Top 5 College Essay Mistakes You MUST Avoid

The Common Application 2021-2022 will be ready on August 1. Year after year, when parents call us because their children were rejected from their top-choice schools, the first thing I ask is to see their Common Application main essays. I always find egregious mistakes!

Here are 5 mistakes you must AVOID!

  • Mistake #1:  Not answering the question.  The admissions committee uses certain essay prompts for a specific reason:  They want you to answer it! 
  • Mistake #2:  Trying to impress the essay readers.  Do not try to impress admissions officers or the admissions committee.  They will be able to sense a pretentious, patronizing or even condescending voice beneath descriptions of seemingly philanthropic contributions, grand, earth-shaking events and ontological musings. 
  • Mistake #3:  Making an essay into a resume.  Many times applicants want to impress readers so much that they completely ignore the essay prompt and make the essay into a list of their accomplishments.  Admissions officers and readers dislike redundancy!
  • Mistake #4: Obtaining “ideas” from websites .  Do not copy from other people or download essays!  Many students assume that if they copy directly from other people’s work and sources that no one will find out.  This assumption is definitely wrong!  Don’t you think admissions officers also visit theses websites.
  • Mistake #5:  Picking an inappropriate topic.  In an attempt to be clever, many applicants resort to writing an essay that they believe would be witty, overly serious, or flattering. Admissions officers are unimpressed!

Your college essay is the only part of the college application process over which you have complete control.  Your essay or essays (short answers included) should capture admissions committees’ imagination and make them want you on their campuses.  Missing the opportunity to make this piece of your student profile outstanding is a HUGE mistake and will certainly result in a rejection by top schools.

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After years of hard work, you don’t want to make mistakes that can cause you to be rejected!
Successful college acceptance results is not just about essay editing revisions. It involves continuous expert advice. We take a comprehensive approach involving student profile development, interview preparation, letter of recommendation assessments and our long standing networks and relationships in the college admissions industry!
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Dr. Paul Lowe, Admissions Expert

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, founder and managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group, provides comprehensive counseling advice, exclusively for admissions to top private schools; Ivy League and highly-selective colleges/universities; BS/MD programs; graduate and medical schools and top visual and performing arts programs.   The admissions affiliate: Ivy League Admissions Advisors specializes in admissions to Ivy League and highly selective colleges,  Dr. Lowe also specializes in helping students who have been wait-listed, deferred or rejected gain admission into their top-choice schools: College Application Rejected and student who wish to transfer to another college:  College Transfer Admissions Advisors.  For colleges and universities that recommend or require videos: College Admissions Video Productions.

College Application Essay HELP with Dr Paul Lowe

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It’s crunch time for BS/MD as well as Ivy League applications.  As we help students brainstorm ideas, revise and edit the MOST IMPORTANT APPLICATIONS/ESSAYS of their lives, we are discovering consistent points in their essays that will cause instant rejections.  Dr. Paul Lowe would like to share these points.

  • Essays were verbose.
  • Essays were not personal.
  • Essays were boring.
  • Essay did not answer the question.
  • Essays were superficial.
  • Essays were pretentious.
  • Essays contained grammatical errors and grammatical inaccuracies
  • Essays were disconnected from the application.
  • Essays sounded similar to online essay samples.
  • Essays sounded similar to samples in books.
  • Essay did not have the student’s voice.
  • Essays were simply cut and paste from another answer.
  • Essay was not well written.
  • Essays were formulaic.
  • Essays lacked harmony.

Noticed that we used the past tense!

The consensus that we have heard among most admissions officers at Ivy League as well as BS/MD programs is that an essay can both help and hurt you and essays are an opportunity to expand the admissions officer’s sense of who you are.

Here are some comments that Dr. Lowe has heard from admissions officers regarding application essays:

  • “I don’t like to see an essay that you can almost see was written by parents.”
  • “If an essay is notable for its weakness, then both readers are likely to comment on its shortcomings and factor that into their recommendations to the committee.”
  • “A badly written essay can certainly tip the scale the wrong way even when the parts of a student’s application is otherwise strong.”
  • “We turn down many students with great grades and test scores who have poor essays.”
  • “If I read an essay that has the same theme that I have read from a website or a book, the student is instantly rejected.”

After years of hard work and preparation, why make mistakes on application essays that could cause INSTANT REJECTION!

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Admissions is a competitive sport!  Why gamble with uncertainty? – Dr. Paul Lowe

We provide our clients access to our specialized knowledge! – Dr. Paul Lowe

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, founder and managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group, provides comprehensive counseling advice, exclusively for admissions to top private schools; Ivy League and highly-selective colleges/universities; BS/MD programs; graduate and medical schools and top visual and performing arts programs.   The admissions affiliate: Ivy League Admissions Advisors specializes in admissions to Ivy League and highly selective colleges,  Dr. Lowe also specializes in helping students who have been wait-listed, deferred or rejected gain admission into their top-choice schools: College Application Rejected. and student who wish to transfer to another college:  College Transfer Admissions Advisors.

Rising Seniors: Now Is the Time to Start the College Application Process

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It’s August and for some rising seniors, school starts in approximately 30 days.  For many students, school will be closed and taught in an online fashion.  That in and of itself will be an additional disruption in the dynamics of the college admissions process. You can use this time to continue to vacation, relax and enjoy the summer or take full advantage of all this free time!

For rising seniors, now is the best time to commence working on your college applications. Why so soon?  The 2020-2021 Common Application is now ready!  The senior year of high school is extremely busy with students taking difficult courses, working on activities, preparing for college applications and just trying to enjoy the last year of high school!

We believe that you should enjoy the summer, HOWEVER, at this point, you need to start putting some work in to your college applications.  It will make your senior year more pleasant AND your college admissions application and journey smoother.

It’s August and for some rising seniors, school starts in approximately 30 days.  For many students, school will be closed and taught in an online fashion.  That in and of itself will be an additional disruption in the dynamics of the college admissions process. You can use this time to continue to vacation, relax and enjoy the summer or take full advantage of all this free time!

For rising seniors, now is the best time to commence working on your college applications. Why so soon?  The 2020-2021 Common Application is now ready!  The senior year of high school is extremely busy with students taking difficult courses, working on activities, preparing for college applications and just trying to enjoy the last year of high school!

We believe that you should enjoy the summer, HOWEVER, at this point, you need to start putting some work in to your college applications.  It will make your senior year more pleasant AND your college admissions application and journey smoother.

The Common App is more than just the main essay! Every section is devised so that the admissions officers get to know (or find ways to reject) a student.  When reading an application, admissions officers strive to gain a reasonably complete picture of a student – strengths, achievements and aspirations as well as any particular challenges they may have overcome. Statistically, it takes top colleges approximately 8 minutes to review an entire application!

We spend countless hours reviewing our clients’ entire Common Application to help them successfully navigate and avoid the unnecessary and devastating landmines that cause rejections!

  • Biographical Section (Profile, Family, Educational & Testing): The admissions committees or your regional admissions officers assess who you are.  It’s important to answer the questions honestly and with precision!
  • Personal Statement:We ensure that our clients’ Common App 650-word main essay accurately reflects the information that they want to convey to the majority of colleges to which they are applying.
  • College-Specific Questions: Academic interest, program(s) applying to.  Some colleges may also ask additional questions about your family, state of residence, activities, and general interests.  Admissions officers/committees use this as a way further understand a student’s past and their academic goals and objectives and how they are all interrelated and interconnected.
  • Short Answers: Then there are the school-specific (short answer essays)!  Although short, these little essays (50-250 words) can play a meaningful role in your application.  They provide a small window into your passions and personality, and because of this, they are important “decision-breakers”, especially with selective colleges that use the holistic admissions approach.  We spend just as much time brainstorming and helping our clients to revise these, seemingly simple essays, as we do with their personal statements because we know how admissions committees use them to determine acceptance or rejections.  Types of supplemental short essays include but are not limited to:

                 The ‘why us’ essay

Tell us more about an extracurricular

Design a class/a major

Tell us about your major

Diversity-in-community essay

Specialty small essays (list, words or one sentence or a phrase)

  • Activities Section: Whereas the personal statement will show college admissions committees who your child is, the Common Application Activities section will allow colleges to understand what your child has done and is doing outside of the classroom, offering one of the best opportunities to stand out among other applicants.  The activities section has a limit of ten extracurricular activities. The restrictions mean you will need to be selective in reporting your activities, limiting you to the most important ones or those that are most meaningful to you. In our experience, students can make costly mistakes in this section!

Without college essays and extracurricular activities lists, colleges would be limited to grades, class rank, and ACT and SAT scores to make their admissions decisions. Given that so many students with strong numbers apply to college each year, it’s important for your child to use the Activities section to develop an application theme, that is, their “WOW FACTOR” and specialties.  We leave no stone unturned in this section!

  • Courses & Grades (Self-Reporting Transcripts). In this section, you have an opportunity to self-report your grades.  In reviewing our clients’ answers, we find errors.  It’s important to review this section.  A discrepancy with what you report and your transcript raises a red flag!  These flags translate into a rejection letter.

The Common Application is not just an application.  It’s a puzzle filled with landmines that if not reviewed, interpreted and completed correctly will result in students being rejected from schools.  The most frequent form of self-inflicted damage is careless preparation of the application.  A poorly presented application can, in fact, have a negative affect on an admissions decision.

When assisting our clients with the completion of their Common Applications, we take into consideration their student admissions profile and character as well as the specific admissions policies and missions of their target schools that we gather from our research by visiting schools and professional relationships.  Our proprietary knowledge and experience help our clients to WIN (not lose) in the college competitive admissions game!

The ‘why us’ essay

Tell us more about an extracurricular

Design a class/a major

Tell us about your major

Diversity-in-community essay

Specialty small essays (list, words or one sentence or a phrase)

  • Activities Section: Whereas the personal statement will show college admissions committees who your child is, the Common Application Activities section will allow colleges to understand what your child has done and is doing outside of the classroom, offering one of the best opportunities to stand out among other applicants.  The activities section has a limit of ten extracurricular activities. The restrictions mean you will need to be selective in reporting your activities, limiting you to the most important ones or those that are most meaningful to you. In our experience, students can make costly mistakes in this section!

Without college essays and extracurricular activities lists, colleges would be limited to grades, class rank, and ACT and SAT scores to make their admissions decisions. Given that so many students with strong numbers apply to college each year, it’s important for your child to use the Activities section to develop an application theme, that is, their “WOW FACTOR” and specialties.  We leave no stone unturned in this section!

  • Courses & Grades (Self-Reporting Transcripts). In this section, you have an opportunity to self-report your grades.  In reviewing our clients’ answers, we find errors.  It’s important to review this section.  A discrepancy with what you report and your transcript raises a red flag!  These flags translate into a rejection letter.

The Common Application is not just an application.  It’s a puzzle filled with landmines that if not reviewed, interpreted and completed correctly will result in students being rejected from schools.  The most frequent form of self-inflicted damage is careless preparation of the application.  A poorly presented application can, in fact, have a negative affect on an admissions decision.

When assisting our clients with the completion of their Common Applications, we take into consideration their student admissions profile and character as well as the specific admissions policies and missions of their target schools that we gather from our research by visiting schools and professional relationships.  Our proprietary knowledge and experience help our clients to WIN (not lose) in the college competitive admissions game!

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“Admissions is a competitive sport!  Why gamble with uncertainty?” – Dr. Paul Lowe

“Parents hire us because they choose to pay an admissions expert who will help them avoid making mistakes.” – Dr. Paul Lowe

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, founder and managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group, provides comprehensive counseling advice, exclusively for admissions to top private schools; Ivy League and highly-selective colleges/universities; BS/MD programs; graduate and medical schools and top visual and performing arts programs.   The admissions affiliate: Ivy League Admissions Advisors specializes in admissions to Ivy League and highly selective colleges,  Dr. Lowe also specializes in helping students who have been wait-listed, deferred or rejected gain admission into their top-choice schools: College Application Rejected. and student who wish to transfer to another college: College Transfer Admissions Advisors.

Ivy League Application Boot Camp 2018

Pinnacle Educational Center/Admissions Advisors Group (PECAAG) announces the launch of its 2018 Ivy League Application Boot Camp.  The 2-day comprehensive, intensive and informative application boot camps, held during the summer, are specifically for high school rising seniors (current juniors) who have decided to apply to Ivy League colleges and universities. (see Dr. Lowe’s blog: Why Your Child Should Apply to Ivy League College or University?)

The camp is also for current college students who are interested in transferring and current high school seniors who were rejected the first time around and interested in reapplying to the Ivies.  Camp activities include: Application (including essay) brainstorming, review, editing during the camp, followed by an application consultation prior to submission of application.  The fee is $8,500.

The rejection rate for Ivy League schools is as high as 95%.  On average 35,000 applicants apply to each school.  That means that on average 25,000 to 33,000 students are REJECTED each year from each school. “Schools like Harvard Yale and Princeton could pick everyone with 4.0s, perfect SAT scores (and top violinist and pianist) and they could fill an entire class 10 times over,” said camp coordinator, Dr. Diana Alexandrova, the camp’s coordinator and Pinnacle’s International Student Advisory’s managing director.  “Our camp is also beneficial to international students who attend U.S. boarding schools or schools in their respective countries who want a competitive edge in the Ivy League application process.”

“The numbers are staggering and speak to the value and worth of an Ivy League degree” said Dr. Paul R. Lowe, Pinnacle’s CEO and president and the camp’s director.  “It is enjoyable to help students in this way.  Our camp attendees benefit from our discovery of mistakes they could have made on their applications.”

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, founder and managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group, provides comprehensive counseling advice, exclusively for admissions to top private schools; Ivy League and highly-selective colleges/universities; BS/MD programs; graduate and medical schools and top visual and performing arts programs.   The admissions affiliate: Ivy League Admissions Advisors specializes in admissions to Ivy League and highly selective colleges,  Dr. Lowe also specializes in helping students who have been wait-listed, deferred or rejected gain admission into their top-choice schools: College Application Rejected. and student who wish to transfer to another college:  College Transfer Admissions Advisors.

Top Colleges Speed Read College Applications

Top College Speed Read Applications Dr Paul Lowe

How long do you think it takes a top college to review your application?   24 hours, five hours or one hour?  Try less than 8 minutes!!!

Due to the ease of applying to multiple schools, the number of domestic and international students applying to elite schools, the number of applications to these schools continues to grow.  Additionally, top colleges have also increased recruitment from rural areas in  the U.S.  Last year, the number of applicants using the Common Application was 902,000 and as of Jan 15, 2018, 898,000 used the Common Application.  Expect that number to increase after transfer admissions totals are determined!

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, admissions officers at top colleges do not have the time to read an applicant’s entire file.    As a result, many top colleges are using a team/committee-based approach to review applications .

In this new model, rather than work alone as an individual admissions officer assigned to a recruitment territory, admissions officers are now reading applications in pairs.  One reader is tasked with assessing and presenting the applicant’s academic credentials, reviewing transcripts, test scores, recommendations and course load and the other reader focuses on the “student’s voice”: essays, interviews and talents. The two-member team discusses and rates each applicant according to specific criteria based on the mission of the college and recommends a decision (reject or accept), typing notes into a system as they simultaneously discuss the applicant and concurrently reviewing each application on separate screens.

This new evaluation approach, initially developed by University of Pennsylvania, allows the admissions officer pairs to have an in-depth conversation about the applicant and render efficient decisions. It also allows them to read applications faster.  During team meetings there is a discussion on whether a candidate qualifies or not.

What does this mean for applicants who are applying to top colleges?

  • It’s getting even harder to be admitted to top colleges!
  • Every portion of a student’s application must now be able to highlight the student as well as somehow interconnected and interrelated with all other parts of the application.
  • Applying to top colleges is no longer just simply about top grades, AP courses, SAT scores and “jack-of-trades” and/or “drive by” extracirricular activities, and Expensive Summer Experiences (ESE) helping the poor in foreign countries and Expensive Summer Camps (ESC) – Summer camps/programs at elite colleges.
  • Students must assume and understand admissions etiquette and cultural as well as emotional intelligence, as you never know who will be reading your application.
  • Retain the services of an admissions advisor who visits colleges at least one or even twice annually.
  • Retain the services of an admissions advisor who understands the codes, language, complex metrics, unforeseen challenges and uncertainty in admissions.
  • Retain the services of an admissions advisor who understands and has the experience in preparing students whose applications are evaluated by the team/committee approach.

After four challenging years of college admissions preparation, your college decisions will be determined in 8 minutes or less!  Like competitive sports, getting into top schools is about have a competitive edge!

Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe, founder and managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group, provides comprehensive counseling advice, exclusively for admissions to top private schools; Ivy League and highly-selective colleges/universities; BS/MD programs; graduate and medical schools and top visual and performing arts programs.   The admissions affiliate: Ivy League Admissions Advisors specializes in admissions to Ivy League and highly selective colleges,  Dr. Lowe also specializes in helping students who have been wait-listed, deferred or rejected gain admission into their top-choice schools: College Application Rejected. and student who wish to transfer to another college:  College Transfer Admissions Advisors.

College Admissions: The Need to Read

You may ask yourself, why is a college admissions advisor writing about reading?  What does reading have to do with college admissions?  Everything!  One of the first things I ask my clients is what do you like to read outside the required reading at school.  Even the best students have difficulty answering this question.  Why is the need to reed important in the college admissions planning process?  I just provided an example!  There are several other reasons, a few of which are described below.

  1. Common Application supplements, especially ones for the more competitive institutions, ask what types of books have you read or what books influence you. Types of books also demonstrate another character dimension of applicants by which the admissions committee might judge you.  It tells the committee your interests, your passions and most importantly that you are doing something other than the norm, for example, not reading.  Remember, admissions officers read your applications.
  2. Reading helps you to improve your written communication and speech skills. This, of course, will be helpful during college interviews. Remember to use the word “like” as a verb or in a simile, and not as a filler in a spoken sentence.  One admissions officer told me that excessive use of “like” in a conversation is “Valley speak” and sounds cartoonish.   Reading helps you to master the English language, obviating the need to use unnecessary fillers.
  3. Studies show that there is a strong correlation between reading and a student’s ability to grasp math, science and abstract concepts, apply logic in various scenarios, recognize cause and effect, and utilize good judgment. This may translate to better academic performance and even higher standardized test scores.  Most importantly, reading contributes to the possibility of one’s success in all endeavors.
  4. Research has found that when students read extensively they become better writers. Reading a variety of genres helps students learn text structures, language usage and vocabulary that they can then incorporate to their own communication styles.   How does this relate to college admissions?  As you master the English language, you will have less difficulty completing the personal statement and supplemental essays on the Common Application.  You will also express your ideas succinctly, accurately, and convincingly to admissions committees.  When we review our clients’ Common Applications and supplemental essays, we can tell who are the avid bibliophiles.

So as you sea, there is a need to rede. Buy the way, “rede” and “reed” were spelled properly.  They are homonyms of read (four those of ewe who use “spell check” for proofreading yore essays).  Rising seniors, who are filling out their Common Applications, bee careful.

“Reading is to the mind as exercise is to the body.   It is wholesome and bracing for the mind to have its faculties kept on the stretch”…Sir Richard Steele

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Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group network. He and his team of admissions advisors, through the admissions affiliate, Ivy League Admissions Advisors help students gain admissions to Ivy League and high selective colleges and universities. 

College Application Essay Tips

College admission officers read thousands of essays.  They try to discover the applicant behind the standardized test scores, GPA and letters of recommendations. As experienced readers and judges of character they spend about three to five minutes actually reading.   You, therefore, want your essay to make leap from ‘average’ to “accepted”.

Here is a comment I heard from an admissions officer:  “I read hundreds of college application essays each season.  I know the difference between ‘ho-hum’ and Wow!  We want this student!”

 Here are some times for tips for Writing the College Application Essay 

  1. Don’t Panic. In this part of the college admissions process, but do be prepared with a good topic and concise writing.
  2. Answer the question. Sounds obvious, however, admissions officers we’ve talk with stated that many students don’t answer the questions, especially the short answers. Read the question carefully and answer what they are asking for.
  3. Be Honest. Don’t embellish! This is self explanatory. Admissions officers look for inconsistencies.
  4. Be You. You don’t want to sound “amazingly unique” like everyone else. Write about your passions and achievements and show the admissions officers that you mean it. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.

When written well, an essay is marketing tool that can help you STAND OUT and give you that added advantage in the competitive college admissions process.

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Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director of Pinnacle Educational Center Admissions Advisors Group network. He and his team of admissions advisors through its admissions affiliate: College Essay Tune Up, review, objectively critique, proofread, and constructively edit college application essays.