Summer is the perfect time for rising high school seniors to focus on the dreaded college admissions essay. Students are temporarily free from the distractions of social drama, attendance policies and school clubs, and can look inward to draft a compelling personal statement. So, what should a student write about? Instead of limiting a student’s ideas of what is possible and advisable to write about, it is often more productive to first focus on topics to avoid. With that, here are the some of the top clichés to avoid when writing a college admissions essay.
1) The weekend mission trip that changed your life.
Admission counselors and application reviewers read hundreds of these essays every single year. For many students, community service in a new place is truly a life-changing experience. It takes students out of their comfort zones, introduces them to new ways of life and opens their eyes to their own privilege. However, most students who write about mission trips only “experience” this new world for a few short days and are only able to write about surface observations.
If students are able to reflect more deeply upon the experience, certainly they can approach this topic. Just be sure to go beyond the obvious. Back up observations with discussions or independent research on a political situation or current event contributing to the community’s struggle. And be sure to focus on the transformation it caused in your life as opposed to how you transformed someone else’s life.
2) The “I come from a normal background and have nothing interesting to say about myself” essay.
In an age where students feel pressure to be unique and highly specialized to gain admission to their desired colleges, “average” has become somewhat of a dirty word. Students feel they are less likely to be admitted if they have not overcome a major life challenge, started their own non-profit or grown up with a unique cultural background. Many students feel that they are at a disadvantage in the admission process because of their race or class. As a result, essays about why a student perceives herself as boring, typical or average are becoming more and more common. Unfortunately students solely focus on the perceived negatives of coming from a certain zip code or growing up without facing major challenges. These essays really miss the mark as they don’t showcase the positive qualities of a student, his/her personality traits and what he/she will bring to the campus community.
3) The essay about why your grandmother is the most amazing person on earth.
Sometimes admissions essays make a reader want to admit someone who hasn’t even applied to their university. When students write essays about family members, friends or leaders they admire, they completely miss the point of a personal statement: to share their own personal stories. While it is okay to mention an important figure in one’s life, students should stay away from spending more than a few sentences of the essay describing that person’s character and qualities.
Keep in mind the overall goal of a personal statement is to let admission counselors in to a student’s world – a world beyond grades and test scores. Readers want to know each student better after reviewing the essay. They are also making sure students are able to write at the college level, even if they plan to study computer science. And lastly, they want to make sure that students will be a good fit at their college and will be happy to attend if admitted.
For more tips on the college application process, visit Parry College Counseling and follow me on Twitter.