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Top 10 College Essay Mistakes to Avoid

It’s application season! Whether you’ve been working on your college essay drafts all summer or just finished slaying your first draft, you want to double-check your personal statement or personal insight questions (PIQs) response. In this article, Insight Counselor Zach summarizes the top 10 most common college essay mistakes that you definitely want to avoid!


 1. Do NOT use “etc” in formal writing. It comes off as lazy. This comes up often when students are listing responsibilities or tasks that they accomplished. Write what they actually were. Be specific!

 2. Do NOT use ampersands (&) when writing a school paper, summer application, or college essay. It’s very informal. Take the extra second and write out the word “and.”

 3. Do NOT capitalize subjects unless they are specific course titles. “AP Computer Science” should be capitalized, but “computer science” should not.

 4. Do NOT use digits for numbers under 10. Spell out one, two, three… It won’t take long.

 5. Do NOT spell “learned” with a t.  Writing “I learnt” will look like a mistake to the vast majority of admissions officers.

 6. Do NOT use an acronym the first time you reference an organization or competition or club or area of study. Use “Machine Learning” or “Future Business Leaders of America” the first time before choosing to use “ML” or “FBLA” later on. Don’t automatically assume that any reader will know what you are referring to.

 7. Do NOT use more words than you need to. Not every adjective in your writing needs the word “very” before it.

 8. Do NOT only rely on your memory of vocabulary words. Consult a thesaurus from time to time. Nobody needs to use the word “interesting” a dozen times in a single essay.

 9. Do NOT make your reader guess the timeline. For example, writing “The summer before my junior year” is much more clear than saying “My sophomore summer,” which will leave readers guessing whether you meant the summer before or after.

 10. Do NOT write a complete essay without using paragraph breaks! There is no easier way to take a reader out of your essay than to submit a full page of uninterrupted writing. Paragraph breaks help with structure, transitions, and the overall flow. If you are addressing a shorter response (250-300 words), discuss what’s appropriate with your Insight counselor. 


Struggling with WHY essays? Check out Zach’s article on How to Write the “Why Major” or “Why College” Essays?


Bonus College Essay Insights!

In addition to the common mistakes above, please always pay attention to subject-verb agreement, know the difference between a comma and a semi-colon, and learn to distinguish between “who” and “that.” 

Above all else, make sure that you actually read and answer the entire prompt. Sometimes a prompt can have more than one part. There’s a difference between a good essay and a good essay that answers the question(s) being asked.


Read more: 5 Tips for Your College Essays


Written by Zach Pava

This article is written by Insight Senior Counselor Zach Pava.

Zach has guided hundreds of students throughout the college admissions process. His extensive writing background includes essay contributions online and in print, a sports blog, screenplays, and film reviews. Contact Insight Education today to schedule an initial consultation with Zach. Read his full bio here.

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