According to the Cambridge Dictionary definition, an essay is “a short piece of writing on a particular subject, especially one done by students as part of the work for a course”, or, as for what concerns us here, as part of their university application. An essay should always answer a question or task, and coming to the college essays, there are two general types – the one that focuses on the university itself and should provide answers to questions like “why are you interested in our university?”, and the one that gives students the task of talking about themselves and their experiences. The college essay is also known as a personal statement, especifically when applying to the UK. It is defined by UCAS as “your chance to describe your ambitions, skills, and experience to university and college admissions staff “. 

Whatever the case, this piece of writing must show the best of you and leave a good taste in the mouth of a university representative who has read hundreds of texts before yours. Therefore, we have compiled five mistakes that you must avoid at all costs if you want to have any chance of getting into the university of your dreams. Keep reading and take notes!

1. Writing about cliché topics

When choosing the topic for your essay, you will most likely look online for inspiration or ask your alumni friends about theirs for ideas, but do not fall into the error of resorting to a cliché. Keep in mind that the university representatives who will evaluate your writing have been reading essays for years and will automatically discard those that are not genuine. Think twice too when writing about a challenge you have overcome, it can speak highly of you but it can also be a cliché. If you run out of ideas and do not come up with anything original, remember that you can always go to your counselor, who will suggest a series of exercises and together you will come up with the perfect topic.

2. Using a common style of writing

If you still decide to bet on an overused topic, make sure to tell the story in a different way. You can make a difference if you start your writing in some original and catchy way. Try to use a different structure, metaphors or any other stylistic resource. Again, you can turn to an expert to help you shape your idea.

3. Creating a hard-to-read essay

At the same time, you need to be clear and precise. Writing in a different style does not mean you have to use weird and unnatural words. Do not use too long and complex sentences. You can be original and still keep a natural and simple language – which does not mean colloquial! You must use an academic language, meaning you have to avoid contractions and a too personal tone.

4. Copy-pasting

Aside from the obvious, ethical reasons why you should not copy when creating your essay, universities today use tools to detect plagiarism, such as the UCAS’ Copycatch system, so if you commit it, your essay will be automatically discarded. It is totally fine to find inspiration and sources for your writing, but instead of copying and pasting, paragraph, cite appropriately, and add references. You can even use a plagiarism-checking tool yourself to check whether your essay closely resembles someone else’s or not. It may be the case that your ideas simply coincide with those of another person and that later the university similarity system detects it. Go one step ahead and ensure your originality!

5. Not proofreading

Giving your essay to a professional proofreader is a must, not only for correcting possible spelling or grammar errors, but also to make sure your essay is easy to read. It is also a good idea to give it for reading to someone close to you, to check that you have been able to convey your idea and cause the desired effect.

Knowing and putting this into practice you are already one step closer to creating an outstanding essay and consequently getting into your dream university. As a bonus, we would like to finish this article providing you with some useful resources that will help you with this delicate task: The UCAS’ personal statement tool – “designed to help you think about what to include in your personal statement, and how to structure it”; the Common App Essay prompts, the Coalition Application Essay Prompts, and the guide from the Colleague Essay Guy

Marta Valverde
Event Coordinator for Spain at SRT Fairs. She studied Journalism and Communication in Tenerife, Spain, and is now based in Sofia, Bulgaria.