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Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
The Most Unnecessary Essay Mistake of All
For every article out promising the top ten most helpful essay tips, there is another one warning students about the most obvious pitfalls. Some-but far from all-include what I think is the most obvious: pay attention to the essay prompt.

Many students approach the essay with preconceived notions of what they plan to say. How playing piano taught me about life. How traveling to an impoverished country taught me about compassion. More often, they aren't too sure, so they throw in the whole kitchen sink-from the 6th grade soccer championship to their job as a camp counselor. All of this is fine, so long as your mini-biography is answering the question posed.

Don't make obvious mistakes. A 1000 word essay is not the same as a 1000 character essay. The University of California often confuses students with their two essay prompts, which are limited to 1000 words total. Students are allowed to portion out the essays however they want (750/250, 500/500), but even this simple math can get overlooked during the stress of the application process.

Part of the problem for some undergraduates is the sheer volume of applications. You may not be able to get away with drafting a single all-purpose essay. So make sure you don't send an essay designated for University X to University Y. Oops.

If the essay has a very specific prompt, don't write your life story. Don't miss the prompt by writing what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. When the University of Chicago asks you "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?", that's the prompt you're stuck with. Sixth grade soccer championship may not have a place here, unless you've gotten real creative. Failing to answer the prompt suggests two things about you: 1) you don't follow direction well and 2) you don't pay attention when it counts.

Read the question. Then read it again. Make sure your proofreader reads the question, so they can tell you whether or not you've answered it. Your first test in the application is your ability to follow directions. That should be an easy "A".


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