You finally finished writing your college essay. You give it a good read from start to finish, end on the final period, and realize…this essay sucks! This is not going to get you into the college of your dreams! Heck, you’ll be lucky if the Admissions Officer makes it past the first paragraph before balling it up and tossing it in the trash. You can just picture the rubber stamped REJECT coming down over your words. Time to re-strategize, revamp, and, most likely, rewrite, because these are probably some of the reasons why your college essay sucks:
1. It’s boring from the very first sentence.
The opening lines of your college essay should grab the reader’s attention and hook them into wanting to read more. The opening lines should introduce the essay without giving away too much and it should capture the reader with a striking statement that intrigues them enough to anxiously continue reading. Admissions Officers go through hundreds of applications a week. When they get to yours, you want them to enjoy reading your essay and not be reminded that “Oh boy, I have 99 more to go…”
Let’s look at an example: “She never eats the red M&Ms and that is why I love her.” This can be an essay about a life changing road trip with your best friend or it can be about your mom— your greatest hero. It’s vague enough that it doesn’t reveal the topic of the essay, yet tempts you into reading more. If one is instead tempted to roll their eyes or doze off after reading your opening lines, chances are you’ve already lost the reader’s attention and it’s time to revise.
Your college essay needs to stand out from the pack. With thousands of applicants answering the same “Tell us about an influential person in your life” question, you need to meet this boring question with an exciting answer. The brainstorming process of your essay writing journey is critical to finding that distinctive personal experience to write about that will separate your essay from the lot. Some serious self-reflection is required because you won’t be the only applicant wanting to write about your life-changing service trip to Africa. Be narrow and specific in your focus— for example, pick a remarkable day or a specific moment during your service trip instead of just describing the impact of the trip as a whole—and don’t be afraid to take a risk and write about something that isn’t so safe and predictable.
3. It talks all about someone else or something else and reveals nothing about you.
You got into a flow describing how great of a person your heroic grandmother is and the history of her life and the cookies that she bakes and you totally failed to reveal anything about you. Remember, Grandma is not applying to college…you are! While your essay describes a moment or person or experience of importance, it’s imperative that your answer gives insight into your life, your personality, and you’re selling your story to the reader. Don’t get lost in the nitty gritty details describing how great your trip was or how amazing your Grandma is. Instead, reveal who you’ve become after that trip or how Grandma’s helping hand shaped you into the student you are today. The reader should walk away with a greater sense of your personality and character, not your Grandma’s.
4. It’s doesn’t sound like your voice.
An Admissions Officer doesn’t care what Eleanor Roosevelt once said or need to read any more of John F. Kennedy’s motivational words. This is an essay written by you about you using your words. Most 17-year-olds don’t have a super sophisticated everyday vocabulary filled with SAT words and Old English formalities. While your essay should be well-written and show mastery of the English language, there’s no need to suddenly drop the word “peregrination” instead of “trip” when describing your plane ride to Africa. Let your voice shine through and write your essay as if it came from the your mouth and not the pages of the Webster’s Thesaurus.
5. It’s riddled with grammar mistakes and spelling errors.
Proofread, edit, edit, and then proofread again. There’s nothing more distracting then getting stopped midway through a sentence because you used “their” instead of “they’re.” Once you’ve finished writing your essay, read it aloud as that’s the easiest way to catch errors. Then instead of obsessing over the essay, put it away for a day or two and revisit it later with fresh eyes. Do a round of edits and remove redundant words or flowery phrases. Then have an English teacher give an objective opinion of the tone of your essay and provide notes in regards to spelling and grammar. And even then, have a family member or trusted friend read the essay as well. The more eyes, the less likely there will be errors and the closer your essay will get to perfection.
I’ve always said that the college essay is the one aspect of your application you have the most control over. By this point of the application process, your grades are set in stone and your SAT/ACT scores are as high as they can go. However, your essay is the one true reflection of the person behind the scores and grades. So shine through your essay and don’t let it suck!--
Natasha Scott is the author of The College Admissions Bible. Visit www.CollegeAdmissionsBible.com for more information. To contact Natasha for a speaking engagement or other opportunities, email her at email@example.com or call 973-951-4613.