College Essay Do’s and Don’ts

August 18, 2014
Stephanie Jolly


The college essay is often seen as the most difficult part of the college application. Most universities require at least one essay, while many require two or more of various lengths.  While your ACT or SAT test scores, along with your GPA, give the college admissions officers an opportunity to assess your academic potential, the college essay is your opportunity showcase your personality – what makes you you?   These top tips will help you not only get you off to a strong start, but also help you avoid common college essay mistakes.

  1.  DON’T expect your first draft to be perfect.  Getting started is the hardest hurdle to overcome.  So your first draft ends up looking nothing like what you want to submit as your final essay – who cares!  You’ve gotten started, and that’s the first step.
  1.  DO revise, early and often.  Your college essay should go through multiple stages of revision.  We’re not talking about a quick proofread; you should ask parents, teachers and even your peers to read through your essay and give you substantial critical advice.
  1. DON’T rehash your resume.  The college admissions committee has already seen a list of your extracurricular activities and volunteer work, as well as the honors and awards you’ve received – you listed those accomplishments elsewhere on your application!  Your college essay should portray you as a mature, thoughtful individual.  What is your personal story that captures this quality?
  1. DO use first person. Avoid generic third person pronouns like “one” or “students.” This essay is about you!
  1.  DON’T rely on famous quotes to do the heavy lifting.  If you have a quotation that particular speaks to you, and that is essential in order to tell your story, tell the readers why those words are so meaningful, not just that they are.  In the same vein, avoid clichés and other common phrases.  If you’ve heard it regularly before, chances are the admissions officers will have heard it hundreds of times.
  1.  DO say what you mean, and mean what you say.  Be honest, but not boastful of self-deprecating.  Be specific, clear and concise.  Using a thesaurus can help you find the exact word you want to convey a feeling or emotion, but …
  1.  DON’T have your essay read like the dictionary.  Vocabulary words definitely belong in your SAT Essay, but in your college essay you want to sound like yourself.  If you wouldn’t ordinarily describe sharing meals with your family as a “salubrious assemblage of kin” your college essay is NOT the place to start.
  1.  DO start early!   Writing your college essay is not a task that you should put off until the last minute.  The sooner you begin, the sooner you’ll be one step closer to attending your dream school!


Stephanie Jolly Bio: Stephanie Jolly is an alumna of NYU, and earned a perfect 800 on SAT Math. She loves to identify patterns and to break down Reading passages using the same analytical approach. She tutors, teaches, and writes content for Kaplan SAT, ACT, and AP programs in her home base of Kentucky—internationally and for Live Online.

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