5 Common College Essay Mistakes to Avoid

Tips include proofreading, thoroughly reading the essay question, making it personal, avoiding plagiarizing, and using smart vocabulary.
Girl using laptop to learn college essay mistakes to avoid

The college essay is one of the key components of the college application, and it's required by most colleges and universities in the country. It's a great opportunity to share something with the admissions committee that isn't reflected in other parts of your application, or to further explain something that does appear in your application, such as a low grade or repeated class. There are also some errors that students frequently make when writing the college essay, and we want to ensure that you steer clear of them. So before you put your pen to that pad, or start typing, check out our list of common essay mistakes, and most importantly, what you can do to avoid them.

  1. Don't just rely on spell check. Whether it's a final paper or your college essay, it's very common to feel the urge to rely solely on spell check when proofing your writing. However, just because words are spelled correctly doesn't mean they make sense or are used properly. The best way to catch mistakes is to read your essay very slowly out loud. By reading it out loud, you may come across mistakes that you would have most likely overlooked by reading it through quickly.
  2. Read the essay question, thoroughly. Before you begin the writing process, take a step back to read the question. Don't only just read the question, but think about what the question is asking you to discuss, often in detail. Perhaps jot down a few notes that pertain to the question and can serve as an outline or blueprint to your essay. As high school counselor Jodi Then explains, "Make sure that the topic addresses the question! If the essay is off topic, you're conveying to the admissions committee that you can't follow directions. You might write a great essay, but if it's irrelevant to the topic or question, you'll raise a red flag."
  3. Make it personal. One key aspect of the college essay is to discuss something that may not be seen in your grades, activities, or letters of recommendation. Sharing something that is personal or something that has impacted you goes a long way. As you are writing your essay, ask yourself, "Am I opening up a window for the admissions officers to see who I am in this essay?"
  4. Do not plagiarize. As you may know from school, plagiarism is a critical offense that is taken very seriously. Many schools have software in which they can detect if you have taken your essay from on online source. If you're thinking of plagiarizing, simply don't do it. You don't want to put yourself in a predicament where your essay and college application could be tossed out.
  5. Use smart vocabulary. Many times, students rely on the college essay to showcase a vast vocabulary with grandiose words. However, it's important to be authentic. You want your essay to be a representation of who you are, how you speak, and incorporate words you generally use in conversation. Just be yourself.

Learn more about the college essay