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Avoid These 8 College Essay Blunders for 100% Success

January 20, 2024

Crafting a personal essay for college is a formidable challenge, but it's also your golden ticket to make a compelling first impression on admissions committees. Your essay is the narrative of your unique qualities, experiences, and dreams, all skillfully woven within the constraints of a word limit. The stakes are high, but fear not, because mastering this craft can set you apart in a sea of applicants.

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Immerse yourself in the art of crafting your college essay

Why is it crucial to avoid missteps in your college essay? Admissions officers aim to uncover your authentic self, not to discover reasons for rejection. Steering clear of common pitfalls is the key to transforming an ordinary essay into an unforgettable masterpiece and distinguishing yourself from the crowd. Prepare to empower yourself with the knowledge needed to craft an attention-grabbing essay.

As you delve into common errors to avoid in college essays, keep in mind that these missteps can hinder your essay's ability to authentically represent you to admissions committees.

Common college essay errors to dodge

1. Avoiding overly formal language and structure

Crafting a personal essay for college can feel like a daunting task. You might think you need to adopt a stiff, formal tone, but that's not what admissions committees are looking for. Imagine you're having a conversation with a friend rather than writing a formal document.

🚀 Example
Instead of saying, "I am interested in pursuing a degree in biology," go for a more relaxed tone like, "I've got a fascination with the natural world." This approach lets your unique personality shine through, making your essay more relatable and engaging.

2. Resisting the urge to list all achievements

It's tempting to include every accolade and accomplishment in your essay, but remember, less is often more. Instead of overwhelming the reader with a laundry list of achievements, think about one significant accomplishment that tells a compelling story.

🚀 Example
Rather than listing all your volunteer work, focus on a specific volunteering experience that had a profound impact on you. Share the story of how it changed your perspective or shaped your goals.

3. Steering clear of vagueness

Vague and nebulous descriptions can undermine the impact of your essay. Be clear and specific in your storytelling.

🚀 Example
Instead of saying, "I had a life-changing experience," describe the specific event, the emotions it stirred, and the lessons you learned. For instance, "During my summer volunteering trip in Costa Rica, I witnessed the transformative power of education.”

This not only makes your essay more memorable but also demonstrates your ability to engage your audience with a compelling narrative, painting a vivid picture of your experiences.

4. The art of showing, not just telling

In your college essay, don't just state your qualities; illustrate them through storytelling. Use specific anecdotes, descriptive language, and sensory details to create a vivid picture of who you are.

🚀 Example
Instead of saying, "I'm determined," share a story:
"In the midst of my junior year, I encountered a challenging research project. Late nights, frustration, and guidance-seeking were part of it. One night, staring at a blank screen, I persisted. I reached out for help, revised my approach, and eventually presented my findings with a sense of accomplishment. This taught me that determination drives us forward, even in adversity."

By showing your determination through this story, your essay becomes more persuasive and memorable, leaving a lasting impression.

5. Being authentic about life challenges

While it's important to showcase your strengths, honesty matters. If you haven't faced significant hardships, that's okay. Share a genuine experience, even if it's a smaller obstacle you've overcome. Authenticity resonates with readers.

🚀 Example
Let's say you haven't faced major adversity in your life, but you did have to overcome a fear of public speaking. Instead of fabricating a hardship, be authentic:
"I used to be terrified of public speaking, to the point where even raising my hand in class made my heart race. Overcoming this fear was a personal challenge, and I worked tirelessly to improve. Eventually, I joined the debate club, and with time and practice, I not only conquered my fear but also developed valuable communication skills."

6. Keeping the spotlight on the students

While it's acceptable to mention influential people in your life, remember that the primary focus of your essay should be you. If you want to talk about a role model, share how their influence shaped your ambitions, but always bring the focus back to your own journey.

🚀 Example
You might be inspired by a teacher or a family member. In your essay, briefly mention their impact, but then transition into how their influence guided you to explore your interests and ambitions. Make sure the essay primarily highlights your personal growth and aspirations.

7. Limiting the number of reviewers

Seeking feedback on your essay is valuable, but don't overdo it. Too many opinions can muddy the waters. Select a few trusted individuals who know you well and can provide constructive feedback. This focused approach ensures that your essay maintains a coherent voice and message.

🚀 Example
You might be tempted to have your essay reviewed by numerous people—teachers, friends, family, and online forums. Instead, choose a small group of individuals whose opinions you trust. This might include a teacher, a parent, and a close friend. Their feedback will be more manageable and valuable.

8. Prioritizing timely essay completion

Procrastination can be your worst enemy when writing a college essay. Starting early allows ample time for revisions and reduces stress. Give yourself time to revise and refine your essay. Remember, a well-thought-out essay often goes through multiple drafts before it shines. Ready to create a standout college essay?

🚀 Example
Imagine you have a few months before your application deadline. Instead of waiting until the last minute, start by brainstorming ideas, create an outline, and then write a rough draft. This early start gives you the freedom to revise and polish your essay over time, resulting in a much stronger final piece.

Additional resources

In your journey to crafting an outstanding college essay, remember that you don't have to go it alone. Here are some valuable resources to complement the tips provided in this article:

1. Official college websites

Start by visiting the official websites of your chosen colleges. These sites offer up-to-date information on essay prompts and admission criteria, providing a foundational understanding of what each institution expects.

2. College admissions books

Explore trusted books on college admissions and essay writing for in-depth guidance. Titles like "The College Application Essay" and "On Writing the College Application Essay" provide valuable advice and strategies.

3. Online communities

Engage with online forums and communities like College Confidential, Reddit's r/ApplyingToCollege, and Aha, the AI learning platform. These platforms offer real-life experiences, peer support, and insights to inspire and guide your college essay journey. Remember, the key to success is tapping into a variety of resources that suit your needs and preferences.

4. Writing workshops, courses, and counselors

Consider online writing workshops and courses on platforms like Coursera, edX, and Udemy. Additionally, seek personalized guidance from high school or independent college counselors who can offer one-on-one support tailored to your needs.


1. Is one typo in a college essay bad?

While one typo in your college essay is not ideal, it typically won't lead to automatic rejection by admissions committees. However, it's essential to strive for perfection in your application because a typo can detract from the overall professionalism and impact of your essay. Admissions officers are looking for well-crafted and polished essays that demonstrate your attention to detail. To minimize the risk of typos, proofread your essay carefully, consider using spell-check software, and have someone else review it for errors.

2. How do I fix my college essay?

Fixing your college essay depends on the nature of the issues you want to address. Here's a step-by-step approach:

  • Review and self-edit: read your essay carefully for clarity, grammar, and coherence. Look for typos, awkward sentences, or unclear passages.
  • Seek feedback: ask a trusted friend, family member, or teacher to review your essay. They can offer valuable feedback and spot errors that may have escaped your notice.
  • Grammar and spelling check: use grammar and spell-check tools available in word processing software like Microsoft Word or Google Docs to identify and correct issues.
  • Content clarity: ensure that your ideas are well-organized and that each paragraph flows logically. Clarify any vague or unclear sentences or concepts.
  • Proofread: once you've made edits, proofread your essay again to confirm that you've addressed all issues.
  • Final review: read your essay one final time to ensure it's polished and error-free.

3. What if I have a spelling error in my college essay?

If you discover a spelling error in your college essay, don't panic. Follow these steps to rectify the situation:

  • Identify the error: locate the specific word with the spelling error.
  • Correct it: if you're working on a digital document, use the spell-check feature to correct the spelling. If it's a handwritten essay, neatly cross out the incorrect word and write the correct spelling above it.
  • Re-read the sentence: after making the correction, read the sentence to ensure it flows smoothly and still makes sense.
  • Proofread: re-read the entire essay to check for any additional spelling errors or typos.
  • Seek a second opinion: ask someone you trust to review your essay as well, as a fresh set of eyes can catch errors you might have missed.

Remember, while it's best to submit an error-free essay, colleges understand that occasional mistakes can happen. What's more important is the content and quality of your essay, so don't let a single spelling error overshadow your strengths and unique story.


Crafting your college essay is a crucial task to introduce yourself effectively to admissions committees. Avoiding common mistakes, seeking feedback, and staying true to your story are key steps in this journey.

In summary, your college essay is your chance to shine, so seize it! Start early, gather trusted feedback, and share your unique narrative authentically. To further enhance your essay skills, explore webinar recordings and seek expert support.

Ready to elevate your essay game? Join Aha for quality sample questions and AI-driven analysis. It's your resource to boost your AI learning skills and improve your chances of success.

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