Top 20 Errors in Undergraduate Writing

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The Top Twenty: A Quick Guide to Troubleshooting Your Writing

Readers judge your writing by your control of certain conventions, which may change depending on your audience, purpose, and writing situation.  For example, your instructor may or may not mark errors in your paper if he’s more concerned with its argument or structure than he is with sentence-level correctness; he could also decide an error is not serious.  Some instructors may even see the errors listed below as stylistic options. However, a large-scale study by Andrea Lunsford and Karen Lunsford (2008) found that these errors are the most likely to attract readers’ negative attention.  Before handing in your papers, proofread them carefully for these errors, which are illustrated below in the sentences in italics.  

THE TOP TWENTY

1. wrong word.

Wrong word errors take a number of forms. They may convey a slightly different meaning than you intend ( compose instead of comprise ) or a completely wrong meaning ( prevaricate  instead of procrastinate ). They may also be as simple as a wrong preposition or other type of wrong word in an idiom.

Use your thesaurus and spell checker with care. If you select a word from a thesaurus without knowing its precise meaning or allow a spell checker to correct spelling automatically, you may make wrong-word errors. If prepositions and idioms are tricky for you, look up the standard usage.

Here are a couple of wrong word examples:

Did you catch my illusion to the Bible?

Illusion means “an erroneous perception of reality.” In the context of this sentence,  allusion was needed because it means "reference.”

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a magnificent sixteenth-century allergy.

A spell checker replaced allegory with allergy.

2. Missing Comma after an Introductory Element

Use a comma after every introductory element—whether word, phrase or clause—to clarify where it ends and the rest of the sentence begins. When the introductory element is very short, you can skip the comma, but including it is never wrong.

Without a comma after the introductory element, it’s hard to see the location of the subject (“they”) in this sentence:

Determined to make their flight on time they rose at dawn.

3. Incomplete or Missing Documentation

Documentation practices vary from discipline to discipline.  But in academic and research writing, it’s a good idea to always cite your sources: omitting documentation can result in charges of plagiarism.

The examples below follow MLA style.  In this example, the page number of the print source for this quotation must be included.

The Social Media Bible defines social media as the “activities, practices, and behaviors among communities of people who gather online to share information, knowledge, and opinions using conversational media.”

And here, the source mentioned should be identified because it makes a specific, arguable claim:

According to one source, it costs almost twice an employee’s salary to recruit and train a replacement. 

Cite each source you refer to in the text, following the guidelines of the documentation style you are using. 

4. Vague Pronoun Reference

A pronoun (e.g., he, this, it) should refer clearly to the noun it replaces (called the antecedent).  If more than one word could be the antecedent, or if no specific antecedent is present, edit to make the meaning clear.

In this sentence, it possibly refers to more than one word:

If you put this handout in your binder, it may remind you of important tutoring strategies .

In some pronoun usage, the reference is implied but not stated.  Here, for example, you might wonder what which refers to:

The authoritarian school changed its cell phone policy, which many students resisted.

To improve this sentence, the writer needs to make explicit what students resisted.

5. Spelling

Even though technology now reviews much of our spelling for us, one of the top 20 most common errors is a spelling error.  That’s because spell checkers cannot identify many misspellings, and are most likely to miss homonyms (e.g., presence/presents), compound words incorrectly spelled as separate words, and proper nouns, particularly names. After you run the spell checker, proofread carefully for errors such as these:

Vladmir Putin is the controversial leader of Russia.
Every where she walked, she was reminded of him.

6. Mechanical Error with a Quotation

When we quote other writers, we bring their voices into our arguments.  Quotation marks crucially show where their words end and our own begin. 

Quotation marks come in pairs; don’t forget to open and close your quotations.  In most documentation styles (e.g., MLA Style), block quotations do not need quotations marks.  Consult your professor’s preferred style manual to learn how to present block quotations. 

Follow conventions when using quotation marks with other punctuation. Here, the comma should be placed inside the quotation marks:

"A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction", Virginia Woolf argues.

7. Unnecessary Comma

We often have a choice about whether or not to use a comma.  But if we add them to our sentences when and where they are not needed, then we may obscure rather than clarify our meaning.

Do not use commas to set off restrictive elements that are necessary to the meaning of the words they modify.  Here, for example, no comma is needed to set off the restrictive phrase  of working parents , which is necessary to indicate which parents the sentence is talking about.

Many children, of working parents, walk home from school by themselves.

Do not use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet) when the conjunction does not join parts of a compound sentence.  In this example, no comma is needed before the word  and  because it joins two phrases that modify the same verb, applies.

  This social scourge can be seen in urban centers, and in rural outposts.

Do not use a comma before the first or after the last item in a series.

The students asked their TAs to review, the assignment rubric, a sample paper and their comments, before the end of the quarter.

Do not use a comma between a subject and verb.

Happily, the waiters, sat down during a break.

Do not use a comma between a verb and its object or complement.

On her way home from work, she bought, a book at the bookstore.

Do not use a comma between a preposition and its object.

On her way home from work, she bought a book at, the bookstore.

8. Unnecessary or Missing Capitalization

Capitalize proper nouns and proper adjectives, the first words of sentences, and important words in titles, along with certain words indicating directions and family relationships. Do not capitalize most other words. When in doubt, check a dictionary.

Financial Aid is a pressing concern for many University Students.

9. Missing Word

If you read your work outloud before submittingit, you are more likely to notice omitted words.  Be particularly careful not to omit words from quotations.

Soccer fans the globe rejoiced when the striker scored the second goal.

10. Faulty Sentence Structure

If a sentence starts out with one kind of structure and then changes to another kind, it will confuse readers.

The information that families have access to is what financial aid is available and thinking about the classes available, and how to register.

Maintain the grammatical pattern within a sentence.  Each sentence must have a subject and a verb, and the subjects and predicates must make sense together.  In the example above, thinking about the classes available does not help the reader understand the information families have access to.  Parallel structures can help your reader see the relationships among your ideas.  Here’s the sentence revised:

Families have access to information about financial aid, class availability, and registration.

11. Missing Comma with a Nonrestrictive Element

A nonrestrictive phrase or clause provides additional information that is not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence.  Use commas to set off a nonrestrictive element.

David who loved to read history was the first to head to the British Library.

The clause  who loved to read history does not affect the basic meaning of the sentence.  The clause could be taken out and the reader would still understand that David was the first to head to the British Library.  

12. Unnecessary Shift in Verb Tense

Verbs that shift from one tense to another with no clear reason can confuse readers.

Martin searched for a great horned owl.  He takes photographs of all the birds he sights.

13. Missing Comma in a Compound Sentence

A compound sentence consists of two or more independent clauses.  When the clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), use a comma before the conjunction to indicate a pause between the two thoughts.

Miranda drove her brother and her mother waited at home.

Without the comma, a reader may think at first that Miranda drove both her brother and her mother.

14. Unnecessary or Missing Apostrophe (including its/it's)

To make a noun possessive, add either an apostrophe and an s (Ed's phone) or an apostrophe alone (the girls’ bathroom). Do not use an apostrophe in the possessive pronouns ours, yours, and hers. Use its to mean belong to it; use it's only when you mean it is or it has.

Repeated viral infections compromise doctors immune systems.
The chef lifted the skillet off it’s hook.  Its a fourteen-inch, copper skillet.

15. Fused (run-on) Sentence

A fused sentence (also called a run-on) joins clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence with no punctuation or words to link them. Fused sentences must be either divided into separate sentences or joined by adding words or punctuation.

The house was flooded with light, the moon rose above the horizon.
He wondered what the decision meant he thought about it all night.

16. Comma Splice

A comma splice occurs when only a comma separates clauses that could each stand alone as a sentence. To correct a comma splice, you can insert a semicolon or period, connect the clauses with a word such as and/or/because, or restructure the sentence.

The students rushed the field, they tore down the goalposts. 

17. Lack of pronoun/antecedent agreement

Pronouns typically must agree with their antecedents in gender (male or female, if appropriate) and in number (singular or plural). Many indefinite pronouns, such as everyone and each, are always singular.  However,  they can be used to agree with a singular antecedent in order to use inclusive or gender-neutral language.  When antecedents are joined by or or nor, the pronoun must agree with the closer antecedent. A collection noun such as team can be either singular or plural, depending on whether the members are seen as a group or individuals.

Every guest left their shoes at the door.

18. Poorly Integrated Quotation

Quotations should be logically and smoothly integrated with the writing around them, the grammar of the quotation complementing the grammar of the neighboring prose.  They usually need to be introduced (with a signal phrase) rather than dropped abruptly into the writing.

An award-winning 2009 study of friendship "understanding social networks allows us to understand how indeed, in the case of humans, the whole comes to be greater than the sum of its parts" (Christakis and Fowler 26).
"Social networks are intricate things of beauty" (Christakis and Fowler xiii). Maintaining close friendships is good for your health.

19. Missing or Unnecessary Hyphen

A compound adjective requires a hyphen when it modifies a noun that follows it.

This article describes eighteenth century theater.

A two-word verb should not be hyphenated. 

The dealers want to buy-back the computers and refurbish them.

20. Sentence Fragment

A sentence fragment is part of a sentence that is presented as if it were a complete sentence.  The following illustrate the ways sentence fragments can be created:

Without a subject

The American colonists resisted British taxation.  And started the American Revolution.

No complete verb

The pink geranium blooming in its pot.

Beginning with a subordinating word

We visited the park. Where we threw the Frisbee.

These 20 most common errors can be avoided in your writing if you reserve time to proofread your final draft before submission.

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea A. and Karen J. Lunsford.  “Mistakes are a Fact of Life: A National Comparative Study.”   CCC 59 (2008) 781-806.

Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.

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Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories

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Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

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Eight Common College Essay Mistakes

How to avoid the common mistakes.

Eight Common College Essay Mistakes

Staring at a blank screen wondering what the heck to say in your college essay? We feel you. Personal essays can be among the most challenging communications to craft. Sometimes it’s almost easier to start with what not to write, so we’ve put together some of the most common mistakes we see students make when drafting college essays. Use this list as a starting point (and head in the opposite direction!).

College Essay Don’ts:

  • Don’t: Use overly formal language and structure.  College essays are more informal in tone and style than what you’d write for school, and voice is a critical component of the essay: this essay should sound like you! Not your mom, your English teacher, or your family friend who is a professional writer. (Trust us, admissions officers can tell.)
  • Don’t: List everything you’ve ever done. There’s no need to cram your life into one 650-word essay. Save all those extracurriculars for the application’s Activities section.
  • Don’t: Be vague. Specific details help your essay pop and take it from good to great.
  • Don’t: Tell instead of show. If you find yourself listing your positive attributes instead of sharing a story that illustrates those qualities, it’s time to reevaluate.
  • Don’t: Write about overcoming an obstacle if you haven’t overcome one. Some students think they have to write about failures, challenges, or difficulties they’ve faced.  Not everyone has experienced life-altering obstacles yet – and that’s okay! You have other stories to tell.
  • Don’t: Focus on someone else. There may be a really influential person in your life, and you may be able to write a great essay about that relationship, but don’t spend 650 words talking about how awesome that person is. You’re the one applying to college!
  • Don’t: Share your essay with too many people. If you ask for feedback from 47 people, you will get 47 different responses, which can get confusing. Pick just a couple people you really trust to read your essay when you’re ready for feedback.
  • Don’t: Wait until the last minute. The essay process can be exciting, empowering, and, dare we say it, fun – but not if you’re rushed. Get started early and you’ll stress less while giving that essay room to grow and breathe! After all, writing is a process, and it requires time and attention.

For more college essay guidance, check out these recordings of our recent college essay webinars. If you need more tips or support on structuring your college essay, contact us today.

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what are the most common college essay mistakes

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Essays

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Jordan Sanchez in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Essay length, cohesive writing, reusing essays.

In this post, we discuss mistakes to avoid when writing your college essay . For more information, check out this post about how to write this year’s Common App essays . 

A common college essay mistake is writing an essay that’s too short. For example, the word limit for the Common App essay is 650 words, and you should try as hard as you can to reach that number. A 400-word essay is definitely too short. Make sure you’re using all the words available to you.

If you’re having difficulty meeting the word limit, your essay topic may be too specific. Also, you may not be including enough details or descriptive language. Conversely, if your essay is too long, you may have sections that could be simplified. Look for any areas where the writing may be repetitive or redundant. Consider whether your essay is too broad. Are you trying to cover multiple topics? It can be helpful to break down your essay paragraph by paragraph and ensure that everything you’ve written aligns with the goals of the essay.

Since supplemental essays tend to have low word limits, you can do more telling than showing when writing these. That said, while you don’t want to waste words, if there’s an opportunity to add a bit of personality to a supplemental essay, you should take it. 

Another common mistake is incohesive writing. Cohesive essays are easy and enjoyable to read. If an essay is jumping around and doesn’t have a clear narrative or connection between ideas, it can be distracting. The reader will be wondering what’s relevant and what they should be caring about, which takes attention away from the content and purpose of your essay.

Incohesive writing happens in two major ways. The first is when a writer doesn’t use effective transitions. These show the reader how different ideas are related, and without them, an essay can be disorganized and difficult to understand. Transitions can be as short as one or two sentences or as long as a whole paragraph.

Incohesive writing can also happen when the writer is inconsistent. Your essay should maintain the same tense, point of view, and writing style from beginning to end. Don’t use extremely complicated vocabulary in one paragraph and incredibly simple language in the next. Write in your natural style and voice, and you’ll never go wrong. 

To check the cohesion of your writing, go over your first or second draft and answer the following questions: “What is the main idea of this paragraph? Does it align with the central theme of the essay? How does this relate to the previous paragraph? Do I illustrate the connection here or later in the essay? What point of view is this written in? What about tense? Is it narrative or creative? Distant or close and engaging? Informative or persuasive?” Your answers should be the same or similar for each paragraph. 

It’s crucial to write your essay in the correct form. The Common App essay is similar to a narrative or memoir in that it’s a short personal story. Many students have little to no experience writing in this form, and if you’re one of them, that’s okay, you’re not alone.

Keep in mind that this is not a five-paragraph essay. You won’t have an introduction or conclusion in the traditional sense. Your introduction will be the hook of your essay, whether it comes in the form of dialogue, descriptive language, or imagery. The conclusion will be a short wrap-up, perhaps a few sentences in length. 

The essay isn’t a thought piece either. You shouldn’t be writing something speculative. You want to include specific personal details from your life. This will ground the essay so it doesn’t feel lofty, and it will help the reader get to know you better. 

Not sounding like yourself is a big issue in college essays. The admissions committee is not expecting the most beautiful prose or intelligent language. They want to read an essay by you and about you, so be sure to write your essay in your own voice.

Don’t include words in your essay that you don’t use regularly. You don’t need big, fancy words to impress admissions officers. Your character and your story will impress them for you. In the same vein, your essay should center around who you are today. It’s okay to write about something that happened in the distant past, but the bulk of your essay should be about events that occurred between 10th and 12th grade. Don’t talk too much about your past without connecting it back to who you are today. 

Throughout the college application process, you’ll write several essays, including personal statements and supplements. A few of these essays can be used in applications for several schools, but be careful not to reuse the wrong ones.

Admissions officers can tell when you’re reusing an essay that you shouldn’t. It shows carelessness and a lack of interest in the school and can lower your chances of admission. To avoid this mistake, before writing any of your supplemental essays, copy and paste all the prompts into a single document, and take inventory of how many you’ll actually have to write and how many you can reuse.

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Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

Writing is a skill you can work on for the rest of your life.

You can memorize grammar rules, learn certain tricks, and gain a larger vocabulary over time, but you never become a perfect writer … just a better one.

At Joyce, writing is a part of all of our curricula, because it’s such a critical part of life. You may graduate and never deal with another essay for the rest of your life, but as a healthcare professional you’ll write emails, reports, and possibly blogs — so you need to master common writing mistakes while you’re in school. We’ve seen a lot over the years, and we’ve pinpointed five you should watch out for.

1. The wrong or misspelled word

Run spell check on everything you turn in to your instructor, but run a mental spell check too because there are words your computer won’t catch. It’s easy for your mind to write “defiantly” when you meant “definitely,” since they look and sound so similar. Scrutinize your writing for these errors, and consider asking a friend or parent to review big assignments to ensure you haven’t overlooked a mistake.

2. Unnecessary commas

Commas are some of the trickiest punctuation in the English language, and it doesn’t help that some of their rules (like the Oxford comma) are optional. Some, though, are set in stone, so before you misuse commas, review the rules online . You shouldn’t set a prepositional phrase apart with commas (“the students, of Joyce, passed the NCLEX in record numbers”), or add commas in compound constructions that aren’t compound sentences (“That guy seems to know everything about writing, and photography.”). Too many commas looks just as bad as when you’re missing one.

Related Resource: The Most Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

3. Adding (or forgetting) hyphens

Hyphens are another common writing mistake in college essays, because they’re misunderstood. Rather than detail all of the times you should include a hyphen (“mother-in-law”) and shouldn’t (“fix-up”), you ought to look the word up whenever you think it might be appropriate. Over time, you’ll get a hang of the hyphen rules and learn when you should and shouldn’t use them.

4. Subject-verb agreement

Plural nouns need plural verbs. It’s basic grammar in sentences like that one, where the subject “nouns” is clearly plural, so you know to write “need” and not “needs.” It’s trickier when a plural subject is followed by a prepositional phrase with a singular noun, or vice versa. The rules of English are tricky sometimes, like this sentence, when “English” could be mistaken for the subject. Usually, you can hear that it just sounds wrong (“The rules of English is tricky.”). Sometimes subject-verb agreement is more difficult to catch, so watch out for this mistake in all of your writing.

5. Vague pronoun reference

Similarly, if you’re writing a sentence with a lot of nouns, you need to make sure you’re clear which noun you’re referring to when you use a pronoun.

“The first time Josh met his instructor, he said, ‘You look familiar.’”

Which “he” is that pronoun referring to? Josh or his instructor? If the instructor was female, using she wouldn’t be an issue, but when you’re describing people or things that have the same gender and number (singular or plural), you need to watch your pronouns. Also, be on guard for the word “it.” You may understand whom (or what) you’re referring to, but your reader may not.

We could go on and on; really, there are many common writing mistakes . So when you make them, you’re in good company, but always try to learn from them. At Joyce, we work to help all of our students become better at the skills they’ll need in their careers, which includes writing. If you’re interested in learning more about our nursing program , reach out to us!

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College Essays

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Just as there are noteworthy examples of excellent college essays that admissions offices like to publish, so are there cringe-worthy examples of terrible college essays that end up being described by anonymous admissions officers on Reddit discussion boards.

While I won't guarantee that your essay will end up in the first category, I will say that you follow my advice in this article, your essay most assuredly won't end up in the second. How do you avoid writing a bad admissions essay? Read on to find out what makes an essay bad and to learn which college essay topics to avoid. I'll also explain how to recognize bad college essays—and what to do to if you end up creating one by accident.

What Makes Bad College Essays Bad

What exactly happens to turn a college essay terrible? Just as great personal statements combine an unexpected topic with superb execution, flawed personal statements compound problematic subject matter with poor execution.

Problems With the Topic

The primary way to screw up a college essay is to flub what the essay is about or how you've decided to discuss a particular experience. Badly chosen essay content can easily create an essay that is off-putting in one of a number of ways I'll discuss in the next section.

The essay is the place to let the admissions office of your target college get to know your personality, character, and the talents and skills that aren't on your transcript. So if you start with a terrible topic, not only will you end up with a bad essay, but you risk ruining the good impression that the rest of your application makes.

Some bad topics show admissions officers that you don't have a good sense of judgment or maturity , which is a problem since they are building a class of college students who have to be able to handle independent life on campus.

Other bad topics suggest that you are a boring person , or someone who doesn't process your experience in a colorful or lively way, which is a problem since colleges want to create a dynamic and engaged cohort of students.

Still other bad topics indicate that you're unaware of or disconnected from the outside world and focused only on yourself , which is a problem since part of the point of college is to engage with new people and new ideas, and admissions officers are looking for people who can do that.

Problems With the Execution

Sometimes, even if the experiences you discuss could be the foundation of a great personal statement, the way you've structured and put together your essay sends up warning flags. This is because the admissions essay is also a place to show the admissions team the maturity and clarity of your writing style.

One way to get this part wrong is to exhibit very faulty writing mechanics , like unclear syntax or incorrectly used punctuation. This is a problem since college-ready writing is one of the things that's expected from a high school graduate.

Another way to mess this up is to ignore prompt instructions either for creative or careless reasons. This can show admissions officers that you're either someone who simply blows off directions and instructions or someone who can't understand how to follow them . Neither is a good thing, since they are looking for people who are open to receiving new information from professors and not just deciding they know everything already.

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College Essay Topics To Avoid

Want to know why you're often advised to write about something mundane and everyday for your college essay? That's because the more out-there your topic, the more likely it is to stumble into one of these trouble categories.

Too Personal

The problem with the overly personal essay topic is that revealing something very private can show that you don't really understand boundaries . And knowing where appropriate boundaries are will be key for living on your own with a bunch of people not related to you.

Unfortunately, stumbling into the TMI zone of essay topics is more common than you think. One quick test for checking your privacy-breaking level: if it's not something you'd tell a friendly stranger sitting next to you on the plane, maybe don't tell it to the admissions office.

  • Describing losing your virginity, or anything about your sex life really. This doesn't mean you can't write about your sexual orientation—just leave out the actual physical act.
  • Writing in too much detail about your illness, disability, any other bodily functions. Detailed meaningful discussion of what this physical condition has meant to you and your life is a great thing to write about. But stay away from body horror and graphic descriptions that are simply there for gratuitous shock value.
  • Waxing poetic about your love for your significant other. Your relationship is adorable to the people currently involved in it, but those who don't know you aren't invested in this aspect of your life.
  • Confessing to odd and unusual desires of the sexual or illegal variety. Your obsession with cultivating cacti is wonderful topic, while your obsession with researching explosives is a terrible one.

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Too Revealing of Bad Judgment

Generally speaking, leave past illegal or immoral actions out of your essay . It's simply a bad idea to give admissions officers ammunition to dislike you.

Some exceptions might be if you did something in a very, very different mindset from the one you're in now (in the midst of escaping from danger, under severe coercion, or when you were very young, for example). Or if your essay is about explaining how you've turned over a new leaf and you have the transcript to back you up.

  • Writing about committing crime as something fun or exciting. Unless it's on your permanent record, and you'd like a chance to explain how you've learned your lesson and changed, don't put this in your essay.
  • Describing drug use or the experience of being drunk or high. Even if you're in a state where some recreational drugs are legal, you're a high school student. Your only exposure to mind-altering substances should be caffeine.
  • Making up fictional stories about yourself as though they are true. You're unlikely to be a good enough fantasist to pull this off, and there's no reason to roll the dice on being discovered to be a liar.
  • Detailing your personality flaws. Unless you have a great story of coping with one of these, leave deal-breakers like pathological narcissism out of your personal statement.

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Too Overconfident

While it's great to have faith in your abilities, no one likes a relentless show-off. No matter how magnificent your accomplishments, if you decide to focus your essay on them, it's better to describe a setback or a moment of doubt rather that simply praising yourself to the skies.

  • Bragging and making yourself the flawless hero of your essay. This goes double if you're writing about not particularly exciting achievements like scoring the winning goal or getting the lead in the play.
  • Having no awareness of the actual scope of your accomplishments. It's lovely that you take time to help others, but volunteer-tutoring a couple of hours a week doesn't make you a saintly figure.

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Too Clichéd or Boring

Remember your reader. In this case, you're trying to make yourself memorable to an admissions officer who has been reading thousands of other essays . If your essay makes the mistake of being boring or trite, it just won't register in that person's mind as anything worth paying attention to.

  • Transcribing your resume into sentence form or writing about the main activity on your transcript. The application already includes your resume, or a detailed list of your various activities. Unless the prompt specifically asks you to write about your main activity, the essay needs to be about a facet of your interests and personality that doesn't come through the other parts of the application.
  • Writing about sports. Every athlete tries to write this essay. Unless you have a completely off-the-wall story or unusual achievement, leave this overdone topic be.
  • Being moved by your community service trip to a third-world country. Were you were impressed at how happy the people seemed despite being poor? Did you learn a valuable lesson about how privileged you are? Unfortunately, so has every other teenager who traveled on one of these trips. Writing about this tends to simultaneously make you sound unempathetic, clueless about the world, way over-privileged, and condescending. Unless you have a highly specific, totally unusual story to tell, don't do it.
  • Reacting with sadness to a sad, but very common experience. Unfortunately, many of the hard, formative events in your life are fairly universal. So, if you're going to write about death or divorce, make sure to focus on how you dealt with this event, so the essay is something only you could possibly have written. Only detailed, idiosyncratic description can save this topic.
  • Going meta. Don't write about the fact that you're writing the essay as we speak, and now the reader is reading it, and look, the essay is right here in the reader's hand. It's a technique that seems clever, but has already been done many times in many different ways.
  • Offering your ideas on how to fix the world. This is especially true if your solution is an easy fix, if only everyone would just listen to you. Trust me, there's just no way you are being realistically appreciative of the level of complexity inherent in the problem you're describing.
  • Starting with a famous quotation. There usually is no need to shore up your own words by bringing in someone else's. Of course, if you are writing about a particular phrase that you've adopted as a life motto, feel free to include it. But even then, having it be the first line in your essay feels like you're handing the keys over to that author and asking them to drive.
  • Using an everyday object as a metaphor for your life/personality. "Shoes. They are like this, and like that, and people love them for all of these reasons. And guess what? They are just like me."

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Too Off-Topic

Unlike the essays you've been writing in school where the idea is to analyze something outside of yourself, the main subject of your college essay should be you, your background, your makeup, and your future . Writing about someone or something else might well make a great essay, but not for this context.

  • Paying tribute to someone very important to you. Everyone would love to meet your grandma, but this isn't the time to focus on her amazing coming of age story. If you do want to talk about a person who is important to your life, dwell on the ways you've been impacted by them, and how you will incorporate this impact into your future.
  • Documenting how well other people do things, say things, are active, while you remain passive and inactive in the essay. Being in the orbit of someone else's important lab work, or complex stage production, or meaningful political activism is a fantastic learning moment. But if you decide to write about, your essay should be about your learning and how you've been influenced, not about the other person's achievements.
  • Concentrating on a work of art that deeply moved you. Watch out for the pitfall of writing an analytical essay about that work, and not at all about your reaction to it or how you've been affected since. Check out our explanation of how to answer Topic D of the ApplyTexas application to get some advice on writing about someone else's work while making sure your essay still points back at you.

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(Image: Pieter Christoffel Wonder [Public domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

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Too Offensive

With this potential mistake, you run the risk of showing a lack of self-awareness or the ability to be open to new ideas . Remember, no reader wants to be lectured at. If that's what your essay does, you are demonstrating an inability to communicate successfully with others.

Also, remember that no college is eager to admit someone who is too close-minded to benefit from being taught by others. A long, one-sided essay about a hot-button issue will suggest that you are exactly that.

  • Ranting at length about political, religious, or other contentious topics. You simply don't know where the admissions officer who reads your essay stands on any of these issues. It's better to avoid upsetting or angering that person.
  • Writing a one-sided diatribe about guns, abortion, the death penalty, immigration, or anything else in the news. Even if you can marshal facts in your argument, this essay is simply the wrong place to take a narrow, unempathetic side in an ongoing debate.
  • Mentioning anything negative about the school you're applying to. Again, your reader is someone who works there and presumably is proud of the place. This is not the time to question the admissions officer's opinions or life choices.

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College Essay Execution Problems To Avoid

Bad college essays aren't only caused by bad topics. Sometimes, even if you're writing about an interesting, relevant topic, you can still seem immature or unready for college life because of the way you present that topic—the way you actually write your personal statement. Check to make sure you haven't made any of the common mistakes on this list.

Tone-Deafness

Admissions officers are looking for resourcefulness, the ability to be resilient, and an active and optimistic approach to life —these are all qualities that create a thriving college student. Essays that don't show these qualities are usually suffering from tone-deafness.

  • Being whiny or complaining about problems in your life. Is the essay about everyone doing things to/against you? About things happening to you, rather than you doing anything about them? That perspective is a definite turn-off.
  • Trying and failing to use humor. You may be very funny in real life, but it's hard to be successfully funny in this context, especially when writing for a reader who doesn't know you. If you do want to use humor, I'd recommend the simplest and most straightforward version: being self-deprecating and low-key.
  • Talking down to the reader, or alternately being self-aggrandizing. No one enjoys being condescended to. In this case, much of the function of your essay is to charm and make yourself likable, which is unlikely to happen if you adopt this tone.
  • Being pessimistic, cynical, and generally depressive. You are applying to college because you are looking forward to a future of learning, achievement, and self-actualization. This is not the time to bust out your existential ennui and your jaded, been-there-done-that attitude toward life.

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(Image: Eduard Munch [Public Domain] , via Wikimedia Commons)

Lack of Personality

One good question to ask yourself is: could anyone else have written this essay ? If the answer is yes, then you aren't doing a good job of representing your unique perspective on the world. It's very important to demonstrate your ability to be a detailed observer of the world, since that will be one of your main jobs as a college student.

  • Avoiding any emotions, and appearing robot-like and cold in the essay. Unlike essays that you've been writing for class, this essay is meant to be a showcase of your authorial voice and personality. It may seem strange to shift gears after learning how to take yourself out of your writing, but this is the place where you have to put as much as yourself in as possible.
  • Skipping over description and specific details in favor of writing only in vague generalities. Does your narrative feel like a newspaper horoscope, which could apply to every other person who was there that day? Then you're doing it wrong and need to refocus on your reaction, feelings, understanding, and transformation.

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Off-Kilter Style

There's some room for creativity here, yes, but a college essay isn't a free-for-all postmodern art class . True, there are prompts that specifically call for your most out-of-left-field submission, or allow you to submit a portfolio or some other work sample instead of a traditional essay. But on a standard application, it's better to stick to traditional prose, split into paragraphs, further split into sentences.

  • Submitting anything other than just the materials asked for on your application. Don't send food to the admissions office, don't write your essay on clothing or shoes, don't create a YouTube channel about your undying commitment to the school. I know there are a lot of urban legends about "that one time this crazy thing worked," but they are either not true or about something that will not work a second time.
  • Writing your essay in verse, in the form of a play, in bullet points, as an acrostic, or any other non-prose form. Unless you really have a way with poetry or playwriting, and you are very confident that you can meet the demands of the prompt and explain yourself well in this form, don't discard prose simply for the sake of being different.
  • Using as many "fancy" words as possible and getting very far away from sounding like yourself. Admissions officers are unanimous in wanting to hear your not fully formed teenage voice in your essay. This means that you should write at the top of your vocabulary range and syntax complexity, but don't trade every word up for a thesaurus synonym. Your essay will suffer for it.

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Failure to Proofread

Most people have a hard time checking over their own work. This is why you have to make sure that someone else proofreads your writing . This is the one place where you can, should—and really must—get someone who knows all about grammar, punctuation and has a good eye for detail to take a red pencil to your final draft.

Otherwise, you look like you either don't know the basic rules or writing (in which case, are you really ready for college work?) or don't care enough to present yourself well (in which case, why would the admissions people care about admitting you?).

  • Typos, grammatical mistakes, punctuation flubs, weird font/paragraph spacing issues. It's true that these are often unintentional mistakes. But caring about getting it right is a way to demonstrate your work ethic and dedication to the task at hand.
  • Going over the word limit. Part of showing your brilliance is being able to work within arbitrary rules and limitations. Going over the word count points to a lack of self-control, which is not a very attractive feature in a college applicant.
  • Repeating the same word(s) or sentence structure over and over again. This makes your prose monotonous and hard to read.

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Bad College Essay Examples—And How to Fix Them

The beauty of writing is that you get to rewrite. So if you think of your essay as a draft waiting to be revised into a better version rather than as a precious jewel that can't bear being touched, you'll be in far better shape to correct the issues that always crop up!

Now let's take a look at some actual college essay drafts to see where the writer is going wrong and how the issue could be fixed.

Essay #1: The "I Am Writing This Essay as We Speak" Meta-Narrative

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine. I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

In my junior year, I always had in mind an image of myself finishing the college essay months before the deadline. But as the weeks dragged on and the deadline drew near, it soon became clear that at the rate things are going I would probably have to make new plans for my October, November and December.

Falling into my personal wormhole, I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!" I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

I fell into a state of panic. My college essay. My image of myself in senior year. Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there. My heart lifted, I took his advice and listed three of my greatest achievements - mastering my backgammon strategy, being a part of TREE in my sophomore year, and performing "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance in public. And sure enough, I felt inspiration hit me and began to type away furiously into the keyboard about my experience in TREE, or Trees Require Engaged Environmentalists. I reflected on the current state of deforestation, and described the dichotomy of it being both understandable why farmers cut down forests for farmland, and how dangerous this is to our planet. Finally, I added my personal epiphany to the end of my college essay as the cherry on the vanilla sundae, as the overused saying goes.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal. Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In the middle of a hike through Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, I realized that the college essay was nothing more than an embodiment of my character. The two essays I have written were not right because they have failed to become more than just words on recycled paper. The subject failed to come alive. Certainly my keen interest in Star Trek and my enthusiasm for TREE are a great part of who I am, but there were other qualities essential in my character that did not come across in the essays.

With this realization, I turned around as quickly as I could without crashing into a tree.

What Essay #1 Does Well

Here are all things that are working on all cylinders for this personal statement as is.

Killer First Sentence

Was your childhood home destroyed by a landspout tornado? Yeah, neither was mine.

  • A strange fact. There are different kinds of tornadoes? What is a "landspout tornado" anyway?
  • A late-night-deep-thoughts hypothetical. What would it be like to be a kid whose house was destroyed in this unusual way?
  • Direct engagement with the reader. Instead of asking "what would it be like to have a tornado destroy a house" it asks "was your house ever destroyed."

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Gentle, Self-Deprecating Humor That Lands Well

I played with the thought in my mind, tapping my imaginary communicator pin and whispering "Computer. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot. And then an Essay." Nothing happened. Instead, I sat quietly in my room wrote the old-fashioned way. Days later I emerged from my room disheveled, but to my dismay, this college essay made me sound like just a guy who can't get over the fact that he'll never take the Starfleet Academy entrance exam. So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

The author has his cake and eats it too here: both making fun of himself for being super into the Star Trek mythos, but also showing himself being committed enough to try whispering a command to the Enterprise computer alone in his room. You know, just in case.

A Solid Point That Is Made Paragraph by Paragraph

The meat of the essay is that the two versions of himself that the author thought about portraying each fails in some way to describe the real him. Neither an essay focusing on his off-beat interests, nor an essay devoted to his serious activism could capture everything about a well-rounded person in 600 words.

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(Image: fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons .)

Where Essay #1 Needs Revision

Rewriting these flawed parts will make the essay shine.

Spending Way Too Long on the Metanarrative

I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn't about that at all.

After 3 weeks of figuring myself out, I have converted myself into a piece of writing. As far as achievements go, this was definitely an amazing one. The ability to transform a human being into 603 words surely deserves a gold medal.

Look at how long and draggy these paragraphs are, especially after that zippy opening. Is it at all interesting to read about how someone else found the process of writing hard? Not really, because this is a very common experience.

In the rewrite, I'd advise condensing all of this to maybe a sentence to get to the meat of the actual essay .

Letting Other People Do All the Doing

I sat down with my mom to talk about colleges. "Maybe you should write about Star Trek ," she suggested, "you know how you've always been obsessed with Captain Picard, calling him your dream mentor. Unique hobbies make good topics, right? You'll sound creative!"

Almost out of nowhere, Robert Jameson Smith offered his words of advice. Perfect! He suggested students begin their college essay by listing their achievements and letting their essay materialize from there.

Twice in the essay, the author lets someone else tell him what to do. Not only that, but it sounds like both of the "incomplete" essays were dictated by the thoughts of other people and had little to do with his own ideas, experiences, or initiative.

In the rewrite, it would be better to recast both the Star Trek and the TREE versions of the essay as the author's own thoughts rather than someone else's suggestions . This way, the point of the essay—taking apart the idea that a college essay could summarize life experience—is earned by the author's two failed attempts to write that other kind of essay.

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Leaving the Insight and Meaning Out of His Experiences

Both the Star Trek fandom and the TREE activism were obviously important life experiences for this author—important enough to be potential college essay topic candidates. But there is no description of what the author did with either one, nor any explanation of why these were so meaningful to his life.

It's fine to say that none of your achievements individually define you, but in order for that to work, you have to really sell the achievements themselves.

In the rewrite, it would be good to explore what he learned about himself and the world by pursuing these interests . How did they change him or seen him into the person he is today?

Not Adding New Shades and Facets of Himself Into the Mix

So, I tossed my essay away without even getting to disintegrate it with a phaser set on stun.

Yet in this essay, I was still being nagged by a voice that couldn't be ignored. Eventually, I submitted to that yelling inner voice and decided that this was not the right essay either.

In both of these passages, there is the perfect opportunity to point out what exactly these failed versions of the essay didn't capture about the author . In the next essay draft, I would suggest subtly making a point about his other qualities.

For example, after the Star Trek paragraph, he could talk about other culture he likes to consume, especially if he can discuss art forms he is interested in that would not be expected from someone who loves Star Trek .

Or, after the TREE paragraph, the author could explain why this second essay was no better at capturing him than the first. What was missing? Why is the self in the essay shouting—is it because this version paints him as an overly aggressive activist?

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Essay #2: The "I Once Saw Poor People" Service Trip Essay

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive. My whole outlook on life changed after I realized that my life was just being handed to me on a silver spoon, and yet there were those in the world who didn't have enough food to eat or place to live. I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness. But my most vivid memory was the moment I first got to the farming town. The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water? As these questions rolled around my already dazed mind, I heard a soft voice asking me in Spanish, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" I looked down to see a small boy, around nine years of age, who looked starved, and cold, wearing tattered clothing, comforting me. These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate ahead of themselves. It was at that moment that I saw how selfish I had been. How many people suffered like this in the world, while I went about life concerned about nothing at all?

Thinking back on the trip, maybe I made a difference, maybe not. But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

What Essay #2 Does Well

Let's first point out what this draft has going for it.

Clear Chronology

This is an essay that tries to explain a shift in perspective. There are different ways to structure this overarching idea, but a chronological approach that starts with an earlier opinion, describes a mind changing event, and ends with the transformed point of view is an easy and clear way to lay this potentially complex subject out.

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(Image: User:Lite via Wikimedia Commons)

Where Essay #2 Needs Revision

Now let's see what needs to be changed in order for this essay to pass muster.

Condescending, Obnoxious Tone

Unlike other teenagers, I'm not concerned about money, or partying, or what others think of me. Unlike other eighteen year-olds, I think about my future, and haven't become totally materialistic and acquisitive.

This is a very broad generalization, which doesn't tend to be the best way to formulate an argument—or to start an essay. It just makes this author sound dismissive of a huge swath of the population.

In the rewrite, this author would be way better off just concentrate on what she want to say about herself, not pass judgment on "other teenagers," most of whom she doesn't know and will never meet.

I realized that the one thing that this world needed more than anything was compassion; compassion for those less fortunate than us.

Coming from someone who hasn't earned her place in the world through anything but the luck of being born, the word "compassion" sounds really condescending. Calling others "less fortunate" when you're a senior in high school has a dehumanizing quality to it.

These people who have so little were able to forget their own needs, and put those much more fortunate in front of themselves.

Again, this comes across as very patronizing. Not only that, but to this little boy the author was clearly not looking all that "fortunate"—instead, she looked pathetic enough to need comforting.

In the next draft, a better hook could be making the essay about the many different kinds of shifting perspectives the author encountered on that trip . A more meaningful essay would compare and contrast the points of view of the TV commercials, to what the group leader said, to the author's own expectations, and finally to this child's point of view.

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Vague, Unobservant Description

During the summer of 2006, I went on a community service trip to rural Peru to help build an elementary school for kids there. I expected harsh conditions, but what I encountered was far worse. It was one thing to watch commercials asking for donations to help the unfortunate people in less developed countries, yet it was a whole different story to actually live it. Even after all this time, I can still hear babies crying from hunger; I can still see the filthy rags that they wore; I can still smell the stench of misery and hopelessness.

Phrases like "cries of the small children from not having enough to eat" and "dirt stained rags" seem like descriptions, but they're really closer to incurious and completely hackneyed generalizations. Why were the kids were crying? How many kids? All the kids? One specific really loud kid?

The same goes for "filthy rags," which is both an incredibly insensitive way to talk about the clothing of these villagers, and again shows a total lack of interest in their life. Why were their clothes dirty? Were they workers or farmers so their clothes showing marks of labor? Did they have Sunday clothes? Traditional clothes they would put on for special occasions? Did they make their own clothes? That would be a good reason to keep wearing clothing even if it had "stains" on it.

The rewrite should either make this section more specific and less reliant on cliches, or should discard it altogether .

The conditions of it hit me by surprise; it looked much worse in real life than compared to the what our group leader had told us. Poverty to me and everyone else I knew was a foreign concept that people hear about on the news or see in documentaries. But this abject poverty was their life, their reality.

If this is the "most vivid memory," then I would expect to read all the details that have been seared into the author's brain. What did their leader tell them? What was different in real life? What was the light like? What did the houses/roads/grass/fields/trees/animals/cars look like? What time of day was it? Did they get there by bus, train, or plane? Was there an airport/train station/bus terminal? A city center? Shops? A marketplace?

There are any number of details to include here when doing another drafting pass.

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Lack of Insight or Maturity

But this abject poverty was their life, their reality. And for the brief ten days I was there, it would be mine too. As all of this realization came at once, I felt overwhelmed by the weight of what was to come. Would I be able to live in the same conditions as these people? Would I catch a disease that no longer existed in the first world, or maybe die from drinking contaminated water?

Without a framing device explaining that this initial panic was an overreaction, this section just makes the author sound whiny, entitled, melodramatic, and immature . After all, this isn't a a solo wilderness trek—the author is there with a paid guided program. Just how much mortality is typically associated with these very standard college-application-boosting service trips?

In a rewrite, I would suggest including more perspective on the author's outsized and overprivileged response here. This would fit well with a new focus on the different points of view on this village the author encountered.

Unearned, Clichéd "Deep Thoughts"

But I gained something much more important. I gained the desire to make the world a better place for others. It was in a small, poverty-stricken village in Peru that I finally realized that there was more to life than just being alive.

Is it really believable that this is what the author learned? There is maybe some evidence to suggest that the author was shaken somewhat out of a comfortable, materialistic existence. But what does "there is more to life than just being alive" even really mean? This conclusion is rather vague, and seems mostly a non sequitur.

In a rewrite, the essay should be completely reoriented to discuss how differently others see us than we see ourselves, pivoting on the experience of being pitied by someone who you thought was pitiable. Then, the new version can end by on a note of being better able to understand different points of view and other people's perspectives .

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The Bottom Line

  • Bad college essays have problems either with their topics or their execution.
  • The essay is how admissions officers learn about your personality, point of view, and maturity level, so getting the topic right is a key factor in letting them see you as an aware, self-directed, open-minded applicant who is going to thrive in an environment of independence.
  • The essay is also how admissions officers learn that you are writing at a ready-for-college level, so screwing up the execution shows that you either don't know how to write, or don't care enough to do it well.
  • The main ways college essay topics go wrong is bad taste, bad judgment, and lack of self-awareness.
  • The main ways college essays fail in their execution have to do with ignoring format, syntax, and genre expectations.

What's Next?

Want to read some excellent college essays now that you've seen some examples of flawed one? Take a look through our roundup of college essay examples published by colleges and then get help with brainstorming your perfect college essay topic .

Need some guidance on other parts of the application process? Check out our detailed, step-by-step guide to college applications for advice.

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Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Content Writer at Gradehacker

Updated January, 2023

How frustrating is it to hand in an essay you thought was good only to receive a low grade and a heap of corrections? That’s because you need to learn how to avoid essay common mistakes most students make!

Here at Gradehacker, we have years of experience helping students like you with custom-made essays for college students. We have come across many students who feel defeated as they keep receiving the same feedback on different essays. This can leave you feeling like you’re unable to fix the weaknesses in your writing to increase your grades and have a successful essay.  

Many of those corrections you might find spread throughout your essay are common mistakes in essay writing ! Though you may feel alone in repeating the same mistakes, this is not the case.

Excellent essay writing is a skill you need to complete college successfully . In this article, we share the five most common essay mistakes we have observed in essays and how to avoid them. 

This way, you can solve these essay mistakes and get that A+ essay you desire!

5 Common Essay Mistakes

Mistake #1: thesis statement problems.

5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Thesis Statement

A thesis statement is a sentence located at the end of your introduction paragraph that lays out the argument you will be making in your essay and the points that you will include to back this up.

Writing a Vague Thesis Statement

What makes a thesis statement vague and prevents you from making a meaningful essay is leaving out the points that will support why your argument is valid .

Let’s take a look at an example of a vague thesis statemen t:

Children should eat vegetables.

Does this thesis statement make the reader confident that children should eat their vegetables?

This thesis statement isn’t convincing because it presents an argument without any justification . It does not include why children should eat their vegetables.

How do I Make a Strong Thesis Statement?

When crafting a thesis statement, you have to remember to include the why aspect .

When you have an argument, ask yourself, “why is this so?” The answer to this question will be the points that will support your argument and must be included in the thesis statement.

Taking this into account, let’s tweak the previous thesis statement:

“Children should eat vegetables because they provide the necessary nutrients for growth, protect against diseases, and are an excellent fiber source.”

Compare the previous thesis statement to this one. This one sounds a lot more convincing, doesn’t it? This thesis statement was improved by simply including points that back up the claim.

We asked ourselves, why should children eat vegetables? And added on to the thesis statement by putting our answer after a ‘because.’

Thesis statements don’t always address a “why is this so?”. Sometimes, they address a “how did (any event) happen?”

That means that if asking yourself, “Why?” does not fit your thesis statement, ask yourself, “How?” When answering either a why or how, always include your answer as the supporting points.

Ensure you do not just include an empty statement, but you also make a complete sentence to justify your statement.

Choosing a Non-Justifiable Thesis Statement

Another mistake is choosing a thesis statement that you are not able to justify extensively . If you find that you chose a thesis statement but are struggling to find points that will support it, you are making this mistake!

You can end up with a non-justifiable thesis statement for two reasons:

  • There aren't many facts out there to support the point you make in your thesis statement
  • You chose a thesis statement before researching thoroughly and only based on your personal opinion

If you have a non-justifiable thesis statement, it will affect your entire essay! Your body paragraphs, which elaborate on the supporting points, will suffer as you end up justifying more with opinions instead of facts and information.

How do I Ensure my Thesis Statement Can be Justified?

Simply put, stick to the facts! And avoid:

  • Choosing a thesis statement before researching a topic
  • Picking an argument that has little evidence out there

Do not be afraid to change your thesis statement! Because you will end up losing more time and points on your grade if you stay put with a thesis statement that isn’t easy to justify.

Here’s a visual template you can follow to know if your thesis statement is appropriate for your paper o not. 

5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Appropiate Thesis Statement

Don’t Forget About the Thesis Statement Throughout the Entire Essay

So, we pointed out that having a good thesis statement is a must-have , but is that it? No! 

A big mistake is including a thesis statement but not connecting back to it throughout your essay.

This common mistake occurs when we lose sight of it in the writing process. We may follow our essay plan and include the points we planned but forget to relate these back to the essay’s stance.

This error involves leaving the thesis statement in the introduction and forgetting about it in the rest of your essay.

How do Address The Thesis Statement Throughout The Entire Essay?

To avoid this, you must understand that each body paragraph(s) explores a separate point supporting your thesis statement.

Have your thesis statement in sight while writing , so you can always be reminded of your essay’s general argument. When you include evidence or facts within a body paragraph, always explain how this backs up your general thesis statement points.

Think of your thesis statement as a string to which each body paragraph is connected and ties back to.

 If you want to learn how to come up with an outstanding thesis statement in a few minutes, check out our video!

Mistake #2: Including Hard-to-Read Sentences

Have you ever had someone else read your essay and ask, what are you trying to say? 

Hard-to-read sentences are common errors found in essays. Many include fancy words and long sentences, thinking it will make them sound “academic.”

These sentences, you think, sound academic but will just be confusing to the reader if they are not concise and have superfluous words.

While academic writing does involve formal words and academic language, simple sentences that show clarity is one of the most important things!

How do I Make my Sentences Readable?

Nowadays you can use many online readers and grammar editors that will help you make your sentences easier to read and more accurate. 

Usually, online editors look like this:

5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Online Editors

Getting someone else to read your essay is a great way to avoid having hard-to-read sentences. Having another pair of eyes look over your essay will allow them to catch which sentences are difficult to understand.

You can also highlight lengthy sentences in your essay , review them, and ask yourself:

  • Is this sentence difficult to read?
  • Will this sentence be clearer if I shorten it?
  • Will this sentence be more exact if I change the words?

Hemingway Editor is also a great online tool that points out confusing sentences that are hard to read and lengthy. You can learn more about it in our in-depth review .

Mistake #3 Disorganized Essay Structure

Sometimes, even though the ideas you brainstormed for your essay and the evidence you found are excellent, your essay’s structure is not great .

Having a clear and organized structure is what makes or breaks an essay. It facilitates getting your point across.

However, many students don’t pay much attention to the structure and end up with an essay with no apparent organization.

When you don’t have a good essay structure, your paragraphs will seem like they come from a different essay topic that does not relate to one another or flow effortlessly.

How do I Better Structure my Essay?

The only way to avoid this is to structure your essay before writing! This involves planning out each part of your essay, your introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion .

You can make a bullet point list of what you will write in each section and remember each section is supposed to work together to illustrate a point. This point that each body paragraph needs to work together to present is the argument in your thesis statement.

When planning out what to write in each section, don’t forget to list out:

  • The thesis statement in the introduction
  • The evidence you will use in your body paragraphs to prove each point
  • How each point relates to and backs up your thesis statement
  • The significance of your argument in the conclusion

This is an example of a good essay structure you can follow so your writing can flow flawlessly. 

5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them Good Essay Structure

Make sure to limit each body paragraph to one idea so the structure isn’t confusing. Also, don’t forget to include transition words between paragraphs so that your essay flows nicely.

Always tie everything back to the thesis statement; this will make sure your paragraphs connect to one another.

Mistake #4: Rewording the Introduction for the Conclusion

There is a widespread misconception that all you need to do in a conclusion is reword the introduction. Yes, you cannot forget to revisit the points you make throughout the essay, but a conclusion is not the same as an introduction !

This is why students make the common mistake of not including the bigger picture of their academic essay.

Another mistake is beginning your conclusion with a generic term that marks finality, such as “in conclusion.”

How do I Make my Conclusion Better?

You should check whether your conclusion does these things:

  • Revisit the points you made and how this supports the thesis statement
  • Reflect on the argument you made and the "bigger picture"
  • Mention any further implications of your argument

Try not to begin your conclusion with a generic phrase like ‘in conclusion,’ as these sound amateur. Also, a conclusion should be able to be identified without these introductory phrases .

If you want more tips on how to improve your essay conclusion , take a look at our quick video!

Mistake #5 Not Editing Your Essay Thoroughly

The biggest mistake you can make is not editing your essay thoroughly before handing it in .

By not rereading your essay, your silly mistakes will distract from what you are trying to say . Any mistakes, such as typos or punctuation mistakes, will make your essay harder to read for your professor and disrupt the point you are trying to make.

Skipping this final step in the essay-writing process will rid you of the chance of perfecting your essay and fixing any mistakes . This simple step has a significant impact on getting you from a C or B to an A!

How do I Revise my Essay Better?

Proofread your essay and pay attention to any:

  • Grammatical mistakes
  • Spelling mistakes
  • Punctuation mistakes
  • Not relating back to the overall message (thesis statement)
  • Disorganized structure/flow

Asking someone other than yourself to read your essay is very helpful in the revision process. As they are in the reader’s position, they can see which areas are necessary to correct and give you suggestions.

Grammarly is an online tool you can use in the revision process to pick up any grammar and punctuation mistakes you did not catch. If you want more information about it, you can read our honest review to see its benefits, features, and costs!

Learning From Common Essay Mistakes

The best way to avoid making essay mistakes is to identify them in your work and learn from them. Keep these five common errors in essay writing in mind in the essay writing process . You will definitely see an improvement in your essay writing quality.

It is essential to complete each step of essay writing ( research, writing, editing ) precisely. Skipping one of these steps or completing one of these steps half-heartedly will impact your essay’s grade.

We know from personal experience and through our clients, that college essays are not a piece of cake! They involve skill not only in terms of content, but in terms of citing properly and finishing them in a timely manner.

But if you are in a rush or maybe you continue struggling with one essay or even a whole class , we can help you! Here at Gradehacker we have years of experience in the essay writing industry, and offer a variety of services to assist students like you achieve the grades they deserve!

If you need more tips on how to improve your essay writing skills, check out some of our related articles!

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, what are the most common mistakes in college application essays.

Hey guys, I'm starting to write my college essay and I want to avoid making any common mistakes. What are some things I should watch out for? Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

Hey there! It's great that you're thinking ahead and trying to avoid common mistakes in your college essay. Here are some things you should definitely keep in mind:

1. Avoid clichés: Admissions officers read thousands of essays, so it's important to stand out. Try to avoid overused themes like 'the big game' or 'the mission trip,' and focus on something unique to your experience.

2. Stay focused: It's easy to get carried away and try to cover too many topics. Stick to a central idea and develop it thoroughly.

3. Be genuine: Don't try to be someone you're not or use overly complex language just to impress. Be true to yourself, and your voice will shine through.

4. Proofread, proofread, proofread: Typos, grammatical errors, and awkward phrasing can distract the reader from your message. Make sure to give yourself enough time to revise and polish your essay.

5. Show, don't tell: Instead of simply stating your qualities, use anecdotes and examples to demonstrate them. For instance, if you want to convey that you're a problem-solver, share a story about how you tackled a difficult issue.

Keep these tips in mind and you'll be well on your way to crafting a memorable and engaging college essay. Good luck!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

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The biggest college essay mistakes.

what are the most common college essay mistakes

Names and numbers.

I say that to my students over and over again — their college application is just a series of names and numbers.

  • Names of courses taken
  • Names of clubs and activities
  • Names of sports they played
  • SAT/ACT scores
  • State test scores

And while all those names and numbers will be a record of what they have done in high school, it will not show who they are.

Their only chance to put a human touch on an impersonal process is to reveal their best qualities and characteristics in the essay.

AND THAT FREAKS THEM OUT!

I have had some students come in tears.

Some came with an empty page and a blank face.

Others had the seed of an idea that needed fertilizing.

Some were just looking for a final edit.

Rather than see the opportunity to stand out and distinguish themselves from a pool of applicants, many panic. They fear they lack life experience, they struggle to tell a story, and they regret not starting earlier.

I can help. I have some tips that can make the process easier and better. I’ve read well over 500 college essays over the years. Year after year patterns emerged. I saw what worked and what should be avoided.

The Biggest College Essay Mistakes and How to Fix Them

The five cliches.

What’s Wrong:  I read dozens of these essays each year — and they are all the same.

  • My sports team won the championship — I love my teammates.
  • My grandparent had cancer — Life is fragile.
  • My parents divorced — I’m now independent.
  • I traveled to a disadvantaged area — boy, I’m fortunate and no longer take privilege for granted.
  • I suffered a sports injury — The medical field transformed my body.

Granted, I’m doing a gross overgeneralization and reducing these topics to a sound bite. But that’s the point. I’ve read so many of these essays over the years that they all become boring and predictable.

Make it Better:  The only way to stand out with those topics is to be original. Don’t start by describing the winning goal in the league championship, begin with a small detail like the color of your cleat laces. Don’t tell me how much your grandpa suffered, show me what he looked like when he came to your science fair ceremony in middle school. Don’t tell me all the bad things your mom and dad used to say to each other, show me the moment when you realized tour father’s breath was awful. Don’t tell me about the pop in your ankle, show me the DSW Shoe Warehouse aisles with all the open-toed sandals that you could no longer buy.

Please, don’t start with the obvious. Be original.

The Big Words Fallacy

What’s Wrong:  I have seen too many students make the terrible assumption that colleges want big words because big words are an indication of intelligence. These essays sound like they were cribbed from the thesaurus with sentences like,  I traversed my current state of adolescent bliss to the illuminating confines of the Guatemalan destitute.  

Here’s the danger of writing sentences like that — it comes off as inauthentic and insecure. It says to a college admissions officer, H ey, I’m not that confident in my own voice or who I really am, so I’m going to the thesaurus to say the things and use words that I think will impress you.

Make it Better:  Write as you talk. Application readers see right through the big words and overly descriptive sentences.

Students have been raised on a steady diet of expository writing. Its purpose is different — it is meant to inform and, consequently, is more formal.  Narratives are meant to illuminate through the art of story telling.  They include dialogue, action, and thematic purpose. Students are not used to writing this way because they don’t do enough of it. They need colorful writing, but they struggle to find their voice.

Have them tell their story to you out loud. Then tell them to write what they just said.

Mount Everest Syndrome

What’s Wrong:  Many students feel they have nothing to write about because they have led the typical teenage life. In order to apply to college they feel they need to have climbed Mount Everest or sent care packages to orphans in a war-torn African village. As Brianna Crowley shared with me, “they feel pressured to find the most dramatic thing that’s ever happened to them and write about how that made them a better person. They don’t realize that sometimes the most revealing things about us are those small, seemingly mundane aspects of our life, perspective, or experiences that can be the most revealing or profound. No one has to die or almost die for us to have rich, compelling stories about our experiences and what makes us unique.”

Make it Better:  In his poem, “Who Am I” Carl Sandburg writes, “My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive in the universe.” Each student is a series of infinite truths waiting to be rescued the recesses of their mind.

Some truths reveal themselves in the most dramatic moments.  But perceptive and reflective students can look back on the elusive moments of their life and see a truth that was speaking to them when they did not even know it. Only in the maturity of adolescence can they look back and realize its profound voice. There are a bunch of these types of essay in my free giveaway below. Those are the essays that speak to an admission counselor’s soul.

Activity Record as an Essay

What’s Wrong:  I can look at your activity record and see that you were in the school play in 9th, 10th and 11th grade. I don’t need a three paragraph essay summarizing each year’s drama production. It doesn’t have to be drama. It could be robotics, or sports, or service club. But the problem is, when you do a My History in ________ essay, it reveals little more than what your activity record already shows. It is superficial, skimming along the surface of the experience. It does not allow you to develop yourself or the other people in your narrative. Action gets summarized. Dialogue is non-existent. And the essay plods to a boring conclusion that was predictable from the first sentence.

Make it Better:  Don’t give me the telescopic view and all the constellations in the sky. Put your meaningful activity under the microscope. Zoom in so I see the all those fascinating interdependent cells that are hidden to the naked eye. Tell me what the costumes smelled like. Capture the timidity in Charlie’s voice when he asked out Claire backstage when no one was looking except you. Make me feel the spotlight burning into your retinas at 9:30pm on the Thursday of Hell Week with the show only three days away.  Follow the age-old college essay axiom — show me, don’t tell me. A few sensory details go a long way.

Here are a few more college essay pointers compiled from teachers around the country:

  • Stay away from the 3Ds — drugs, death, and divorce. These essays tend to highlight the shortcoming of others rather than your own strengths
  • Avoid using 2nd person pronouns (i.e., you should keep trying hard …. etc.)
  • Some of the weaker essays include a “step-by-step” explanation of their Eagle Scout project, Girl Scout project, etc. that uncovers very little about the student.
  • Avoid overusing words/phrases:  I love… my passion is… I’m passionate about …
  • Some essays never answer the most-important question: what does this say about YOU?”
  • Many essays that tackle ongoing adversities – health, mental health, dealing with bad teachers, sexual abuse — reveal little about why the student would be a good fit for a college.
  • The writing style is just too vague. No clear details or images make the essay feel cold and distant.
  • They fall into cliche at the end instead of allowing an organic closure.

GET ALL OF MY COLLEGE ESSAY RESOURCES

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Brian Sztabnik is just a man trying to do good in and out of the classroom. He was a 2018 finalist for NY Teacher of the Year, a former College Board advisor for AP Lit, and an award-winning basketball coach.

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Don’t Make These Mistakes in Your College Essay

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We have been reading admissions essays for over thirteen years now, and we have identified the three most common mistakes students make while writing their college essays. So don’t:

Repeat the prompt in your essay

You only have so many words, sometimes as many as 1,000 in the case of Villanova , and sometimes as few as 150 in the case of Harvard . Don’t waste words regurgitating the same prompt admissions officers have already read a thousand times. They know the prompts by heart, trust us. Also, it’s plain boring! Start your essay off with something that hooks the reader, not puts them to sleep. 

Try to sound like an academic

You’re a teenager with a soon-to-be High School diploma, admissions officers aren’t expecting you to sound like the most well-read PhD student on the planet! Word choice is important to convey meaning and capture the moment, but there’s no need for you to be using words you wouldn’t use in everyday life. It will come off as phony and manufactured.

Use cliches

We know you know cliches are on the outs, but it bears repeating, don’t use cliches! Your grandma might think you’re the diamond in the rough, one in a million, and a needle in a haystack (and you may very well be!), but find another way to describe yourself that doesn’t include phrases old ladies use over bridge. There are other ways to emphasize your uniqueness. 

Do you prefer getting your information in video format? Check out our video on this topic below!

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Category: Admissions , advice , College Admissions , Essay Tips , Essay Writing , Supplemental Essays , Tips , Uncategorized

Tags: 2017-18 college admissions , 2017-18 college applications , 2017-18 common application , Admissions , admissions essay , College , college admissions , college admissions essay , college application help , college applications , college essay , college essay advice , college essay advising , college essay advisors , college essay help , essay help , essay mistakes , essay prompts , essay tips , essay writing , essay writing help , personal statement , writing mistakes

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Common Essay Mistakes—Writing Errors to Avoid [Updated]

One of the most critical skills that students gain during their college years is assignment writing. Composing impressive essays and research papers can be quite challenging, especially for ESL students. Nonetheless, before learning the art of academic writing, you may make numerous common essay mistakes.

Our specialists will write a custom essay specially for you!

Such involuntary errors appear in:

  • essays’ content;
  • academic style;
  • structure and overall organization;
  • spelling and punctuation;

Good news for you! Our experts prepared a list that contains and explains all of them. Find out about common mistakes in essay writing and do your best not to make them.

  • 📃 Content Mistakes
  • 🔍 Stylistic Mistakes
  • 📝 Structural Mistakes
  • 🔤 Grammar Mistakes
  • 📘 Vocabulary Mistakes
  • ✍️ Spelling Mistakes
  • ⁉️ Punctuation Mistakes

📃 Content Mistakes in Essays

A perfect essay usually has an impressive introduction, well-organized content, and a powerful conclusion. Lousy college essays often lack structure or content and do not impress the reader.

What should you do?

Follow these six tips when writing any type of essay:

Just in 1 hour! We will write you a plagiarism-free paper in hardly more than 1 hour

  • Always write an essay that includes relevant facts, concrete details, and specific examples. If you just write down a few paragraphs that have something to do with your topic, you will not succeed in writing a good essay. Read the question carefully before you start writing. Single out the keywords and then elaborate on your ideas with facts, details, and examples.
  • Write a good introduction. An exciting introduction gives the background for the whole essay. In the introduction, you should make your presentation of the essay topic. To write a good introduction paragraph , tell your reader what you are going to write.
  • Write a strong thesis statement. The thesis statement expresses the writer’s thoughts on the topic and tells the reader how the idea will be developed. A good thesis statement explains two critical things to the reader: what you plan to argue in your essay and how you plan to do it. Always support your thesis with your ideas in the central part of the paper.
  • Never write a thesis statement if you do not have enough ideas to support it. While planning your essay, you should think carefully and ask yourself whether you have enough ideas to support your thesis. And if you are not sure, formulate another one that you will be able to argue.
  • Use ideas that you can prove with examples. Keep in mind: Any idea should be clarified and proved. So always give appropriate examples. If some of your writing has awkward wording, you can use an online sentence changer to fix it.
  • Write a powerful conclusion. In the end, take advantage of your last chance to say something important to your readers. You should emphasize the purpose and importance of what you wrote in your essay.

Topic+Your Opinion+Reasons=Thesis.

The thesis is the hook on which any essay hangs.

🔍 Stylistic Mistakes in Writing

Even if it’s written interestingly, your essay may make a poor impression if you do not use the correct style.

These are five essay mistakes that most students make:

  • Word repetition. Here is the truth: Your essay will look dull and childish if you use the same lexical sets. So, use synonyms and word substitutes to avoid repeating the same nouns or verbs.
  • Too many passive structures. When you use the passive voice in your sentences, they sound more impersonal and objective, but they are longer and harder to read. On the contrary, active sentences are clear and direct. So, if you want to write a good essay, you should use both types. A good rule of thumb is to write less than 20 percent of your sentences in the passive voice.
  • Sentences that are too long or too short. If you use sentences that are too long, you make your essay harder to understand. On the other hand, you can destroy your idea’s logical development if your sentences are too short. Try to use a balance of both long and short sentences.
  • Sentences beginning with coordinating conjunctions. Coordinating conjunctions are mainly used to connect words and clauses in the same sentence. Sometimes we can also use them to start a sentence. But if you begin too many sentences with coordinating conjunctions, your essay will be monotonous. It’s better to use corresponding conjunctive adverbs like nevertheless , moreover , or however , which have the same meaning. They are more appropriate in a formal context.
  • Overly formal or informal words and phrases. Many students forget that an academic essay requires a vocabulary layer that we do not use in our everyday lives. Never use slang expressions and nonstandard verb forms like gotta or wanna in your academic papers. Check English slang dictionaries if you struggle to find a proper replacement phrase or word. You should use formal constructions and high-level vocabulary.

Verbs: Don’t use too many passive structure in essay.

In doubt, always consult a good dictionary to choose the proper word. If you’re unsure whether you can implement a phrase in context, see it in other text. You can do it by typing it in a search engine.

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📝 Structural Mistakes In Student Essays

An essay is a long-established form of academic writing, and there are strict rules for writing every type. They make it more manageable to organize one’s thoughts without limiting creativity.

The most common structural mistakes are:

  • You can expand the fragment into a complete sentence by supplying the missing elements such as subjects, verbs, and clauses.
  • You can incorporate the fragment into an adjacent sentence.
  • Run-On Sentences: Run-on sentences occur when you join two or more main clauses together without appropriate punctuation. Run-on sentences confuse the reader. What can you do to correct them? Fortunately, this is pretty simple: Divide a run-on sentence into separate sentences to fix it, or add coordinating or subordinating conjunctions.

Sentence structure errors.

  • the introduction,
  • two main body paragraphs,
  • and the conclusion.

Your text and sentences should have a clear structure and present your ideas’ complete development.

In the following sections, you’ll see how to avoid grammar, vocabulary, and spelling mistakes.

🔤 Grammar Mistakes in Writing

A successful essay must be grammatically correct. Learn the most common types of such errors in student essays, not to repeat them yourself.

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  • Noun form mistakes. You should study key grammar areas to help you succeed. Review the rules concerning countable and uncountable nouns. Make sure you know how to use determiners with singular and plural nouns.
  • Subject-predicate agreement Pay attention to the cases when words like both , some , or neither introduce compound subjects and still take the plural predicate.
  • Pronouns Pronouns always agree with the noun they refer to. Some indefinite pronouns can have only a plural form or merely a singular form, but some can have both depending on the situation.
  • Verb form mistakes. Remember the main grammar rules related to the use of stative and auxiliary verbs and correct use of the infinitive and modal verbs.

Modal Verbs Express.

For more information about correcting grammar mistakes in essays, consult grammar and writing resources around the web. To avoid them, proofread your writing. Always check whether you have used the grammar forms mentioned above correctly.

Still uncertain about what not to write in a college essay? You can get help from essay writing companies that provide editing and proofreading services.

📘 Vocabulary Mistakes in Essays

Even if you develop your ideas logically, your grammar is correct, and your style is perfect, your writing can be a disaster. How so? You may make vocabulary mistakes that can ruin your paper.

The three most common language errors in essay writing are:

  • Misuse of homonyms. Many students typically misuse the following homonyms: hear vs. here , hole vs. whole , its vs. it’s , and many more.
  • Wrong word form. When we write quickly, we may write a word form that differs from what we meant to write. For example, students often write verb forms instead of adjectives. This can result in an unintended change of meaning ( disable people instead of disabled people ).
  • Confused words. Spellcheck will not identify the incorrect use of such words as loose – lose , affect – effect , quite – quit – quiet , and accept – except . You should proofread your essay carefully to make sure you’ve used the correct words.

Commonly Confused Words.

You can use the following strategies to eliminate such errors:

  • Plan your writing ahead, picking lexicon.
  • Use a dictionary or Google to ensure the right meaning.
  • Leave enough time for composing so that you won’t hurry.
  • Always proofread your writing, paying attention to the language you used.

If you can, leave your paper for several days. Finish your first draft and forget about it for a while. Checking it for essay errors proves to be efficient when you’ve rested and haven’t seen the text some time.

✍️ Spelling Mistakes in Essays

Numerous students say that the English language’s spelling system is the most unpredictable in the world. That is not true. There are some tricky words in English , like weigh , Caribbean , or island . You can do nothing but memorize their spelling. But several other words do follow special rules.

The most common spelling mistakes are the following:

After you have written your essay, read it carefully and correct your spelling mistakes. Make a list of the words that you usually misspell and practice writing them over and over.

⁉️ Punctuation Mistakes in Writing

Punctuation is essential in essay writing. It is used to separate ideas, relate ideas to one another, and clarify meaning. Without correct punctuation, your readers will get confused and frustrated rather quickly.

Proper punctuation is required in college essays and research papers. Learn the rules regarding the use of commas, apostrophes, and hyphens to avoid making punctuation errors.

Here is a list of the vital punctuation rules to remember:

  • Put a comma after the introductory dependent clause.

An introductory dependent clause is a phrase before the subject that does not form a complete sentence.

  • Incorrect: Since Miss Ostin got promoted to the chief editor position she decided not to change her workplace.
  • Correct: Since Miss Ostin got promoted to the chief editor position, she decided not to change her workplace.
  • Use a comma to separate non-essential info in the sentence.

Are there some clarifications that may be removed from the sentence, and the reader will still get the key idea? Separate this information with punctuation marks!

  • Incorrect: My sister who recently got married is pregnant now. 
  • Correct: My sister, who recently got married, is pregnant now.
  • Put commas around interrupters.

Interrupters are the words that provide additional detail by breaking the flow of the sentence. Always separate them with commas.

  • Incorrect: Hopefully my essay topic is suitable for the given type of assignment. 
  • Correct: Hopefully, my essay topic is suitable for the given type of assignment.
  • Use semicolons in too complex sentences.

Sometimes the sentence is too long, yet the information should be taken together. In such cases, put a semicolon between two parts instead of separating them with a period.

  • Incorrect: I was planning to study abroad however due to certain family issues I took a gap year and stayed at home. 
  • Correct: I was planning to study abroad; however, due to certain family issues, I took a gap year and stayed at home. 

And now, last but not least. Here’s a helpful video about the most common mistakes in ESL student essays. The essay writing techniques explained in this video lesson are useful for any student who wants to write good papers.

Thank you for visiting our page! Use our tips and avoid common errors in essay writing. Don’t forget to leave your comment and share the article with your friends!

This might be interesting for you:

  • Useful Revising and Editing Checklists
  • Essay Checklist: How to Write an A+ Essay
  • Effective Writing Strategies for College Students
  • How to Control Words per Page
  • Basic Writing Rules – Common Mistakes & Fixes
  • 200 Powerful Words to Use Instead of “Good”
  • List of Credible Sources
  • An Ultimate Punctuation Guide

✏️ Frequent Questions

There are several tips to improve grammar in your article:

  • Avoid overly complex grammatical structures;
  • Use ready-made connecting phrases and collocations;
  • Proofread your text several times, perhaps read aloud and correct your mistakes;
  • Run your text through a grammar checker (through desktop software or online).

There is quite a few you should avoid in order to write a good essay, e.g.:

  • Too colloquial phrases;
  • Excessive repetition of some words;
  • Misprints, mistakes, and wrong formatting;
  • Too emotional and subjective sentences;
  • Too long sentences with complex grammatical constructions, etc.

There are particular “stop”-words that you should not include in an article. They can be divided into the following groups :

  • colloquial language, rude comments;
  • simplified connecting words (e.g., “And,” “But,” “Or” at the beginning of a sentence);
  • excessively complex and almost obsolete words.

You may correct your text in various ways. Some possible strategies are:

  • Read the essay aloud;
  • Ask your friend to proofread the essay;
  • Read the paragraphs from the bottom to the top;
  • Run an automatic checker (in desktop software or online), etc.
  • Share to Facebook
  • Share to Twitter
  • Share to LinkedIn
  • Share to email

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How to Write an Autobiography: Questions, Principles, & What to Include

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Environment vs. development is a multifaceted present days’ dilemma. On the one hand, environmental problems are increasing year after year. We have more polluted areas on our planet, more polluted rivers, fewer trees that produce oxygen. On the other hand, can we stop development and progress in various fields? Is...

is there a set author taking credit for publishing this information ? because i would love to reference the author in my paper

Custom Writing

Hello! You can reference it as a web source/web page.

People do not have much time for essays and are usually distracted in different things. Essays writing requires tons of concentration and a particular flow that the writer should maintain. Otherwise, it will not be interesting for the audience. Planning is so important in essay writing. Thanks for sharing these tips.

Totally agree with you, William! Thanks for stopping by.

Thanks for your hard work

5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

December 27, 2023

college application mistakes

With the majority of college application deadlines just days away, it’s important to perform a thorough review of your applications to help avoid making obvious mistakes that can negatively impact your chances for admission. When you’re done with that, do it again and then have a second and third set of eyes do the same. Serious colleges want serious applicants, and a short-sighted error can spell disaster for your admission prospects. Wondering about typos, college essay formatting mistakes, or how much information is too much? Below is College Transitions’ list of the top five college application mistakes that we frequently see applicants make.

1. Typos and Formatting

Let’s start with one of the most obvious college application mistakes—the dreaded typo. In life, they happen. Autocorrected texts can turn your “dear friend” into your “dead friend” and bad grammar can mean the difference between knowing your crap and knowing you’re crap. However, you can easily avoid these types of college essay mistakes with careful proofreading.

Additionally, one of the most common college application typos we see is regarding capitalization. The standard rules apply — take care not to capitalize words in the middle of sentences, and be sure to capitalize proper nouns, like street addresses and names.

Finally, preview the formatting of your application and essays before you submit. You wouldn’t turn in a paper with crazy spacing or inconsistent indentation, so be sure to avoid these essay mistakes on your college application as well.

Reread your application, then reread it again, then ask everyone you know to read it. Because when it comes to grammar or dandruff in your 1980s perm, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

2. Lack of Professionalism

Okay, we know that your [email protected] account has served you well ever since 8th grade. While others in your social group traded in their hotmail accounts for Gmail eons ago, you’ve held steady. You’re not partystud 2, 34, or 79—you’re partystud1. We encourage you to keep your goofy/offensive/nonsensical email accounts and use them without shame…except when you are emailing prospective colleges.

College Application Mistakes to Avoid (Continued)

Your best bet is to open a new account that is as close to your legal name as possible: [email protected] . If your name is Mike Jones you might have to add a 6-digit number after your name but that’s okay. And don’t worry, partystud1 may have to lie dormant for a few months, but he’ll entertain himself—he’s partystud1!

3. Beating a Dead Horse

Of course, we’re using a cliché here and not referring to the actual postmortem equine abuse (tip: that wouldn’t look good on an app either). Admissions officers do not like to read the same thing over and over. In other words, don’t weave the same tale of overcoming adversity through field hockey into every essay topic.

Real estate on an application is as valuable as Park Place. Don’t treat it like Baltic or Mediterranean Avenue (even if hotels are cheaper to build and it’s all part of your grand plan to be a Monopoly slumlord). It’s a common mistake to leave important information off the table, so be sure to use every open space on a college application to reveal or reinforce something important about who you are. That’s what it’s there for.

4. The Never-Ending Activity Page

“Oh, you organized a potato sack race at your family reunion when you were ten? Welcome to Stanford, young man!” says the man in the tweed jacket as he hands a teenage boy a celebratory cigar.

Perhaps this absurd, never-gonna-happen scenario is the fantasy driving applicants who submit activity pages and resumes longer than that of the average head of state. Keep your resumes/activity pages short but sweet, which also happens to be the title of a delightful episode of Different Strokes where Arnold Drummond searches for love. Colleges know that no matter how accomplished of an 18-year-old you may be, you’re still a teenager. The great majority of your resume-worthy achievements lie ahead.

5. Overinvolved Parents

Speak to any group of college admissions officials and tales of overly involved parents abound. Make no mistake: excessive parental intervention can harm your college admissions chances. E-mails and phone calls to the admissions office should come exclusively from you, the applicant — not your parents.

Additionally, your application should not show any traces of Mom or Dad’s middle-aged writing styles. Eagle-eyed admissions officers can spot the sections of your essay that your parents wrote from a mile away. Should this occur, your admissions prospects at that particular college may not recover, no matter how impressive you are. Remember, admissions officers want to learn more about you .

If you’re a parent, check out our suggestions for how you can support your teen through the college application process .

Final Thoughts — College Application Mistakes to Avoid

How you present yourself on your college application is of the utmost importance to your admissions prospects. A typo-free, correctly formatted, and thoughtfully crafted college application can make the difference between an acceptance and a denial. As such, staying mindful of the tips in this blog can help you avoid mistakes and put your best foot forward in the college admissions gauntlet.

Looking for more college application advice? You might consider checking out our books on the subject:

  • The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process
  • Colleges Worth Your Money: A Guide to What America’s Top Schools Can Do For You
  • Application Strategies

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Dave Bergman

Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).

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IMAGES

  1. Top 10 College Essay Mistakes to Avoid

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

  2. College Essay Mistakes: How to Fix Them

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

  3. College Essay Mistakes We See Students Make

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

  4. The 5 Worst Academic Essay Writing Mistakes to Avoid

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

  5. 15 College Essay Topics To Avoid and Why|Avoid Bad Essays

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

  6. Common Essay Mistakes

    what are the most common college essay mistakes

VIDEO

  1. Top 10 Most Common College Degrees #shorts #college #school

  2. The Most COMMON College Essay Question

  3. Common College & 6th Form Interview Questions

  4. 4 College Essay Mistakes #uscolleges #collegeadmission #collegeapplications #collegeessays #shorts

  5. Top 5 most common college Beers

  6. Do NOT Make These College Essay Mistakes

COMMENTS

  1. Top 20 Errors in Undergraduate Writing

    THE TOP TWENTY. 1. Wrong Word. Wrong word errors take a number of forms. They may convey a slightly different meaning than you intend ( compose instead of comprise) or a completely wrong meaning ( prevaricate instead of procrastinate ). They may also be as simple as a wrong preposition or other type of wrong word in an idiom.

  2. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  3. 9 Common College Essay Mistakes To Avoid in Your Personal Statement

    Start from a blank canvas to make sure you get to the personal right away. No cliched "inspirational" quotes either, please. 7) Writing a Cliched Conclusion. Another major personal essay mistake is that your closing paragraph feels cliche and just repeats information you've already said earlier in the essay.

  4. Eight Common College Essay Mistakes

    Personal essays can be among the most challenging communications to craft. Sometimes it's almost easier to start with what not to write, so we've put together some of the most common mistakes we see students make when drafting college essays. Use this list as a starting point (and head in the opposite direction!). College Essay Don'ts:

  5. The 10 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid On Your College Essay

    Learn about the top 10 most common college essay mistakes and how to spot and fix them. Jordan Sanchez, current sophomore at Harvard University, will walk through the most common college essay mistakes she has encountered while editing her own and others' work. She will also provide essay examples and several exercises you can use to review ...

  6. The Biggest Mistakes We've Seen on College Admissions Essays

    Here are six mistakes you should avoid when crafting your essay. 1. Repeating the prompt in your essay. Some teachers may have told you to repeat the essay prompt in essays for middle or high school. However, this is not a good approach for college essays, because they should stand alone as pieces of writing.

  7. What are the biggest mistakes made on college essays?

    Hello! It's great that you're thinking about mistakes to avoid in your college essays. One of the most common errors with college essays is choosing a cliche topic. While you don't need to find a topic admissions officers have never seen before, as they read so many thousands of applications each year that that would be practically impossible, there are some tropes that are so common they're ...

  8. 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Essays

    A common college essay mistake is writing an essay that's too short. For example, the word limit for the Common App essay is 650 words, and you should try as hard as you can to reach that number. A 400-word essay is definitely too short. Make sure you're using all the words available to you. If you're having difficulty meeting the word ...

  9. The Most Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

    Catching typos and errors can benefit your grades and future career, so once you've run spellcheck and read through your essay twice, look for these common writing mistakes before you turn in your college essay. 1. Homophones. Homophones are words like "are" and "our," "right" and "write," or "bear" and "bare" that can ...

  10. What are some common college essay mistakes to avoid?

    It's great that you're thinking ahead and trying to avoid common mistakes in your college essay. Here are some pitfalls you should keep in mind: 1. Being too generic: Make sure your essay is unique and reflects your personality, experiences, and perspective. An essay that could be written by anyone else won't help you stand out. 2.

  11. Top 10 Student Writing Mistakes: Finals Edition

    10 Subject-verb agreement. Singular subjects take singular verbs and plural subjects take plural verbs. Michael study at the library every day. Michael studies at the library every day. There you have it: the top ten student writing mistakes, just in time for finals. The writing skills that come from identifying common errors will help you make ...

  12. Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays

    Related Resource: The Most Common Writing Mistakes on College Essays. 3. Adding (or forgetting) hyphens. Hyphens are another common writing mistake in college essays, because they're misunderstood. Rather than detail all of the times you should include a hyphen ("mother-in-law") and shouldn't ("fix-up"), you ought to look the word ...

  13. Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

    Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes. Crafting a strong college admissions essay is key! Avoid restating your resume. Instead, share your unique experiences and how they've shaped you. Keep it simple and heartfelt, focusing on an impactful story. Remember, it should be about you, not someone else!

  14. The Most Common Mistakes Students Make in Their College Essays

    Repeating the prompt in your essay. You only have so many words, sometimes as many as 1,000 in the case of Villanova, and sometimes as few as 150 in the case of Harvard. Don't waste words regurgitating the prompt admissions officers have already read a thousand times. They know the prompts by heart, trust us.

  15. Bad College Essays: 10 Mistakes You Must Avoid

    Going over the word limit. Part of showing your brilliance is being able to work within arbitrary rules and limitations. Going over the word count points to a lack of self-control, which is not a very attractive feature in a college applicant. Repeating the same word (s) or sentence structure over and over again.

  16. 5 Common Essay Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

    5 Common Essay Mistakes. Mistake #1: Thesis Statement Problems. Mistake #2: Including Hard-to-Read Sentences. Mistake #3 Disorganized Essay Structure. Mistake #4: Rewording the Introduction for the Conclusion. Mistake #5 Not Editing Your Essay Thoroughly. Learning From Common Essay Mistakes.

  17. What are the most common mistakes in college application essays?

    Hey there! It's great that you're thinking ahead and trying to avoid common mistakes in your college essay. Here are some things you should definitely keep in mind: 1. Avoid clichés: Admissions officers read thousands of essays, so it's important to stand out. Try to avoid overused themes like 'the big game' or 'the mission trip,' and focus on something unique to your experience.

  18. THE BIGGEST COLLEGE ESSAY MISTAKES

    Here are a few more college essay pointers compiled from teachers around the country: Stay away from the 3Ds — drugs, death, and divorce. These essays tend to highlight the shortcoming of others rather than your own strengths. Avoid using 2nd person pronouns (i.e., you should keep trying hard …. etc.)

  19. The Most Common Mistakes Writers Make in their College Essays

    Proofreading is one of the most important aspects of writing the college essay because it is the final packaging for the essay. An essay shabbily wrapped up and without its bow makes a poor impression-from the start. Proofread your college application not once, not twice, but many times. Here are the most common mistakes writers make Run-on ...

  20. 3 Common College Application Essay Mistakes

    Of course, you want it to say the right things. While a well-written essay can boost your chances of admission, a poorly-written one can result in getting the "thin envelope" when decisions come out. Over the years there are a few college application essay mistakes that I've seen students repeat that you should avoid.

  21. Don't Make These Mistakes in Your College Essay

    We have been reading admissions essays for over thirteen years now, and we have identified the three most common mistakes students make while writing their college essays. So don't: Repeat the prompt in your essay. You only have so many words, sometimes as many as 1,000 in the case of Villanova, and sometimes as few as 150 in the case of ...

  22. Common Essay Mistakes—Writing Errors to Avoid [Updated]

    The three most common language errors in essay writing are: Misuse of homonyms. Many students typically misuse the following homonyms: hear vs. here, hole vs. whole, its vs. it's, and many more. Wrong word form. When we write quickly, we may write a word form that differs from what we meant to write.

  23. Top 5 College Application Mistakes to Avoid

    However, you can easily avoid these types of college essay mistakes with careful proofreading. Additionally, one of the most common college application typos we see is regarding capitalization. The standard rules apply — take care not to capitalize words in the middle of sentences, and be sure to capitalize proper nouns, like street addresses ...