The 5 Worst Things to do in Your Common App Essay

Common App essays are the wild card of the college application process. You can write about anything, but it needs to appeal to every school you’re applying to. Good luck. The number of options can be overwhelming, and the stakes can be anxiety-inducing, which together can result in some pretty terrible essays.

If you’re keen on not writing a terrible essay, here are the top five things to avoid doing:

Using a Thesaurus

“ATTENTION!” a voice screams through a megaphone as police searchlights illuminate the dining room of a ranch-style home. A young man sitting at the table looks around in a panic. “Huh? What? What was I doing wrong?” The megaphone replies, “SIR, close the thesaurus. NOW.”

It sounds silly, but a simple thesaurus can damage a great college essay and destroy an ok one. Synonyms aren’t always perfect, and you aren’t the first person to discover the word “plethora.” So back away from the thesaurus, close, and rely on your vocabulary, not a trumped-up one you found online. Likewise, avoid using words you learned for the SAT unless they are truly and organically part of your vocabulary. There is nothing worse than misusing a “big” word.

Trying to Sound ‘Smart’

Using a thesaurus is one way of trying to feign superior intelligence, but the urge to sound smart is even greater than the synonym itch. The college essay is designed as a place to showcase who you are, not to rail off a list of what you know. Do not take an unnecessary political stance, do not argue a world issue, DO show them who you are when you’re not screaming from a soapbox.

Writing Your Autobiography

Ever heard of the phrase ‘mile wide, inch deep’? It refers to when something is expensive but shallow, and it’s not just talking about a puddle. Taking on too much in your essay (like trying to tell your life story) simply crams too much into a very limited amount of space.

Instead of writing an autobiography, run the opposite phrase, ‘inch wide, mile deep,’ in your head on repeat. Focus, zoom in, and dive deep. We can’t say this enough. We literally say it in every other blog post. Take one small story from your life and explore it.

Copying an Essay that “Worked” (Our examples are for inspiration, not replication.)

We have successful college essays on our website, and there are thousands more available across the internet. People have literally started companies that solely sell essays that “worked.” We don't really get the point of buying essays that worked, but okay. There are essays that got kids into Harvard, won them scholarships, and are true literary works of art. It’s great for you to learn what’s worked for someone else, and to even use their work as inspiration, but do not indirectly plagiarism or flat-out copy someone else’s work. Don’t take themes. Don’t take concepts. Don’t take sentence structures. If you’ve read it online, so has the admissions officer.

Only going 50% of the way to bold

The final mistake we see happening all the time is when kids decide to be bold in their essay, like implementing a challenging form or tackling a sensitive subject and then getting cold feet. It makes sense to second-guess yourself, it shows humility, but don’t dumb down great work just because you’re scared a bunch of college-graduate essay readers can’t ‘get’ your vision. If you can’t play bold, play safe. Or call us. Because you should always be bold in your college essay.

If you’re not into playing it safe, hit us up! We’re known for crazy outfits that break the mold.