To an essay coach (me) who has helped hundreds of teens write their best college essays, there is nothing new under the sun. Even the sun. Especially when it comes to paralysing fear tactics delivered via expert headlines! Don’t worry: the college essay process is NOT just a Greco-Roman road full of ankle-annihilating potholes and partially-discernible SAT-word mosaics. So I’m cautioning YOU against these top five college essay mistakes I’ve seen applicants make.
Avoiding these five college essay mistakes will save you time, sweat, tears and curse words as you write– or delay writing– your admissions essay content.
To write your absolute best college essay, or even mediocre-but-passable college essay, avoid these 5 things:
- Spending all your time reading ‘what to avoid in your college essay’ lists
- Hyper-focusing or procrastinating
- Modeling your essay too closely after someone else’s
- Missing out on other life and growth experiences
- Not trusting that who you are is enough
Let’s break down these common mistakes. Don’t:
1) Spend all your time reading avoid lists
Students sometimes show up at sessions like bullet points with legs, “What not to do” items they’ve absorbed from the internet, counsellors, teachers. Yes, there is good advice in those lists. Lots I agree with. But no one ever got great at something from reading all the ways NOT to do it. Yes, limit your scope; yes, proofread carefully, yes, don’t use invective or rage against the machine. But also, write. Keep writing. Experiment. Discover. Revise. Try again. Use detail. Hook me emotionally.
2) Hyperfocus or procrastinate
Like many other coaches, I encourage students to start writing application essays early. You may write a few “practice” drafts or “warm up” drafts (or even “garbage” drafts), like you would for any big “game.” And, like most of us, you might want to stall a bit on the stickier parts, or the dread of facing yourself. BUT over focusing on the essay too early or for too long, or thinking you can crank out something awesome in the 24 hours before deadline, are misguided approaches. Give yourself enough time to grow a skill, and get a couple other readers to give their perspective. Enough time to be proud of your work. But don’t obsess, overwork it, or avoid.
3) Model your essay too closely after someone else’s.
I believe we learn from our (writing) mentors. We can develop x-ray reader vision, to better grasp craft. We can start to develop a vocabulary for what moves us, makes us laugh, gets us curious. But taking someone else’s college essay and substituting some bits not only borders on plagiary, it’s a lack of self-confidence. Often, their structure or situation doesn’t match yours. Instead, focus on the FEELING and RUSH you might get from that essay. Think about the HOW– HOW does good writing produce a feeling, a response, a sense of closeness with its author? Write as many drafts as you need to to do that.
4) Miss out on other life & growth experiences
The admissions essays are not just golden eggs you have to lay before you’ve even fully grown in your hen feathers. They are also one part of a larger, meaningful life. If an opportunity comes along– a job, a special outing with a friend, a chance to get to know someone or something new– take it. No matter how many drafts you have to write to nail this thing, you do have one life, as far as we *know.* As a coach, I would be sad to hear you passed up too many opportunities to live a rich, interconnected life, to mono-focus on a hypothetical future your essay/s may get you.
5) Not trust that who you are is enough
A parent of a former admissions client said to me yesterday that she told her kid/s, “Getting in doesn’t mean you’re great. Not getting in doesn’t mean you’re not great.” It’s hard not to feel the admissions process as one of measuring up. Will they pick me? Will I impress them? Do my accomplishments, or my regular old life, matter? Yes, you’re beautiful and important just by having been born at all and made it this far. All of us are. Repeat that until it sticks.
We can help!
Still thumbing through “What to avoid” lists? Not sure how to get those practice drafts under your belt? A little nervous to trust who you are is enough? Contact us HERE for support. Or schedule a 30-minute consultation, HERE (for parents, or parents and students). I help you write the college essays of your life, and feel good doing it.