College Essay Weaknesses

The college admissions essay helps differentiate you from other applicants.
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While a strong college essay might not single-handedly get you into the college of your choice, a weak essay can certainly prevent your application from being reviewed. College admissions officers evaluate several aspects of your essay for punctuation, research, clarity and organization. If your essay has any obvious weaknesses, admissions officers might not spend more than five minutes scanning your submission.

1 Careless Errors

The final essay must not contain errors. Guard against this potential issue by showing your final essays to your friends, family and even co-workers. Ask them to point out awkward sentence construction, poor grammar and wandering passages. Common simple errors include referring to your essay as a "personnel" statement, spelling college as "collage" or naming the wrong college in your essay. Careless errors aren't the same as stylistic differences, but use the Modern Language Association format when writing any academic papers.

2 Organization

Don't submit a paper that lacks focus and a central theme. Think about why the school you are applying to matches your interests. Perhaps you have a specific professor you want to study with or the program provides access to resources not available at other schools. Clearly outline one point in each paragraph and provide supporting evidence to reinforce your claim. Making an outline before writing your paper can help you stay on track and prevent you from discussing unrelated topics within a single paragraph.

3 Answering the Question

Even if you have two colleges with the same essay question, don't copy and paste your response between colleges. Write each response from scratch and ask yourself continually if the essay answers the question asked. Facts and figures must be double-checked and ensure your answer doesn't conflict with anything in your application. For example, if you're answering a question asking about your opinion of volunteer work and your application shows you haven't volunteered a day in your life, the admissions committee likely won't rate your essay highly. When possible, highlight personal experience that supports your opinion and avoid using generic statements that could apply to a number of situations.

4 Passive Voice

Engage the reader by avoiding passive voice and eliminating forms of the verb "to be." Passive voice exists when the subject receives the action of the verb. Active voice provides an authoritative tone and minimizes dullness. Changing from passive to active voice makes the difference between a flat piece and one that jumps from the page.

5 Common Mistakes

Using a thesaurus to haphazardly increase the complexity of your words and phrasing should never be done unless you can do it naturally. Avoid adding extraneous words when one word would suffice. Check the meaning of any complex words that you aren't familiar with to ensure the correct definition makes sense in the context of the sentence. Use descriptive words to paint an image for the reader and avoid being overly formal or not formal enough. Check your essay for any slang terms and do not use contractions. Look for instances where one sentence ends and another begins with the same word, or for incidents where you use the same word to start consecutive sentences.

Avery Martin holds a Bachelor of Music in opera performance and a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies. As a professional writer, she has written for, Samsung and IBM. Martin contributed English translations for a collection of Japanese poems by Misuzu Kaneko. She has worked as an educator in Japan, and she runs a private voice studio out of her home. She writes about education, music and travel.