The Top 3 College Application Essay Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make

By Sodany Sor

college application essayIt seems like every year the college admissions process gets more and more competitive. The benefits of attending a top-tier university are numerous: a rigorous academic curriculum, a powerful student and alumni network, and access to prestigious employers who make on-campus recruitment visits. Thus, it makes sense to see college candidates spending hours perfecting their applications. But, it can take only one mistake to undo all that hard work.

Here are 3 mistakes that I commonly see when consulting perspective college students:

1.  Not answering essay questions.

Having read numerous college essays, I am always surprised to see the number of candidates who submit beautifully written essays that simply ignore the essay prompt. What’s worse are essays that sugarcoat failures, critiques, or flaws. When answering an essay question, avoid circling any issue for fear of it not being what the admissions committee wants to hear. Otherwise, you will appear to demonstrate a lack of self-awareness by answering the question without really answering. Furthermore, you risk not truly showcasing your genuine personality and what makes you different.

2.  Not taking advantage of every section of the application.

Recommendations, for instance. Since applicants don’t write recommendations, many people view this section as being out of their control. Not true. You can definitely guide your recommenders. Most likely you will be asking your teachers for recommendations. And most likely your teachers are extremely busy with limited time and many recommendation requests. Help them help you. Give them not only your resume, but also a detailed list of characteristics (both strengths and improvement areas) and points you would like them to highlight, especially the ones you’ve included in your personal statement or essays.

Are there stories you haven’t managed to squeeze into your 500-word essays? If so, your recommenders can provide that color to the admissions committee.

3.  Not providing a convincing reason for “Why School X?”

Admissions may feel like playing the lottery, but it’s also a yield game. The admissions committee favors candidates they believe will come to their school after being admitted. Higher yield = higher ranking. Convince the committee that you will help their ranking by providing concrete reasons for why you are interested in that particular school.

Do your research early (it will only help you in your decision-making process further on) by attending information sessions, reading college reviews, visiting campus, and talking with current students and alumni. Then, in your application, showcase your knowledge about the school’s program and elaborate on how their program aligns with your personal objectives and values. If you have a first-choice school, make that preference known at your in-person interview.

You may not be able to change your SAT score or high school transcript, but these three tips are certainly within your control. Good luck!

Sodany Sor currently works at Procter & Gamble as an Assistant Brand Manager. Prior to P&G, she provided M&A consulting services at PricewaterhouseCoopers and worked at General Electric in internal marketing. Sodany graduated cum laude from Yale University with a degree in Economics and from Wharton with an MBA in Marketing and Operations. She can be contacted at sodany.sor[at] for admissions and recruiting consultation.