“My grandmother’s perseverance inspired me as I practiced to make the varsity baseball team (which I finally made and scored the winning run), while on the mission trip to save orphans in Guatemala, that I took because I was so thankful that my twin brother and I both survived cancer. Had this not happened, I would not be the person I am today.”

Don’t write this essay. Please. Pretty please. Admissions officers see the same essay over and over, year after year. These topics bore them to tears, and you will not stand out. We’re not saying that the experience wasn’t important to you and your life. It’s just very hard (nearly impossible) to write one of these essays in a way that’s new and fresh.

This list covers the major issues college admissions officers warn about, and we add a few of our own.

  • Don’t try to guess what the college wants. Read the prompt or question, and respond to it. They want to learn about you.
  • Don’t try to impress anyone or sell yourself. Very few people can do that well, and it’s easy to come off as arrogant, obnoxious or shallow.
  • Don’t plagiarize, cheat or lie. College admissions officers can sniff this out in a second. More importantly, is that how you want to live your life?
  • Don’t tell them about yourself. Reveal who you are through your story. That happens when you talk about how you act, respond, think and feel against the backdrop of your topic.
  • Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. The people reading your essays have been through emotional and challenging experiences of their own. If you have a meaningful or memorable story to tell, tell it. Even if it’s unresolved in your mind.
  • Don’t write about someone or something other than yourself. Your job as a camp counselor, your experience on the swim team, or your favorite book are just backdrops for writing about yourself.
  • If you choose to write about a challenging topic (such as death), or a topic that could be controversial (like politics or religion), be very, very careful. In general, admissions officers advise against such topics, but if one of these makes a powerful backdrop for you, you can use it.
  • Admissions officers learn a lot about grandparents. Again, the essay is about you, and only use another person as a backdrop to tell your story.
  • Don’t bore those poor folks reading hundreds or thousands of essays. Have compassion for them.