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Jill Haley: Top 5 mistakes students make writing college essay

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

High school students all over the country are in the middle of writing the dreaded college essay.

If you ask most students, they would say that the college essay is the most stressful part of the application.

But the essay is often pivotal in the admissions decision — and it sets students apart from other students with similar GPAs and test scores.



Let’s look at the top five mistakes I see from students:

1. Writing about your activities and awards.




This information is found elsewhere in the application.

Remember, the whole purpose of the essay is for a college to get to know your unique abilities, values and how you might contribute to the campus.

The essay is an opportunity to let colleges know more about you and what your dreams are for the future.

It is a missed opportunity to write about something that is already there.

2. Waiting until the last moment.

Give yourself sufficient time to thoughtfully craft an effective essay.

When writing your essay, you will need to brainstorm, outline, revise, get feedback and revise again.

The University of California’s Personal Statement must be completed by the Nov. 30 deadline.

Private colleges each have different deadlines and have supplemental essays as well, so checking each college’s website is essential.

3. Forcing yourself to be someone you are not.

Students often feel that their lives are boring and not worth writing about and struggle to find a focus for the essay.

Some of the best essays I have read are about mundane experiences that highlight the student’s personality.

You might want to think about a time when you failed and what you learned.

Describe how you became the person you are from your life experiences.

4. Not answering the prompt.

This is a big one I see all the time. Somehow, the student gets so caught up in writing the essay they forget to answer the question.

Even the most beautiful and well-written essay won’t win over the reader if you haven’t answered the question.

5. Not sounding like a high school student.

A thesaurus is not necessarily your friend when writing the essay.

Local essay coach Irene Frazier advises students to tell their story in their own voice.

“Too many times, people try to help applicants by changing their words to make them sound more intellectual,” she says. “Colleges know what 17-year-old students sound like, and essays that have been heavily edited by adults can put up a red flag. Of course, it is important to have someone look over your paper for grammar and spelling errors, but try to limit the number of readers who comment on your content. You can get really confused with too much feedback and lose your focus.”

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.


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