Avoid These College Application Essay Clichés

on March 14, 2017

All college admissions officers know that there are clichéd themes or techniques that they'll see time and again. It’s true that any essay can be unique as long as you use your voice and find a good angle from which to tell your story, but you should avoid these clichés.


The Mission Trip that Changed Your Life

Although mission trips are undeniably a great way to see the diversity of the world while doing good for a community, you probably won't stand out if your entire essay simply recounts this experience. By their very nature, mission trips are ways for the privileged to help the underprivileged, which means that one of the takeaways for admissions officers might be that you had an easy, fortunate upbringing. Although it might be true that a mission trip opened your eyes or changed your life, consider that you won't be the first (or the last) to write about this in a college essay. 

The Greatest Challenge You Ever Overcame

This cliché can be trickier to avoid, since some essay prompts ask about it. Be careful to exercise self-awareness if you choose to answer. If your greatest challenge was an athletic injury that benched you for the season or a difficult hike you did with your family, it will be clear that your personal struggles pale in comparison to the difficulties that some applicants have had to overcome. These essays are an opportunity for personal and poignant self-reflection. Be sure to recognize the scale on which your difficulties fall.

Your Biggest Role Model

There are bound to be plenty of people in your life who have helped shape who you are, however, colleges are interested in you, not the public figure, teacher or parent you most admire. Too many applicants write an essay about another person.

Your Lifelong Passion

College admissions essays should be aspirational but also specific and realistic. If you happen to have a particular passion, provide detailed examples of how this has manifested in your life and how it might be applied in the future. Recognize that you're still young and that you have a lot to learn. What you enjoy in high school will almost certainly not be what you end up doing for the rest of your life, and insisting otherwise can come across as naive.

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