brainstorming college essay

Do’s and Don’ts for your College Application Essay

Top 5 Don’ts:

1. Don’t be boring.

College admission officers read thousands of college application essays. The fastest way to kill your chances at a top college is by writing a boring essay that they’ve read a million times before. This is the number 1 Don’t for your essay. How do you avoid being boring? Well for starters:

2. Don’t repeat your resume.

Don’t repeat other parts of your college application including listing your GPA, test scores, awards, or activities. If your essay just sounds like your resume in paragraph form, you are going to bore the admission officer to tears.

3. Don’t write about overly cliché topics.

You scored the winning goal at the basketball game. You went to Mexico to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. Your beloved pet died. Admission officers hate these essays because they heard them over and over again and usually written in a very trite manner. Read here to learn more cliché topics to avoid.

4. Don’t overdo it on the vocabulary.

Many students try to impress college admission officers by writing in elevated language. This often leads them to try to squeeze in as many four-five syllable obscure words as they can. The end result is an essay that sounds awkward and boring.

5. Don’t be too risky.

In an effort to not be boring, some students go too far the other way. It’s good to take risks, but be careful. Don’t try to be too funny or controversial because you may just end up offending someone. Don’t write about something you did that is illegal! And don’t just ignore what the essay prompt is asking for.


Top 5 Do’s:

1. Do write something personal.

You want to show admission officers what is unique about you. You want to show them who you really are. What is your character? How have your learned from past mistakes or overcome obstacles? What are you passionate about? Read here to find out how to brainstorm a topic.

2. Do write a narrative.

Your essay should be a story. Why? Because stories are interesting to read. Stories have flow and a narrative arc that ends with the writer and the reader learning something. 

3. Do think small.

Many students think they don’t have an exciting enough experience or topic to write about. You don’t have to have a tragic life or have completed a million community service projects to have a strong essay. Often experiences that seem small make the most interesting essay. They are stories that are easy for others to relate to and make you more memorable.

4. Do reflect, not just recount.

Okay, I know we said not to write about sports, or dead pets, or feeding the homeless. But that’s not because those are actually bad topics. It’s the way they are usually written that makes them so boring. Any essay topic you choose should include a deep reflection on what the experience means or taught you. If you just recount an experience, the admission officer doesn’t learn anything about you.

5. Do write in your own voice.

As we said on our #5 Don’t, you shouldn’t try to write an essay with language and vocabulary that you think the admission officer wants to hear or that you think sounds smart. You shouldn’t try to sound older than you are. Sure, you should triple check the essay for grammar mistakes, and you shouldn’t write as if you were just talking to a friend. However, a more casual, conversational tone is easier and more interesting for someone to read. For example, which would you rather read?

      • The inaugural dawn of my new enterprise as a steward of prepubescent earthlings was marred by a succession of inauspicious phenomenon.
      • My first day of babysitting my twelve-year-old twin cousins was a complete disaster.

Read here to discover ways to write in a compelling voice that is still all your own.

*Bonus Don’t: Don’t miss out on a chance to get expert guidance on your application essay!

*Bonus Do: Do check out our Application Essay Writing program!


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