
  • Tragic Experiences: Topics like divorce or death should be avoided because they are often hard to write about given the word count limitations for most admissions essays.
  • Biggest Hero/Heroine: Most of the time the hero or heroine will be a close family member. And this topic seems more suited for someone in the second or third grade.
  • Academic Accomplishments: No one likes to hear you brag. A summary of your greatest academic moments will not win over anyone’s heart.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it Bad to Start an Essay with a Question?

Your high school teachers may have suggested using a rhetorical question to start an essay. While this strategy does work in a college application, it is recommended you stay away from it unless you can craft a question that seamlessly takes you to the topic immediately. You don’t have a lot of wiggle room with application essays, so you need to make every word count.

Is it Bad to Start an Essay with a Quote?

Again, this is a great way to start an argumentative style paper. But the application essay is an opportunity for you to describe yourself or say something about yourself in a way that your personality is revealed. If you are writing about someone that influenced you (e.g., a recognizable figure from modern or historical times) then a quote might be a good approach, just as long as you get back to point of the essay topic.

What Words Should Not be Used in an Essay?

Avoid clichés, slang, jargon, teen-speak, contractions, and other words and phrases you hear in everyday speech or read on the web. These kinds of words and phrases are perfectly acceptable in many situations but do not belong anywhere near academic writing.

Which is Not Necessary in a Historical Essay?

Providing an extended account or background information on a historical topic is exactly what not to do on a college essay. Any student can look up historical information on the web and that student doesn’t impress anyone. You need to realize that college admissions officers read hundreds of applications per day and will read student essays related to a historical event (or person) several dozen times. You can see how they will likely get bored quickly.

This gives you a well-rounded idea of things not to do when writing an essay. There are other things you should try to avoid when writing any type of academic assignment. Check out our other articles on this site and send your writing inquiries any time you need a quick response. Our team of academic writers is always available to answer questions and set you on the right path for success.

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