How to Avoid the Common Pitfalls that Annoy Admissions Officers


There are some clichés in personal statements that seem to happen over and over again. While having one or two clichés won’t prevent you from getting into a good college, it is nice to avoid them as don’t add depth to your writing, nor do they particularly work to help your application stand out. There are also a number of common occurrences I’ve seen when reading personal statements that are just annoying and don’t add any value to the application.

To help you out, here’s a short list of clichés and topics/ideas to avoid when writing your personal statement:

Citing Einstein or any Other Famous Person

Remember that personal statements are about YOU. Quoting Einstein takes that focus away from you and places it on someone who the reader already know, so they’re not really learning anything new in reading your essay. Instead of quoting Einstein, reflect and communicate your own ideas about physics or science and turn that into a mantra or saying that exemplifies who you are. This gives the application reader a glimpse of your personality, ideas, and beliefs, which is much more beneficial in relating what you stand for and why you should be selected.

Bashing Your Own Generation or Peers

Avoid this altogether. Understand that each generation is unique, and this is what makes progress and change possible. No application reader wants to read through a personal statement in which they applicant only sees despair and destruction ahead because of the belief that current generations aren’t as successful as ones of the past. Instead of criticizing your peers, focus on describing your personal and professional goals and how you hope to connect with the folks in your community (from all generations) to ensure that our world becomes a better place. Focus on the positive, not the negative.

Whine about obviously insignificant events impacting their grades

I tell most applicants to do their best to especially avoid using the additional information section on applications to make an excuse as to why their grades may have slipped. Don’t get me wrong; there are definitely legitimate and very real reasons as to why your grades may have been impacted by an event in your life (i.e. you were in a coma and missed three weeks of school). If your reason doesn’t involve a medical issue, major life event (like a death in the family), or school transfer, you should probably avoid talking about it altogether. Of course, every situation is different, so this list isn’t all-inclusive.

Write about something completely unrelated to the prompt

Stay on topic. There’s nothing more annoying than reading through an entire personal statement or supplemental essay and realizing the writer didn’t even attempt to answer the question the prompt asked. Don’t write about “why you want to attend X University” if the essay instructions say to “describe a time in your life when you had to make a tough decision.”

Reduce diversity down to a story about how multicultural their friend group is

There’s just so much more to talk about that when application readers see this, it can seem as if the writer just treated it as a throwaway question. There is a story to tell in have friends from different ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic groups, but when a prompt is asking you to describe how you’ll contribute to diversity on campus or to discuss personal adversity you’ve experienced, they’re wanting to know that you have an informed perspective on the nuances of identity, equity, and inclusion. So, if you don’t think you have anything useful to say for diversity questions, think deeper and consider questions like:

  • how do my goals work to promote equity in the world?

  • how has my personal identity informed my goals and choose to apply to X College?

  • what impact has my cultural had in my choice to attend college or pursue a particular career path?

  • what am I going to bring to campus that helps create or maintain an inclusive learning environment?

Keep in mind that while most colleges have standard rubrics for evaluating applicants, each application reader is different and has their own pet peeves when it comes to reading files. This is just one opinion, but hopefully, it can still help you avoid some of the common clichés and pitfalls writers can fall victim to when crafting a personal statement.

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