New Article from Quora "What is One Common Denominator of all College Admission Essays that Go to the Bottom of the Pile?"
John Linneball's answer to What is one common denominator of all college admission essays that go to the bottom of the pile? - Quora
A lack of thought, effort, or honesty. These essays usually involve one of the following: poor writing, including errors in grammar, punctuation, diction, and the like; obvious lying or exaggeration; a sense of entitlement; a failure to understand the mission of a particular college; unsubtle and unseemly influence-peddling and name-dropping.
Much longer answer:
A lack of thought and effort. Some obvious disqualifying factors would be multiple spelling, punctuation, usage, or other proofreading errors. Those errors show that you, the writer, either didn’t know you should have someone proofread your essay before submitting to a college. That’s not “cheating,” by the way - proofreading and editing aren’t the same as someone else’s writing your essay for you (which obviously is plagiarism/cheating).
Another showstopper is the obviously insincere application. I recall being at a college information presentation (basically “why you should apply to our colleges, even if you’ve never heard of them”) hearing the story of some applicant submitted an essay about what he wanted in a college education that ended with “But what I want most, is to attend PRINCETON UNIVERSITY!” That was great, but he’d submitted the application to Wesleyan. No, I have no idea if that really happened, but my guess is someone’s actually done that - version control can a problem, especially for someone writing this essay to say, 10 different schools, all of which are his /her “dream school.” This kind of mistake doesn’t happen unless the kid literally wrote this to many different schools. Think of it as the college admissions version of “I’ll bet you tell that to ALL the girls [or boys, or whatever]!” Again, this shows very little thought or effort - the kid couldn’t even be bothered to make sure he/she/nonbinary put the right essay in the right envelope. Statements that aren’t backed up by action will probably count against you. For example, going on about how you’re really committed to studying physics when you haven’t taken any physics in high school won’t help much, either.
Similarly, an application essay in which the applicant shows he/she/n.b. doesn’t seem to understand where he/she/etc. applying to school is not going to help the application. An applicant’s description of how fascinated he/she/etc. is by French literature probably won’t help a student apply successfully to M.I.T.
I suppose essay that shows an unwarranted sense of entitlement, being frivolous or flippant, etc. would generally not work in your favor. “I should be admitted to this college because I was valedictorian of my high school class” probably won’t get into an elite college/university, since the admissions officers many will think “We get applications from more valedictorians than we can admit - we could literally fill the class with high school valedictorians and have several left over.” The same for “I think the school colors are really nice and I look good in those colors,” “I’ve heard the cafeteria offers soft serve ice cream.” I’ve read (in TIME magazine, I believe) of a writer who requested his admissions essays from Stanford (under federal law, schools have to let you view your records, which apparently includes your application materials). The writer shared some of his cringeworthy essay about how he’d be a great party guy who’d “hook up with all the babes,” or something like that. But hey, he did get in, so I guess even a cringeworthy essay isn’t necessarily a showstopper. And I suppose, at least, he was honest. Honest to a fault, some would say.
I should go without saying, but I know it needs to be said, that emphasizing you have special connections or influence based on your relatives, friends of your relatives, etc. is a VERY BAD IDEA. Don’t get me wrong- some schools will ask if you have relatives who attended the school. Obviously, you should answer those questions honestly, just as you should answer any questions honestly. But name-dropping, mentioning how you have Hollywood, local and national political, and whatever other connections, and generally going on about who you know, rather than what you know, will not get you far. It helps if you know a lot and you know lot of influential people, especially because you know a lot, and have done lot, etc., but at that point, you’re not just name-dropping, you’re actually describing your achievements. But making look as you expect instant admissions because your dad is literally a rock star, your cousin Ernest is an important politician in the district where the college is located and he happens to be on several education committees that directly affect the college, or your great grandfather paid for the main library at the college, is a very bad look, and can work against you.
Going back to insincerity or dishonesty, you’d do well to steer clear of stories you’ve heard from other people, unless you tie them into how those stories influenced you. Obviously, if reading Hamlet greatly influenced you, then go on about it. If you just describe the plot and add “it was an obviously great piece of literature,” that won’t help. If you try to pass off someone else’s story as something that happened to you, you may end having your essay written by someone who remembers that essay from last year or is the person to whom that actually happened. Who knows? He or she might contact you It’s not likely, but I could see someone doing it- “No way, a whale attacked you at an aquarium? I had to talk to you about that- Dude- that happened to ME!” It’s not going to be fun if someone asks you for more details about something you copied from someone or just made up.
Cliched essays aren’t as bad as essays with obvious lies or serious proofreading problems, but just like essays with grammatical problems, they’re examples of failure to plan or failure to think very deeply about the essay. Unlike the other essay types I’ve described, many applicants are admitted with essays that are chock full of cliches. Probably most admissions essays were no exception to this rule. Schools ask questions designed to elicit certain kinds of responses, and most people are going to answer these questions in predictable ways. Tales of your “burning desire” to learn and grow, your constant pursuit of excellence, how playing a varsity sport has taught you about teamwork, sacrifice, and discipline, are all great, but they’re not terribly original. Try using some imagery that isn’t based on something catching fire. Come up with examples of how your pursuit of excellence showed itself in ways not involving academics or sports. Show the reader how your excellence in sports helped you in a non-sports-related way (as part of a “team” at your job or a community organization, etc.).
Be honest, be careful, and be original. That’s the best college essay advice I can give you. Good luck.
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.