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What to Avoid: Bad College Essay Examples

bad college essay examples

Avoiding common pitfalls is often the difference between a good application and one that lands in the recycle bin. When it comes to college essays, you will want to make sure your essay shines compared to the others.

Better yet, you do not want to lose it amongst all the other essays the admission counsellors are reading.First impressions are everything.

A bad college essay will make a bad impression on the admission board and never make it past the applicant tracker. Here are some tips you should avoid if you want to get accepted into college.

Causes of Bad College Essays

1. Not Answering the Question

Some students tend to impress by writing about their ideas rather than answering the question given.

If you start writing without thinking about what the question asks for, you will likely have difficulty catching up in the middle of your essay. Make sure that you understand the question and then answer it logically.

2. Thinking that a Topic is “Smart” or “Important.”

Bad Essay

If you think your essay can be about something interesting because it is important, you are approaching it from the wrong angle. What matters is not the topic — it is how you write about it.

3. Believe that a Topic is “Unique”

If you think your essay topic can be unique because it is unrelated to anything else in your application, you are approaching it from the wrong angle.

Your topic does not have to be unique for admission officers to like it. What matters is how well you write about the topic.

4. Not Reading the Prompt Carefully Enough

Many students write entire essays without paying attention to what they have been asked to write about.

They either do not know what to write about or think they know but do not understand what they have been asked to do when they sit down and start writing their essay. 

Either way, their work falls short of their expectations because they waste time writing an essay that does not answer the prompt correctly.

5. Lack of Preparation

This is the most common reason students give for why they do not do well on tests and exams. Yet, it is also the most within their control. When you fail to prepare, you wont prepare for each part of the application process. This leads to application burnout and being overwhelmed.

The best way to prepare for any college essay is to work through as many sample questions as possible. 

6. Lack of Understanding

It may seem obvious that you need to understand the material to do well on an exam.  More often, students gloss over concepts they just do not get with the assumption that they will be able to learn them later when they have more time.

Do not let this happen! If there is something, you do not understand, ask. Lack of understanding leads to below average essay which should be avoided.

What to Avoid When Writing College Essays

1. Avoid Using Clichés

Avoid using clichés in your college admission essays. Although it can be useful to draw on the experiences of others, your essay should reflect your unique perspective and experience. 

Bad Essays

Also, keep in mind that many people (especially adults) may have told you that you are special or have a unique perspective. 

However, this does not mean that colleges will see you this way if you do not provide specific examples and details in your essay.

Avoid simply listing the facts about yourself; use colorful and specific examples from your life experiences.

2. Don’t Overload on Adjectives

There is a temptation to show off everything you know about a word in your essay, but the more you show, the less effective it is. It is better to stick to one or two really good examples and use them repeatedly.

If you do not do this, you will be writing many words that do not help your application at all!

3. Avoid Using Big Words 

Admissions officers want to know that you understand what you are talking about and can express it clearly. If a sentence does not sound like something, you would normally say, rewrite it so that it does.

The last thing you want is for admissions officers to think that you are being insincere or fake in your essay!

Many students think they have to use big words and write about something extraordinary for their essay to be interesting.

This is not true! All you have to do is tell your story, whether it is ordinary or extraordinary. It does not matter if you have not done anything special yet; you will get the opportunity if you are admitted anyway!

4. Don’t Forget to Follow Directions!

It may seem obvious, but it happens more than you think. Students will write an essay about something they’ve done in the past year, only to realize halfway through that the prompt asked them to write about something they hope to accomplish or achieve in the future. 

Or, they will write about their favorite book without linking it to their life or personality. These are easily avoidable mistakes; proofread your essay. 

Read other tips to look out for in your college application process.

Others are 

1. Avoid being too vague or general.

2. Avoid platitudes (e.g., “the most important thing in life is your family”).

Bad Essays

3. Avoid talking about hot-button political or religious issues unless you have a very good reason for doing so.

4. Avoid being overly dramatic or theatrical.

5. Avoid using sentimental phrases such as “the greatest gift I’ve ever received,” “the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” etc., unless their story is truly compelling and unique.

Bad College Essay Examples 

  • How I broke my arm and learned to never trust anyone again
  • Why I love the color green and why it is my favorite food. 
  • How I learned to love reading and writing (this one is also applicable for college application essays)
  • Describe a problem you solved or a problem you would like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, or an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?