15 Words you Should Never use in a College Admissions Essay

By: Caroline Koppelman

After reading hundreds of college essays, we have compiled a list of words you should never use in your college admissions essay. Some of these words embody the emptiness of vague or overly complex word choice, others are redundant, some are grounds for an almost automatic rejection. You only have 650 words max in most of your essays. Every single one should count.

  1. Harvard: Harvard knows you want to go to Harvard without name-dropping Harvard in your Harvard college admissions essay.
  2. Very and Good: As Robin Williams tells his class in Dead Poet’s Society, avoid using the word ‘very’ because it is “lazy.” ‘Good’ is lazy in exactly the same way. Aspire to use more descriptive words, without sounding like you memorized an SAT vocab book.
  3. Sh!t: Absolutely no cursing. No, not even for dramatic effect or “if that is really what the person said!”
  4. Hate: instead of explicitly saying how you felt, you should paint a picture of the circumstance that led you to feel that way.
  5. Swag: Slang is not “lit” in a college admissions essay.
  6. Lachrymose (or other SAT words you don’t really know): Don’t use big SAT vocab to impress your reader. If you’ve never used the word before in conversation, don’t write it. It will make your writing sound stilted, overly-formal, and pedantic.
  7. Grow: Themes of growth are great in college essays, but show the reader how you’ve grown instead of telling them.
  8. Bernie or Trump: These admissions officers have Facebook feeds, too. They don’t need another unsolicited opinion. Stay away from current political figures.
  9. Utilize: In some contexts this may be okay, but often it reeks of thesaurus jargon. Try to be more unique in your word choice.
  10. Literally: Even if you use it grammatically or syntactically correctly, “literally” has become overused.
  11. Nevertheless: A tired, overly academic word that could much more easily expressed with the word ‘but’ or ‘however’.
  12. Plethora: We see students use this word all the time and it always sounds forced.
  13. Intellectual: Odds are if you’re telling a reader you, or something you’ve done, is intellectual, it may not be. Show your reader how smart you are through your action, not self-description.
  14. Integral: Very few things outside of food, air, and water are integral. Most likely, playing club sports is not integral to your life. Find a better, more complex way to express your passion for something.
  15. Unbelievable: If you tell your reader something is unbelievable, they may not believe it. If you want to express incredulity, amazement, or outrage about a particular situation, do it through action and dialogue. Not exposition.

This is far from an exhaustive list and we aim to constantly be updating it as more examples flow in. Keep an eye out and if you find yourself using these words, stop, go back, and find a more expressive way. If you have any questions on specific words, email us.