College Essay Nightmares: Three Tales of Essays Gone Wrong

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If I've said it once, I've said it a million times: the essay is the part of the application over which you have the most control. Be smart about how you use it! In a recent episode of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, my guest and I described some true life examples of students who approached their college essays with the best intentions but, by not following a few important guidelines, ended up on our short list of college essay nightmares. Below are three of these essays gone wrong.

  1. Graphically recounting your first successful hunt.

If your plan is to describe a great moment in your life, be sure to pull the reader into that moment. But don't forget that this moment should be one that the admissions officer will want to share with you. While the topic of hunting is not necessarily a problem, is the graphic portrayal of a time you put another living creature to death really what you want the reader to remember about you?

  • Disclosing your desire to spend a day at the Playboy mansion.
  • It's always great to avoid clichés and offer a unique response to a common prompt. Show some personality and be yourself, but be careful about the appropriateness of the elements of yourself that you present. When they read essays, admissions officers are considering the following: "Is this the profile of a student who will be an asset on our campus?" Frolicking with Hef in the Grotto might be an aspiration you share with your close group of friends, but it's not something the person deciding to admit you to college -- or not -- needs to know.

  • Describing the time you swindled money out of your parents.
  • Writing about your area of academic interest can show the university that you're serious about your studies, and sharing a story from your life that illustrates your business acumen could be a great way to do this. But before you put pen to paper, ask yourself, "Will the person reading this understand what I'm going for here? Is this a positive representation of who I am?"

    You only get one shot to augment your test scores and GPA with an essay that showcases your personality and thought processes. Essays that are memorable and unique are great, but positive and appropriate are equally important.

    For more college essay dos and don'ts, listen to two former senior admissions officers from Penn and the University of Chicago in a Getting In: A College Coach Conversation segment on the bad, the ugly, and the unbelievable.

    To hear all past episodes, visit the Getting In archives. Tune in Thursdays at 4PM EST/1PM PST to listen live.

    About Elizabeth Heaton

    Elizabeth Heaton is Vice President of Educational Counseling at College Coach, the nation's leading provider of educational advising. Ms. Heaton is the host of Getting In: A College Coach Conversation, a weekly internet radio program on VoiceAmerica. Prior to joining College Coach, Ms. Heaton was a senior admissions officer at University of Pennsylvania.