Most people don’t outline. And even after outlining, many people fail to follow their outline. It’s natural that you’ll want to stray here or there, towards or away from the initial plan, but below are a few common errors that people make when they either don’t outline or ditch the guiding hand of their outline. As we go through some of these errors, we’ll also make a list of a few general tips and tricks for managing some of the toughest parts of your essay, including time, scene, epiphany, change, character, and more.
It is 6 am on a hot day in July and I’ve already showered and eaten breakfast. I know that my classmates are all sleeping in and enjoying their summer break, but I don’t envy them; I’m excited to start my day interning with a local newspaper doing investigative journalism. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and despite the early mornings, nothing has made me happier. Although it wasn't clear to me then, looking back on my high school experiences and everything that led to me to this internship, I believe this path began with a particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class.
Interests – Interest are basically synonymous to activities, but slightly broader (you could say that interests encompass activities); participation in an interest is often less organized than in an activity. For instance, you might consider cross country an activity, but cooking an interest. Writing about an interest is a way to highlight passions that may not come across in the rest of your application. If you’re a wrestler for example, writing about your interest in stand-up comedy would be a refreshing addition to your application. You should also feel free to use this topic to show what an important activity on your application really means to you. Keep in mind, however, that many schools will ask you to describe one of your activities in their supplemental essays (usually about 250 words), so choose strategically—you don’t want to write twice on the same thing.
A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don’t bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

The Dirksen family had three kids. They were all different. Danielle liked bitter black coffee, Christian liked energy drinks, and Becca liked sweet lemon tea. Dawn, the host mom didn’t like winter, and Mark, the host dad, didn’t like summer. After dinner, we would all play Wii Sports together. I was the king of bowling, and Dawn was the queen of tennis. I don’t remember a single time that they argued about the games. Afterward, we would gather in the living room and Danielle would play the piano while the rest of us sang hymns.
Manufacturing firms supply more than 208,858 jobs to Iowans. These well-paying careers require education and training beyond high school, but many don't require the often burdensome cost of a bachelor's degree. Recent studies have shown that two-year degree holders, especially in high demand manufacturing occupations, can earn salaries that surpass those of college graduates.
The next Youth Council meeting, I asked questions. I gave feedback. I noticed what the students at my school were really struggling with. For the first time, I went to drug prevention assemblies and helped my friends run mental health workshops. The more involved I became in my city’s Youth Council, the more I understood how similar being an advocate for your community is to being an advocate for your patients. When I volunteered at the hospital every week, I started paying attention to more than whether or not my patients wanted ice chips in their water. I learned that Deborah was campaigning for equal opportunity housing in a deeply segregated neighborhood and George was a paramedic who injured his leg carrying an 8-year-old with an allergic reaction to the Emergency Room. I might not have been the doctor who diagnosed them but I was often the one person who saw them as human beings rather than patients.
It’s said that boys learn to be a man from their fathers, that they learn what it means to be a man that has values and can stand up for what’s right. I, however, have found that grit can come from anywhere. When I was in middle school I was overweight and many other boys would call me names, and even after going to administration several times nothing changed and for several years I kept myself at bay because if I had done anything in return I would be no better than those guys who bullied me. I previously had this perception that somebody else would come to my rescue, that somebody else would provide the mental strength to combat the hardships that were sent my way. But as time passed I grew tired of waiting for help that was never going to come so I had to become my own hero. Since making that decision I have been liberated from the labels that previously confined me and I took back control of my own life.
While it's important to be thoughtful and mature, you don't want your college application essay to be too heavy. Try to lighten up the essay with a clever metaphor, a well-placed witticism, or a little self-deprecating humor. But don't overdo it. The essay that is filled with bad puns or off-color jokes will often end up in the rejection pile. Also, humor isn't a substitute for substance. Your primary task is to answer the essay prompt thoughtfully; the smile you bring to your reader's lips is just a bonus (and a tear can sometimes be effective too). Many students have been rejected for failing to take the prompt seriously and writing essays that end up being more foolish than clever.
Award Amount: $1,000 The Blades of Green Scholarship Fund is open to undergraduate and graduate students. You must be pursuing education in environmental studies or related fields and submit a 350 to 500 word letter of intent describing your career path, passion for your intended field and what inspired your pursuit of your field in order to be considered for this award. Learn more about the Blades of Grass Green Scholarship Fund.
This has nothing to do with clothing; this has everything to do with making sure that you’re not sending the same essay to every university. If an admission counselor at Yalevard reads that your wonderful volunteer experience at the local giraffe rehabilitation center makes you a great fit for Stanmouth, then they’re likely to guffaw … right before they chuck your application into the rejection pile. Such mistakes can make you look careless and less than committed to the school. But even beyond just mentioning the correct names of schools, do your research to find out what makes each university the right fit for you. Clarifying specific aspects of each college’s curriculum, special programs, student organizations, athletic teams, or other opportunities and why they are an ideal match for your interests and values can impress admission staff that you’re serious about their institution. (Pro tip: you’ll want to remember this tip when you write cover letters and even résumés for internships and jobs; customizing your content to specific employers is always key.)
If you’re starting to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your essay, take a break and do something else. A short walk around your neighborhood can help clear your mind and help you brainstorm new ideas for your composition. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, do something completely unrelated to your essay and forget about it completely for a while. If you try to work through the stress, you may end up producing subpar work.
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