The Most Common Mistake in College Application Essays
By Tim Doocey

The Most Common Mistake in College Application Essays


Teens applying to college should avoid this common mistake when writing their college application essays. Plus, heed advice from a writing expert on how to craft a stand-out essay.


When it comes to writing college application essays, there are several common problems, like being generic, or peppering a document with overblown (big) words. But there’s one thing that’s often overlooked, and it happens before anyone puts a single word on paper. It's not so much a mistake as it is a common occurrence. That occurrence is panic.

Fear, anxiety, and pressure to get into the best college possible—these are all things that can lead to a stifling sense of not knowing what to write. So what’s the cure for writer’s block? Simply put: Don’t panic.

The best way to put yourself in the panic-free zen zone (needed to write your best) is to give yourself plenty of time. Use that time to write the essay in achievable steps, as a process. Few good writers just open up their laptop and bang out masterpieces in one go. Instead, they plan and use a deliberate step-by-step system that makes their final product effortless, cohesive, and colorful. In fact, the most successful writers build in time to think and organize before they actually start drafting sentences and paragraphs.


2 Steps to a Great Essay

Here are two good pre-writing steps students can take when planning to write the college application essays:

• Take time to reflect. That’s right, thinking is part of the writing process. Think about the essay questions you want to answer, and about the topics that make you unique. Be as specific as possible (capture colors, flavors, specific moments in time, and other details that will help you eventually bring your writing to life), and write your ideas down, perhaps in a journal. And remember, the only bad idea is the one you don’t remember because you didn’t capture it somewhere.

• Create an outline. Don’t skip this part (as many do). This is the roadmap that will help you create an essay that’s organized and focused. Students who skip outlining risk writing essays that can be rambling and without a beginning, middle, and end. Here’s a good link on how to create a useful outline.


Looking for a good summer activity for your college-bound teen? Have them start the writing process now. The 2015-16 Common Application prompts have already been published. So while the student in your life earned some time off after a long school year, getting an early start will save your whole family from pushing the panic button in the fall.