What Are Some Do's and Don'ts for College Admissions Essays?

Know what to avoid and what to include to make an impression on this part of your application.

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The college essay is a student's chance to really jump off the page and make admissions officers think, "Wow! We need that student at our school." In this week's column, our experts explain the best ways to nail the essay and a few common red flags to avoid:

Q: What are some do's and don'ts for the admissions essay?

A: Make your personal statement personal—what makes you you?


Nancy Meislahn, dean of admissions and financial aid, Wesleyan University Focus less on finding the perfect topic than on thinking long and hard about what you want a reader to know about you at the end of the essay. Let the topic grow out of that self reflection. The personal statement should be just that…and a sample of the student's best writing, demonstrating the development of a theme, an idea. Think about how your essay adds to and fills in the rest of your application, adding depth and breadth to the picture of you as a whole person.

See all of Nancy's admissions advice.

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A: Spell czech is knot yore friend: It will betray ewe.

Ralph Figueroa, director of college guidance, Albuquerque Academy Don't freak out about your essay. Write what you know. It doesn't have to be about something exotic , or extreme, or life changing. It needs to be about you—who you are, what is important and meaningful to you. But don't be too explicit, either. Keep it brief. Admissions officers are looking for insight into you as a real person, so think about your essay, and take care in preparing it. Get appropriate help from others, but don't let others write it for you. And most of all, proofread. No spell-check program will ever substitute for your brain.

See all of Ralph's admissions advice.

[Get tips on the right way to pitch yourself to a school.]

A: It's an opportunity for you to come to life.


Don Fraser Jr., director of education and training, National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Many students labor over their college essay, trying to make the most of their 500 words. Because of this, it is easy for students to go astray. Here are some thoughts to consider:

• Don't search for the topic of which they've never heard. You are the only original topic, so your primary goal is to let colleges know what you care about and why.

• Try not to exceed the 500 words. Beyond demonstrating that you have trouble following instructions, many admissions counselors have limited time to read your essay and could be put off if it goes on too long.

• If you have a very specific topic, please make sure that you answer the question.

• Avoid trying to include a statement like, "and that's why I want to go to _______ College." These attempts are typically awkward and forced, not to mention unnecessary.

• Use your own language. It's excruciatingly discernible when a pupil endeavors to impress the bibliophile by employing the thesaurus profligately. Teenagers don't talk like that!

[Read about how technology has changed the admissions process.]

Visit the Unigo Expert Network for 27 more expert opinions on college essays and to have your own questions answered.