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Top Mistakes To Avoid On Common App Essay & How To Fix them

To get a better understanding and figure out what are the most common mistakes in common application essays, we should start with the basics. So, welcome to the journey through the world of common app essays, friends 🙂

“Why do you want to go to our college?” is the most common question for the college application essay.

College admission essays can take all sorts of forms, and many of the nation’s top schools require students to write one or several additional essays. However, most schools ask one of the most common questions: “Why do you want to go to our college?”

Admissions committees are simply “overwhelmed” with applicants’ documents with honors, gold medals, victories in Olympiads and other achievements. But what should be the correct algorithm for selecting the best students from the list of applicants? And how to choose the best candidates from the millions of profiles? How to truly determine who is worthy of enrollment out of all?

In this article, together, we will try to look at the entire process of admission and enrollment of students to the university through the eyes of the admission committee members. Furthermore, we will try to take into account other people’s mistakes and prevent our own.

And you will learn how to write a motivation letter that won’t get lost among others, how to avoid the most common app essay mistakes, what are those “biggest” mistakes people make on their college application essays and how to prevent them.

I will also share with you my personal experience and research on this topic.

With a motivation letter, you can rehabilitate yourself (if there are any shortcomings) or destroy all chances of admission” – Ruth Miller, head of the admissions office of the School of Public and International Relations. Woodrow Wilson.

Is it really that much important❓ This phrase may fly through your head 100 times fleetingly.

A motivation letter is one of the most critical documents in a prospective college student’s application. The rest of the articles will not be able to tell about your personality so extensively and in detail. You need to fit a heartfelt story about your talents, interests, success, dreams of a future profession and work, self-realization, and why it is so important to you in two or three hundred words.

It is crucial to show your uniqueness. Even a low level of language or, let’s say, insignificant achievements will not interfere with this demonstration.

Can you become an extrasensory person to understand what the commission wants from you❓

What does the selection committee expect? And what to avoid in common app essays?

The admissions office wants to get an idea of ​​the personality. What characterizes your personality? 

Talents? Plans for the future? Ambitions? Maybe a sense of humor? Imagination? Communicability? This is exactly what you need to look out for during the preparation of your motivation letter.

In support of this, lets read the words of representatives of leading American universities:

  • For me, the most important thing is to find out what we do not expect. There is no magic formula for admission, there are no right answers.” – Bob Alig, MBA Admissions Director, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Candidates make the mistake of trying to write something that they think the admissions committee will enjoy. In trying to predict, they risk going astray.” – Albert Turnbull, University of Virginia Law School Admissions Officer.
  • We need honesty (as far as we can recognize it), simplicity, straightforwardness.” – Dr. Andrew Franz, Head of Admissions at Columbia University School of Medicine.
  • The pages should breathe life, it should be a story that only you could write.” – Linda Megan, Columbia University Business School Admissions Member.

The main requirement that specialists want to see realized is an interesting life story, written naturally, in living language. Then, with the help of a motivation letter, professors want to know about you what interests them most, namely. What goals do you pursue, what do you want to achieve in life, how can you be helpful to your university and society as a whole if you become a student of this college.

No need to cheat and confuse the reader with florid wording, be yourself. It’s one of the most common application essay mistakes to be afraid to be yourself. At the same time, you need to try to express thoughts as vividly as possible since only words will talk about you – gestures and facial expressions cannot be connected.

Well, do you still think that the commission consists of cartoon monsters❓ Really❓

No, they are smart, well-educated adults doing their job, and mostly they do it excellently. You just need to prepare and take into account the experience of your predecessors as much as possible.

It’s actually quite simple: you are looking for the best college, and the commission’s chairmen are looking for the best students. So what conclusion can be drawn – try to become the best!

What does the acceptance committee pay attention to? What to do to avoid the most common mistakes on a college application essay? 

Having analyzed the requirements of many top universities, I can answer with confidence. Now copy and save) Hmmmm…but be careful with copyright issues, hah, joking 😉

Who is being hunted for❓ Best characteristics of wanted students

  • Passionate about learning. 

This can be done by using the “hook” at the beginning of the letter;

  • Literate. Erudite and well-educated

This can be seen in language proficiency, including the style and structure of speech;

  • Good academic background. 

This can be shown using special terms that reflect the author’s competence or by directly listing the achievements. And remember – it’s better not to use the term than to misuse it!

  • Communicative. Ready to cooperate with profs and other alumni. 

This сan be a great advantage;

  • Outstanding representative in a particular professional field, you can tell about your previous successes, achievements, etc.

If you found out about these points and requirements yourself, go ahead! Go ahead and describe your best qualities, characteristics and achievements.

In order to tune you into the frequency of writing a unique essay, I want to acquaint you with some valuable, in my opinion, tips from the article on how to write a great statement of purpose, professor at the University of Northern Iowa, Vince Gothera. 

Vince Gotera
Source: https://uni.edu/~gotera/gradapp/stmtpurpose.htm

The statement of purpose is probably the hardest thing you will ever need to write. But, unfortunately, almost everyone who starts writing a cover letter is doing it wrong. What you were taught in school about self-presentation can lead you completely in the wrong place. Here you can find an example of the first paragraph of a typical cover letter:

  • I would like to enroll in the Master of Fine Arts program because I am confident that my writing skills will flourish on your program as I will regularly take on challenges from teachers and hone my skills.

Agree that this is brilliant? Seemingly clear, direct appeal, which is aimed precisely at the Master of Fine Arts program. But is it interesting? No. Because it’s obvious and predictable.

The admissions office understands in advance why you are applying for this program, as they reread a mountain of such letters every day. Also, the commission knows that your skills will “flourish in all its glory”, since the university has a strong program. Of course, you will accept challenges – everyone will accept them, regardless of the level of training. Furthermore, students will hone their skills – isn’t this the primary goal of the master’s program?

Considering the approximate length of a cover letter of 300 words, the applicant spends about 15% of the volume in order to say absolutely nothing. And it’s not just that everything written is obvious and predictable, it’s boring! To understand the secret of the perfect motivation letter, you need to imagine five professors locked in a room with 1000 applications. Would such a beginning of a letter grab their attention? Will they read the sequel with the thought that this particular applicant is suitable for their program? Will they remember this letter? No! and this may become one of the mistakes on your app essay! Don’t do it!

Catch the attention❗ Literally, draw attention to yourself from the first phrases and then hit on the spot❗


To write a successful motivational essay, you have to grab all the attention, hook the selection committee. For example, a graduate student in library arts once did such a great trick in attracting attention. Let’s see the example together:

When I was a young 12 years old, my grandmother Molly passed away and left me one important thing that changed my life – a library of more than three thousand volumes. One of my best days was spent sitting on the porch, reading the books and organizing those books on shells. From that very moment, I decided to become a librarian.”…

All clear, concise and straightforward. In 60 words, the commission learns about what constitutes the main part of a girl’s life – a passion not only for reading books but also for caring for them. When the members of the commission begin to discuss the best examples, they will definitely remember the “applicant with her grandma’s library”, because to receive such a gift at the age of twelve would be the cherished dream of each of them!

You are not Oscar Wilde or Francis Fitzgerald❓

You’ll have to become! So, at least for the time of writing an essay, plunge into this magical world, come up with, embellish your story! Just, don’t overdo it; still consider your direction.

Try to make the character live on paper to avoid the most common application essay mistakes. You shouldn’t just write: “I worked on the assembly line of a TV factory and one day I decided to go to college so as not to live my life in vain and completely disappear“. Why not rephrase the same thought as follows: “One Tuesday, I soldered the 112th green wire on the 112th TV remote and realized that this repetitive work did not allow me to develop and realize my potential. I decided that college would be my salvage”. Both examples have about 20-25 words, but the second will clearly force the committee member to read the letter to the end.

Have you already achieved something❓ Go, tell about it❗

Feel free to declare it without hesitation. But it would be best if you didn’t turn your nose up too high. Because in front of you are people who have also achieved a lot. Members of the selection committee would like to know about talents, hobbies, knowledge, skills, social, sports and intellectual competitions. 

It doesn’t matter at all the achievements to be cosmically important and significant. You can simply tell with joy, pride and warmth in this soul what you managed to achieve, how you came to this and what you faced on your way, how you gained your experience, how you overcame difficulties and what did it teach you: successfully passed exams at a dance school, took part in a competition of the best dancers in the country, attended a theater group, where she met the outstanding actors of our time, was inspired by their motivation and charged with energy for the whole year, took part in a charity event to save homeless animals, where we for half a year, more than 200 animals were saved, of which 130 are already happily living with new owners.

At the same time, the selection committee members are somewhat interested not in a dry list of your skills, abilities, knowledge, and achievements. After all, this information about you is also available in your resume, but your ability to think critically, position yourself in a structured and at the same time naturally express information about yourself, and draw conclusions from the experience gained.

Should you have any job or internship experience, do not hesitate to report it in your motivation letter. It is also worth providing specific details of employment that are closely related to your future profession and various courses and additional activities in your field.

The members of the commission will not leave these facts unnoticed. Therefore, it is worth carefully considering how to correctly submit information, connecting it with the details and nuances of admission to the university.

I think that I already managed to introduce you to the course of the matter and your knees stopped shaking from the mere mention of the word essay. So now, let’s move on to the cherry on the cake.

Before I started sharing my personal TOP mistakes in common app essay writing, you can check this video by Kevin Zhensei where he had shared brilliant tips on the same topic. It can be a great addition to my article.

How did you like it? Okay, now, let’s drive directly to my personal top ten mistakes that you should definitely avoid in your common application essay (if you are willing to succeed for sure). Enjoy reading 😉

10 Biggest Mistakes To Avoid On Your College Essay 👇

Do not lose sight of the details! The essay is general in nature and does not contain details

If you are asked in college why you want to study, be specific. Whichever school you go to, be convinced that your essay is about the specifics of the school you like.

Try this test: if you can replace the name of one school with the name of another school and your essay still makes sense, your essay is too general. You need to do your research and provide clear and specific reasons you are attracted to the college that asks you a question.

Another benefit of school-specific essay writing is that you can help demonstrate your interest in that school. In many colleges and universities, the interest shown is one of the factors used by admissions boards to make admission or rejection decisions.

No need to overdo! Your essay is not a novel in 3 volumes. The essay is too long

Photo by Suzi Kim on Unsplash

A lot of additional essay writing tips ask you to write a couple of paragraphs. But don’t go beyond the specified limit. Exactly, look how many words should be in the essay, exceed the number to a large extent – it is unacceptable, this may not play into your hands, since the members of the reception committee are also real people. They simply cannot read novels instead of an essay. 

Furthermore, remember that a single, well-written and structured paragraph is better than two mediocre ones. Admissions officers have thousands of reading apps, and they really appreciate brevity. Try to show respect and adhere to all norms.

However, if a college gives you 700 words for an additional essay, do not submit one that contains only 150 words. Instead, follow the rules to avoid most common app essay mistakes.

Avoid being a talker. The essay should answer the question!

Suppose the essay requirements ask you to tell in detail why college suits your professional interests. For example, do not write an essay that your neighbors go to the school, or that it is very easy to get to in 30 minutes by car, or that this is your parent’s advice, who are smart adults and know better. 

When asked what growth and benefits you hope to get in college during your interview, it’s not worth mentioning how explicitly you want your master’s degree.

What you should pay attention to is attentiveness to all requirements and discipline in their implementation? Read the advice several times before starting to write, and read it carefully after you write your essay to see if your essay meets all the stated requirements.

Finally, and this again relates to #1 on this list, if a college asks you to complete a custom why essay answering the question – why you have chosen this school, do not write an essay about all liberal arts colleges or major schools.

Don’t be a braggart. Don’t behave like a big snob.

Be careful not to say, “I want to go to Ivy University because my father and brother went to …” The best reason to go to college is when the curriculum and the level of knowledge and training the college aligns with your future professional goals or when your schooling suits your interests and learning style well.

Essays on hereditary high social, marital status or connections with politicians, influential people, even if they are members of your family, often do not give a good result or response. Vice versa, they can make a negative impression on you; therefore, first of all, respect your uniqueness. Members of the commission deserve will appreciate your talents, intelligence, and desire to achieve heights on their own, relying on their knowledge.

You have the option to indicate your inherited status elsewhere in the app, so don’t use an additional essay to advertise your family ties.

Hold your horses. You sound not be too materialistic.

Admissions counselors see many thoroughly honest essays. Of course, most students go to college because they want to get a diploma and get a job with an excellent salary. There is no denying the fact, and you should avoid emphasizing this point in the essay. If you tell in your essay that you want to get into the best business program because their majors make more money than other college students, you do not impress anyone. You will appear self-serving and materialistic.

Likewise, if you say you want to go to the college because it has the highest starting graduate income in the country, you’re missed the mark. Instead, you will need to explain why you are passionate about the school’s specific academic programs. 

That will be 100 times better!

Skip the dull beginning. Just do not pull the rubber, please!

I advise you to immediately talk about a significant situation or circumstance that influenced your desire to study at this particular university. Don’t pull the cat by the tail.

At the same time, try not to write phrases like “As a child I was carried away“, “Since I can remember myself, I liked …” and other clichéd phrases. According to a UCAS study, the number of such expressions is counting in the thousands every year.

Feel free to skip the dull beginning of your essay. Instead, every time you write a sentence, ask yourself a question whether it is really interesting or important to know about.

Are you sure that’s funny? It’s better to experiment with a sense of humor elsewhere.

Not funny jokes. Believe me, the members of the selection committee have already seen many funny guys in front of you, who really wanted to stand out from others, to be remembered for their incredible sense of humor and spontaneity, but, as practice shows, this is rarely appropriate.

You may find a joke cute and very harmless, but what will you do if suddenly one of the selection committee members finds it inappropriate or even offensive? In this case, you should think in advance and weigh all the risks. Furthermore, it should be clearly understood that everyone has a different sense of humor, and in the case of foreign universities, also a different mentality.

In another way, a simple joke may become a huge mistake on your application college essay!

Therefore, I advise you to exclude jokes if you are not an accomplished professional comedian to avoid one of the most common app essay mistakes.

Measure 7 times, cut once. Lack of text checking and editing.

One of the most frequently made application mistakes is wrong spelling. Before submitting, ask your teacher or another competent person to review your essay to avoid making such typos mistakes. You can use such grammar checker services as Grammarly or other options available on the web.  Even the most exciting motivation letter can be put aside because of the annoying typos mistakes.

If it is not possible to contact the teacher, take good advice – use a translator, if necessary, download the application for checking grammar and spelling errors, now there are also applications for scanning and stylistic mistakes.

Rushing is not your best friend. Set aside enough time in advance.

Are you confident enough to leave the most important things for later? Exactly? and is it worth the risk? After all, we are talking about your future… So start preparing in advance or still write an essay a week before sending it? I can definitely answer that you need to devote enough time to write a cover letter. Even better, if you write several essay options, compare them and choose the best one. But it’s up to you to decide!

Plan your schedule well in advance to allow enough time for all the necessary preparation, information gathering, essay writing, editing, translation, and detailed review steps. Remember how important it is to exclude from your schedule so that you don’t accidentally make mistakes.

And where did the thief startup here?. Copying someone else’s essay.

One of the widespread mistakes of applicants here is the desire to get 100% results and the dumping of responsibility and ordinary laziness. 

By far, the easiest way to write a successful college admission essay is when you have the opportunity to learn from real-life examples of essays that have worked. I will now present to you a few of my favorite essay examples covering a wide variety of college essay topics.

Find examples of successful and unsuccessful essays, read them, analyze them and make the right choice.

But remember, a responsible approach to the question of your future and education must be embedded in your body and mind like a chip if you seriously want to secure yourself a great future and create a successful career. Therefore be careful with plagiarism 😉

And for those who like to approach important issues especially carefully and thoroughly study all the details, I can advise many modern services. There are numerous platforms for valuable communication available where a team of former admissions officers and expert advisers can answer most of your questions during your college application journey. Moreover, you can always ask for assistance from our reliable application writers, who will help you write a custom common app essay for you.

common app college essay writingmetier
Photo by Katrina Wright on Unsplash

Yes, and remember, everything is in your hands! 

So, follow the rules, guys and everything will be all right! Fingers crossed!


Vasy Kafidoff

Vasy Kafidoff is a co-founder and CEO at Writing Metier. When he’s free from his routine as a CEO, he enjoys writing about education, travel, technology and business ethics. Some of his friends might say that he’s a real corker and Vasy will never argue back.

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