College Essay Mistakes (cont.)

A rewrite could look similar to this:

Since my early childhood, I’ve always wanted to play the drums. After banging on pots and pans from the age of two and shamelessly begging my parents nonstop for a drum set, I got my first set by the age of five. To this day, I continue to play the drums on my spare time. I also learned to play piano as part of the agreement with my parents for getting my original drum set, though never becoming as proficient on the piano as I’ve become with my beloved drums.

Still four sentences, but the “I”s are now down to five. Better, would you agree?

arrow-red Example 4Digressing ineffectively

In the snippet below, you’ll see in the highlighted section how the writer digresses from his main point:

Although I wouldn’t define it as a character-building undertaking, my time working at Taco Bell was an interesting learning experience. In reality, it was a much better experience than several of the other part-time jobs I held during high school. Dealing with a range of difficult personalities and demanding customers made me appreciate more the art of politeness and good manners.

Digressing or deviating from your main point to insert an engaging aside anecdote could be a good thing in your essay, particularly if it enhances the reading experience. But if the side note is pointless and adds no value, then it is only getting in the way from advancing the story. Ask yourself – how would the paragraph look without it? Let’s see how it does:

Although I wouldn’t define it as a character-building undertaking, my time working at Taco Bell was an interesting learning experience. Dealing with a range of difficult personalities and demanding customers made me appreciate the often missing art of politeness and good manners. 

It made the paragraph much more fluid giving it forward progression. However, if you wanted to digress and add an aside, this perhaps would have been a better way:

Although I wouldn’t define it as a character-building undertaking, my time working at Taco Bell was an interesting learning experience. In reality, the job provided more than just a means for me to pay my car expenses during high school. Dealing with a range of difficult personalities and demanding customers made me appreciate the often missing art of politeness and good manners. 

 

arrow-red Example 5Using clichés

This student was asked to submit a personal statement describing someone who has been an important influence in his life. So what’s the problem with it?

If there’s ever been a tried and true person in my life, it’s been James. He would always find a way to cheer me up when the chips were down, and never missed the boat when it came to supporting me in any of my highs school endeavors. Whether cheering me on at track and field or helping me overcome my fear of algebra, I knew I could always count on him. By the same token, everyone I know respects and admires James for the person he is. As luck would have it, he’s my oldest brother, and I couldn’t imagine someone better in my life to emulate.

The problem is that though the snippet above contains some elements of good stylistic writing (i.e. the revelation at the end), it’s unfortunately fraught with clichés. A cliché is an over-used and tired phrase. It lacks originality, thereby failing to inspire the reader. And if you can’t inspire the admissions committee guess where your admission essay ends up? That’s correct, in the recycling bin. Let’s not let that happen. See if you can spot the clichés and eliminate them and we’ll meet you “just around the bend.”




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