All You Need to Know About Essay Writing Mistakes
Although application essays cannot guarantee you admission to your dream university, they can certainly tip the scales in your favor. The best-written application essays offer admission officers a insight into your individual personality traits such as leadership, confidence, sense of humor, resilience, and even creativity. While writing multiple essays that convey this kind of information can be daunting, it is not an impossible task. Just ensure that you avoid these common essay writing mistakes.
1. Not being specific
One of the worst essay writing mistakes you can make is writing essays that are generic. For instance, a favorite essay topic in application forms of U.S. universities is, ‘Why do you want to study at this university?‘ Answers with the explanation ‘because other members of my family graduated from the same university,’ or ‘the University is a globally recognized institution,’ create an impression of a person who hasn’t thought about why they want to enroll at the university. Instead of giving these generic explanations, talk about how you have been following specific faculty members (and their research efforts), or how your future goals (that you specify) will be best served by studying at the university. For example, if a university is a leader in environmental chemistry and that is what you want to study, you might write about your passion for the environment, chemistry, and about specific environmental projects the university faculty is pursuing that you would like to join.
2. Not being creative/ original
It’s advisable to stay clear of clichés in your essays. Clichés are overly used expressions such as ‘when life gives you lemons make lemonade,’ or ‘life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get’ (a modern-day cliché, thanks to Tom Hanks character in the movie Forrest Gump). Although the use of clichés may be perfect for what you are trying to say, they fail to show your ability to be original. University application officers love to see creativity. You have a unique perspective on something – show it!
A note of caution: with information readily available on the internet, it’s easy to succumb to the idea of copying content or ideas from someone else’s work. But be warned, in the U.S. educational system, plagiarism is an unforgivable offense and the easiest way to have your application rejected.
3. Trying too hard to impress the reader
As you try to write creatively, avoid the use of too many smart-sounding words, or expressions that are not used in everyday language. Using uncommon words may give the feeling that you are being pretentious or that you are not really capable of writing simply but are looking up fancy words to mask that inability. Worse still, if you don’t write like a person of your age, the admissions panel may suspect that someone else has written the essay for you. To keep things simple, we suggest that you ‘write as you speak.’ Also keep in mind that many universities require applicants to participate in an interview where the applicant is required to write an essay in front of the interviewer. If that essay is dramatically different in style or ability from your application essays, it may raise suspicions about your application essays. So, be conversational in your writing.
4. Not following essay instructions
It’s a great feeling when creativity finally strikes. But as your hands glide across the keyboard, stay focused on the specific requirements in the essay topic (or “prompt”). For instance, if you are given a prompt like‘Describe your most memorable life event and how it impacted you?’, don’t spend most of the essay describing what happened. Focus most of your essay on how the event shaped you as a person.
Stick to the prescribed word limit for each essay. It shows that you can read and follow simple directions. In fact, most universities won’t let you apply online if the essays are over the specified word limits. Others just cut off your writing at the word limit, which could make your essay seem unfinished if it is cut off in mid sentence.
5. Not picking essay topics that are the most relevant to you
Most U.S. university applications require a longer essay and may also require several short essays on topics the applicant chooses from a list. Most applicants tend to select essay topics that seem easier to attempt; but that’s rarely the ideal topic selection strategy.
Instead, we recommend that you first make a list of your passions, qualities, experiences, interests, and any other information that may be of interest to admissions officers but has not been mentioned elsewhere in the application form. Then, pick essay topics where you can include these aspects of your life.
6. Not spending enough time on improving your content
You need to produce a well-crafted piece of writing, with a solid beginning, paragraphs that create a narrative without distracting the reader, and a clear conclusion. To achieve this, you should to go through several drafts of each essay. It is best to schedule your time so you can wait a day between drafts of an essay to help you see your writing
As you complete each draft, read aloud to assess if the sentences and paragraphs flow seamlessly. Even reading your essay on another device such as a mobile phone or iPad, can help spot sentences and words that can be rewritten for ease of understanding.
To proofread content, don’t rely on the basic grammar and spell check on your computer. If English is not your native language, it’s advisable to work with an American writing coach for a thorough grammatical review and a critique of your essays.
7. Not paying attention to the implicit messages conveyed in your essay
Your essays are more than just personal stories. They help admission officers analyze whether you are the kind of person other students would like to work with, have as a roommate, or be friends with. Be careful not to write essays that give the impression that you are a pessimistic, egotistical or snooty person. Include humor if you are confident that it works in your favor, but don’t offend anyone or appear condescending towards others.
Finally, the application essays you submit to U.S. universities should be your best work and will most certainly take more time than you had initially anticipated. Begin the essay writing process well ahead of the application deadlines, and steer clear of the above common essay writing mistakes.
We recommend international applicants consider working with a U.S. based, American writing coach to help with application essays. Eagle Pathways’ ApplyWrite service can match a student with a dedicated, U.S.-based American writing coach who is an experienced, certified teacher or professional writer, and with a U.S. university application specialist who can craft a personalized university application strategy and will manage the student’s university applications. Feel free to contact us for more information.