Author: David Bersell

College Essays: Six Common Mistakes You Must Avoid

by Kim Lifton

Do you know what college admissions committees want to see in college essays? Do you know what makes them cringe? Make your college essays stand out by avoiding these common mistakes:

1. Featuring someone other than yourself. You might genuinely admire your football coach, love your dog or dream of growing up to be just like your great uncle who won a Nobel Prize, but do you think college admissions committees care about them? Nope. They want to learn more about you. You can write about your dog or your favorite relative as long as you explain how that relationship or experience helped you discover something about yourself.

2. Not answering the question. If the prompt specifies that you write a story about an experience during the last year, and asks you to explain how it has prepared you for College X, don’t talk about getting cut from the soccer team when you were a freshman. If the prompt asks for a reflection about your plans to serve the community in the future, don’t focus on your favorite book. Read the prompt before, during and after you write your draft, then ask someone else to tell you whether or not you responded to it. Read more

How to Shorten Your College Application Essay Without Ruining It

by Kim Lifton

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a student’s third draft of a personal statement for Michigan State University, which requires each student to “submit a short essay of up to 400 words from a list of designated topics.”

The draft, which he assumed was ready for a final edit, was 751 words. That meant 351 words had to be cut. He didn’t think he could shorten it.

Nonsense, I told him. Anything can be cut. At Wow, we read and suggest cuts to students every day; we’ve never seen a personal statement weakened by the editing process. Some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, while others suggest a few words too many or too few will not matter.

We say it is not worth the risk, so just follow the directions. Answer the question within the specified word count, and you will not need to worry.

Here are five simple tips for trimming your stories without destroying content.

  1. Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely. Read more