BOO: 4 Scary Personal Essay Mistakes To Avoid

In honor of last night's Halloween shenanigans, let's talk about terrifying mistakes not to make in your essay. As someone who helps students brag about themselves for their admissions essays, I’ve realized there’s a fine line between impressing someone and irritating them. So what do you do when the personal statement practically begs you to be #blessed all over the place? Check out my tips for wowing their socks off without turning them off. 

1) You Don't Do The Research.
You already know that you should personalize your application to each college you apply to. But what does that really mean? Read every page on their website, dig into their recent news stories, and try visiting the campus. Your supplemental "Why this college?" essay should feel sincere and personalized. If you can substitute your answer with any college name, try again & be more specific.

2) You Brag Too Much.
[Record scratch.] “But the whole point is to tell them about yourself!” you scream in frustration. I know. But the most impressive thing you can be to any campus is a team player. And someone who exclusively uses “I” phrases is the clearest giveaway that you’re anything but that. Of course, you’re going to need to talk about yourself, but make sure you add in phrases like “with my cofounders, I…” and “Together, we…” to get your collaboration skills across.

3) You Describe Every Extracurricular.
No laundry list of accomplishments needed. That’s what your application is for. Admissions officers spend a few minutes reading your essay. That means you only have seconds to impress them. After reading hundreds of application materials, their eyes start to glaze over and they start dreaming of better days. Don't go over the word count—dig deeper into one accomplishment that you can expand into a cohesive narrative that shows who you are.

4) You Don't Proofread. 
Ah, the easiest thing to prevent yet the most common offender. Proofread the essay yourself and make sure you have enough time to send to a trusted editor too. Besides professional editing services like mine, you could ask a teacher or a parent. Because of habituation, our eyes aren’t able to notice errors as easily as someone who’s seeing it for the first time.

This post has been cross-posted and adapted from my Ed2010 article on nailing the cover letter.