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The 5 Most Common Admissions Essay Mistakes

Posted on January 15th, 2010 by Jennifer Frankel

We understand the intensity of admissions season and wanted to create a series of quick tips to help steer you in the right direction. From our point of view, here are the 5 most common admissions essay mistakes:

  1. Tonal and Narrative Balance – We have mentioned this before, but the key to effective admissions writing is finding a balance between humanity and authenticity, while targeting the prompt and preserving language sophistication. This balance is shifted depending on the level of the applicant (MBA essays will feel more ‘buttoned up’ than a college level essay). However, every admissions essay should target a specific prompt and also convey a deeper sense of who you are.
  2. Admit me! Admit me! Overselling Yourself – Applicants frequently push too hard to demonstrate fit with an institution. Their writing loses all sense of authenticity and focus. They resort to stilted language such as, ‘If admitted to XXX, I will bring my enthusiasm…’ In doing so, they impede the natural momentum of their writing and lose reader’s interest.
  3. Underdeveloped Ideas and Cliches – “I want to be a doctor because I thrive on patient interaction.” “A legal career will help me to drive change in underserved communities.” “You can never judge a book by its cover.” “I want to make the world a better place.” Vague, underdeveloped ideas and cliches seem to go hand in hand.Stay specific and concrete–flesh out the path even if you are uncertain. Employ language that is your own. Whether you are writing a college essay, MBA admissions essay, med school or law school personal statement, clearly define your story and your purpose.
  4. Missing the Prompt – Make sure that you reread the prompt. Did you catch every facet of the prompt–such as the ‘why’ component? Consider the admissions committee point of view. Did you provide the level of self-reflection they are looking for?The Man in the Mirror – All admissions essays should show a degree of perspective and self-reflection. Ultimately, this implies maturity, and a willingness to enter a community that can shape you (and vice versa).
  5. Concision – It is ironic that we needed to add a 4b to squeeze in this last tip. It just goes to show, it is difficult to think and write concisely. In admissions essays, however, it is to your advantage to ‘think crisp.’ This will help you to sharpen your content, and cut out ‘fluff’ which does not enrich your candidacy.

We hope these tips help you as you work on your admissions materials at levels–MBA Essays, Common Application essays, medical personal statements and more. As always, message us with specific questions or to receive a free assessment of your first writing submission, including admissions essays, personal statements, resumes, cover letters, dissertations and more.

All best,
Janson Woodlee
Ivy Eyes Editing

This has been a guest blog post by Ivy Eyes Editing Service and you can follow them on Twitter

You can also check out the useful resources that we have on our Essay Writing Resource pages

8 Responses to “The 5 Most Common Admissions Essay Mistakes”

  1. Paul Says:

    Hi, nice article.

    I would add that a lack of evidence to backup your application is another common one. For example if your applying for a medical, teaching or economics course it’s essential that you are able to write about relevent work placements, lectures and conferences you have attended, books you have read, places you have visited etc.

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