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  • Genine Babakian

What NOT To Do When Drafting Your College Essay

Updated: Feb 5, 2020

Now that we’ve covered some advice on how to craft your best college essay, and to write a compelling opening paragraph, let’s go in a difference direction. This week’s 5 Tips focuses is on what NOT to do when writing your college essay. Here’s what you need to avoid.


#1 Use a long string of adjectives to describe yourself:

“Being a diligent, determined, and self-possessed person has helped me grow and strive in everyday life.” Oh dear.

Whenever I read proclamations such as these I think of that character from Jane Austen’s Emma, who is always boasting about how great she is. Don’t get me wrong, you want to put your best foot forward. But let your actions do the talking – not your adjectives.

#2 Start out with a general statement of what you did when.

“In my junior year of high school I took [FILL IN THE BLANK] class that focused on [FILL IN THE BLANK]. It changed my life.” No.

First of all, I just want to say that if you took a class in high school that changed your life, perspective, direction – congratulations! That is a worthy subject to write about. But if you don’t want to lose your reader in the very first sentence, you need to find a more creative way to begin. Remember, you do not have to write chronologically. This is not a news story, requiring you include all the who, what, when and where information at the top.

#3 Confuse your experience and your story:

It is your story that is unique, not necessarily your experience. Did you volunteer in a developing country? Establish a relationship with a holocaust survivor? Participate in a college prep course over the summer that challenged your way of thinking? Excellent. But keep in mind that so did a lot of other people. You need to distill your story to the aspect of that experience that was so significant for you.

#4 Stuff your story like a piñata:

You’ve only got 650 words to tell your story. And while you may have many different experiences that are relevant, that does not mean you should cram them all in. Try to think of these experiences as building blocks. Write about them individually. Then you can assess to see which of the building blocks fit together to make your essay sing. And don’t throw away what was left on the cutting room floor! For those who apply to schools/programs that have supplemental questions, these drafts may come in handy!

#5 Be afraid to use dialog: A lot of students overlook the use of dialog when writing. And while not every successful college essay I’ve read contains dialog, it can be a very useful tool – especially used to open essays, or as kicker lines.

Stay tuned for more tips next week on writing your best college essay. And for more information on one-on-one college essay coaching, check out:

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