What NOT to write in your college admission essays
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What NOT to write in your college admission essays

Admission Counselling :
  • Written by UnivAdmitHelp
  • Category: Admission Application
  • Published on 10 Feb 2020

Slippery areas you can avoid while writing your college essays

We all know what we need to do when writing essays for our application. What we don’t know is what not to do. Here are some tips about red flags you could avoid while filling out the forms:

  1. Arrogance: Did you think that your college application has to be a list of your superhero qualities? It’s perfectly normal for a student to present all their best qualities. However, it is not ok to seem too arrogant. If someone has to brag, let it be in your LOR!
  2. Good Fit: If you are applying to a college for its rankings, and not for the course you have chosen, you might want to keep that out of the essay. The ideal fit is an applicant who has an ardent desire to study under a certain professor or wants to be part of a particular exciting research program. If your essay hints that you are not a good fit, that you have not chosen the program for its sake, that’s a red flag. 
  3. Blame: Essays that seem to blame others for the applicant’s struggle or mistakes should be avoided. If you can accept your own fault, and show evidence for the subsequent choices you made, and/or turned the project around, that shows greater leadership qualities. 
    When you felt that certain teachers were difficult to get along with, and this might have affected your grades, it is probably unwise to lay blame on them either, especially in your admissions essays. It might be a better idea to get the school counsellor to write something about it in the letter of recommendation.
  4. Peers: If one of the takeaways from your writing is how you had difficulty fitting in with peers, you may want to re-think it. You should try to explain how you manage to fit, even if people are from different backgrounds or hold different priorities. 
  5. Adversity: Focusing an entire essay on adversities that the applicant has faced is a negative approach. If the essay is a list of the difficulties you faced, it gives the admissions officer the impression that you are not up to the challenge. If the situation has to be mentioned in your application, try to ensure that the focus remains on how you overcame the challenge. 
  6. Family: Having good family values is a great advantage. Being able to mention them in your college essay is wonderful too. But talking too much about mom/dad might show potential lack of independence. You must talk about the person, but then shift the focus to the impact it had on you, and how that person affected your life. 
  7. Disciplinary issue: Your admission essay is not the place to discuss a disciplinary issue you might have faced in the past. It might be tempting to use this platform to explain or justify a past offence, but it’s a better idea if that comes from a counsellor. 
  8. Mental Health: In today’s times, while mental health has come to be more accepted and there is a kinder attitude towards it, admissions officers raise a red flag whenever there is a mention of history. The more competitive colleges are aware of the immense pressure that students face, particularly at highly competitive programs. They also value their retention rates and would not want to risk them with applicants who have a history, and might leave midway.  
  9. Sexuality: This stickiest of issues still raises many red flags wherever it goes. It might not find a spot on your admission essay unless it forms the core of your own life story. 

College applications rely heavily on the honour code. And that is why you are honour bound to share all your relevant details. Do not try to exclude important information, but you could be subtle about the difficult topics. We are trying to say here that you should share your details through the correct channel in its correct aspect. A failure is a failure in every way, except if you learn from it and use it to transform your journey. So don’t hide it. But also, don't provide sensitive, private, and potentially red flag material, like mental health and sexuality, unless it is specifically asked for.

No one thing on this list though is enough on its own to cost you an admission. While any of the above mentioned concerns these might raise a red flag, it is for the admissions officers to look more closely at the whole application. 

Moreover, for many of the qualities that you want to convey, the college essay is not the greatest place. Praise for your community project is more believable if it comes from a counsellor, or better, someone who benefitted from it. A reference letter from a boss commending your punctuality or passion can do more for you than pages of essays. And that is why, show (your qualities), don’t tell

Lastly, do try to remember that your admission to an institution is a two way process. Of course, you want to get in there because it’ll do you immense good and will kickstart your life. But the college too wants you - because you are a student and it is the students who form the standard of any college. The institution has a lot at stake. If they do choose you, they are invested in you. You have to make sure you give them something root for!


Further reading

Why you need a story to write your SOP

How to write an SOP with great storytelling

How to write an SOP with great paragraphs