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The Dos and Don’ts of College Application Essays

Crafting the perfect college application essay can be a challenging task. It’s your opportunity to showcase your personality, achievements, and aspirations beyond what’s captured in your grades and test scores. This essay is a critical component of your application because it allows admission officers to get a glimpse of who you are as an individual. Here are some key dos and don’ts to guide you through writing an essay that stands out.

Do: Be Authentic and Honest

Admission officers can spot insincerity from a mile away. Share your genuine experiences, feelings, and thoughts. While finding inspiration but avoiding the temptation to mimic overly polished common app essay examples, your essay should reflect who you truly are. For example, if you’re passionate about a particular hobby or subject, delve into why it matters to you and how it has shaped your life. Authenticity creates a connection and makes your essay memorable. Don’t exaggerate or fabricate stories to impress; your true self is compelling enough.

Don’t: Use Clichés and Overused Phrases

Avoid clichés and common phrases that make your essay blend in with thousands of others. Statements like “I learned the value of hard work” or “It taught me to never give up” are vague and unoriginal. Instead, focus on specific, personal experiences and describe them in detail. Paint a vivid picture with your words, allowing the reader to visualize your journey and understand your unique perspective. Fresh, specific narratives will always outshine generic ones.

Do: Show, Don’t Just Tell

Illustrate your points with concrete examples and detailed descriptions. Instead of simply stating that you’re a leader, describe a time when you led a project, faced challenges, and achieved results. Use sensory details to bring your story to life. For example, describe the scene, the emotions, and the interactions involved in your experience. This technique helps the reader feel more engaged and provides a deeper understanding of your qualities and achievements.

Don’t: Neglect Structure and Proofreading

A well-structured essay is crucial. Start with a captivating introduction that hooks the reader, followed by body paragraphs that flow logically and support your main points, and end with a strong conclusion that ties everything together. Equally important is proofreading. Spelling and grammatical errors can distract from your message and suggest a lack of care. Take the time to revise your essay multiple times, and consider asking a teacher or mentor to review it for feedback.

Do: Tailor Your Essay to Each College

While it may be tempting to reuse the same essay for multiple college applications, resist the urge. Each college has its own values, culture, and admissions criteria. Take the time to research each institution and tailor your essay accordingly. Show how your interests, goals, and values align with what the college offers. Mention specific programs, professors, or opportunities that attract you to the school. Admissions officers appreciate when applicants demonstrate a genuine interest in their institution, so personalize your essay for each application.

  • Research the College: Spend time researching each college to understand its values, mission, and culture. Visit the college website, attend virtual information sessions, and reach out to current students or alumni for insights. Identify specific aspects of the college that resonate with you, such as academic programs, extracurricular activities, campus culture, or location.
  • Customize Your Essay: Once you have a clear understanding of what each college offers, tailor your essay to highlight how you would contribute to and benefit from the college community. Mention unique opportunities or resources offered by the college that align with your interests and goals. Admissions officers appreciate when applicants demonstrate a genuine connection to their institution.

Don’t: Overwhelm the Reader with Too Many Ideas

Clarity and focus are essential in your college application essay. Trying to cover too many topics or cramming multiple ideas into a single essay can confuse the reader and dilute the impact of your message. Instead, choose one or two key experiences or themes to explore in depth. Reflect on why these experiences are significant to you and how they have shaped your character and aspirations. By narrowing your focus, you can provide a more cohesive and compelling narrative that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

Do: Seek Feedback and Revise

Writing a standout college application essay often requires multiple drafts and revisions. Don’t be afraid to seek feedback from teachers, counselors, or trusted friends and family members. They can offer valuable insights and suggestions for improvement. Be open to constructive criticism and willing to make changes to strengthen your essay. Consider how your essay resonates with different readers and adjust accordingly. Ultimately, the goal is to create an essay that authentically represents you and effectively communicates your story to admissions officers.


Your college application essay is a significant component of your application. By being authentic, avoiding clichés, showing rather than telling, and paying attention to structure and proofreading, you can craft an essay that truly stands out. Remember, this is your chance to let your personality and experiences shine, so make the most of it.

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