Successful Techniques for College Admission Essays: Avoid the Clichés

By: Caroline Koppelman

Clichés can be very tempting. Like it or not, we all use them in life. But, when it comes to applying to college you definitely don’t want to be throwing around clichés in your college essay. The essay is supposed to give details about how you think and write. It’s not a list of what cliché you feel best fits your story. 

Imagine an essay that ends with, “You must enjoy the moment because life is what happens while you’re busy making plans.” Or worse, for a topic about perseverance or learning from failure you decide to make the lesson you’ve learned: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” These clichés don’t say anything about you other than the fact that you didn’t take the time to come up with your own thoughts. While writing your essay you have to remember that the people reading your essays are older than you, so according to cliché wisdom, they’re also wiser. They don’t want to hear your conclusions and revelations about the meaning of life. They just want to get to know you.

We find that clichés come out in three key parts of college applications.

Essay topics:
There are cliché essay topics. When you’re brainstorming ideas for your essay, avoid all of the topics you’ve heard before. If you’ve heard that someone wrote about baseball, their trip to Panama, or their grandfather, steer clear of them. Chances are if you’ve heard of these topics, the admissions committee has too. The point of the college essay is to be original in your topic and execution. While certain topics that are overdone can definitely be approached from new and exciting standpoints, more often than not we find the best topics are specific stories that are unique to the individual.

Conclusion of the essay:
Wrapping up your essay is where we see the most clichés. Students are naturally drawn to making lofty conclusions with a classic cliché. Even students who pick truly unique topics can’t seem to avoid clichés in their conclusion. They use phrases like, “from this experience I learned,” or “much of life is unexpected,” or “my thirst for knowledge only strengthened.” The conclusion is without a doubt the trickiest part of the entire college essay, which is why it needs to be approached very carefully. You need to tie up all loose ends in the conclusion. You need to solidify take home points. You need to end the story. But, you have to do this without saying anything that has been said before. We encourage our students to really think about what they are trying to say before writing anything down. The last thing you want in your conclusion is some yawn-inducing aphorism.

Supplements are short, which makes some students think they’re easy and can be overlooked. But the colleges are choosing these questions very carefully, so your answers must be thought out, too. When the college asks, “Why do you want to go here?” you want to avoid the following things:

  • Talking about the collegiate looking campus
  • Saying they have “world renowned” professors or facilities
  • Saying “you just knew” it was the college for you when you visited campus
  • Telling the school that they’re special or unique

If you’re writing your essays and supplements and decide to use clichés because “ignorance is bliss,” just remember how awful that sounded in this conclusion. It’s easy to take a cliché and make it fit your message, but truthfully it will hurt you more than help you in the end. We know that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” but when it comes to you college essay, clichés are the kiss of death.