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The College Admissions Essay: What Not to Do

Posted in Test Prep on October 14, 2010 by

This week’s college admissions tip comes from Dan Stern, founder of College Essay Organizer. His product is designed to streamline the essay process, and so will his tips below.

Over the years of advising on the college essay process, we’ve seen every trick in the book: the gimmick essay, the avant-garde essay, the comedy essay. (About this last one – how funny is it? Are you sure?) But there are a few very common pitfalls that we know you’re considering and we want you to avoid. Here’s what not to do with your college essay:

1. The down-and-dirty essay.

We all know how desperate you can feel. But addressing the admissions officer like he’s your bro can give you more headaches than easy ins. Try not to tell the awesome party story, try not to mention the police, try not to begin paragraphs with the single-word sentence, “Look.” I know you dress to impress, but let’s maintain some semblance of formality here. The person reading your essay is likely wearing a tie.

2. An essay about how awesome you are.

This piece of advice may seem like a trick. Even, perchance, a snarky bit of round-a-bout. All essays are implicitly about how awesome you are. Of course. But if you say things like “I don’t want to sound arrogant,” you are. You really, really are. Find a way to slip in how incredibly awesome you are by describing what you doare. rather than how you

3. Bribes.

We’ve all heard the stories of the kid who stapled the twenty (or the hundred) to his application and waltzed in. Generally speaking, your spot is worth a whole lot more than you can afford. Don’t try to buy your way in, unless you’re ready to have the school build a library with your name on it. Save your paper route money and think about upping the ante with your essays rather than with your ante.

The college essay can be a bit of a minefield so keep plugging along, and remember, this ought to be the first piece of writing you do ten drafts on. Then, after you’ve wrapped out draft no. 10, you have finally figured out what the essay is about. Now you can begin.