Common Essay Mistakes (Cont.)
What did you come up with? Let’s review.
The highlighted words could be scaled back
or in some cases cut out entirely:
There was no chance on earth that I could
have ever imagined myself one day skating
so well and confidently in our local
neighborhood ice skating rink. The first
time I ever went to the rink with my older
brother and cousins, and they talked me
into skating, I was ten years old and
petrified. I remember distinctively feeling
like the world was spinning around me,
and I watched most of it while on my
buttock on the rink floor. But now I
must say that skating gives me an
exhilarating feeling of rush and relaxation
all at the same time.
Breaking down this college admissions essay example and analyzing:
There was no chance on earth – this type of expression you use in regular speech, but avoid it in your college essay unless it’s part of a dialogue.
Neighborhood ice skating rink – there are instances where too much detail gets in the way and even distracts from the story. In this case, neighborhood ice skating rink took the momentum out of the sentence. I even thought for a moment that the story was going to be about safety and security in the neighborhood.
The first time I ever went to the rink – not wrong, but not necessary. This is the sort of phrase you would cut out by the second draft of your essay, as you review your final essay for tightness and completeness.
I remember distinctively feeling – same as above.
I must say that – just plain fluff. Always avoid fluff words in your essay.
Example 2 – Vagueness
What’s wrong with this paragraph?
There is so much I enjoy about Christmas. I find a lot of the activities and customs surrounding this holiday so fun and joyful. I hope to have children someday, so I can pass many of these wonderful traditions on to them.
If you’re thinking it’s not so terrible of a paragraph, I happen to agree with you. It’s not terrible, it’s just boring! What makes it so boring is its vagueness.
It’s ok to start with a general statement as long as you immediately follow-up with some specifics, which the author failed to do. Without specifics you become vague and boring. In this case, the author missed the chance to describe with clarity what she means by “activities and customs”. Remember, never miss the chance to paint an image in the reader’s mind with a precise description. Let’s rewrite it:
There is so much I enjoy about Christmas. From baking cookies and hanging stockings to singing Christmas carols by the fireplace, I find it all fun and joyful. I hope to have children someday, so I can pass these wonderful traditions on to them.
See the difference visual imagery makes?
Example 3 – Overuse of “I”
I always wanted to play the drums since as far back as I remember. I banged on pots and pans from the age of two, and I begged my parents shamelessly nonstop for a drum set until I finally got my first set at the age of five. I still play it every chance I get. I also learned to play piano as part of the deal I made with my parents for getting my drums, though I never became as proficient on the piano as I am with my beloved drums.
There are four sentences in the paragraph above and eleven uses of the word “I”.
By its own nature, a college personal essay is about YOU. Therefore, it stands to reason that it’s written in first-person narrative, posing a challenge for the writer. How do you write about yourself without sounding repetitive and narcissistic with your use of the word “I”? Don’t worry, it’s something easily correctable with minor sentence restructuring. Usually, you would make these corrections during your second or final draft of your admission essay, as you’re reviewing for tightness and completeness.
Why don’t you try rewriting it and we’ll meet you on the next page.