Are you applying to college and wondering how you could completely ruin your chances of getting into your dream school? If so, in this blog, I’m going to share with you three things that can happen with your essays that can totally destroy your chances of admission.
You Did Not Write It
The first reason that your essay can get you rejected is that you didn’t write it. So, some of you are probably asking how in the world they are going to be able to tell that you didn’t write your essay. Well, first of all, if you’re talking about AI, know that schools can enter prompts into ChatGPT from their own essays and see what it generates. And those colleges and universities are going to know the answers that ChatGPT is coming up with.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t use AI in any way, shape, or form in your application process. I was actually working with a student the other day, and we were trying to come up with a synonym, so we popped in half a sentence and asked it to give us ten different ways to say it. And we found five synonyms to realize, and although I didn’t take any of the constructions, I took the synonyms that they used because it gave me a way to formulate the word differently. ChatGPT helped us brainstorm a new synonym, and colleges aren’t going to catch that because it’s still going to be in your voice. It’s still going to sound good, but you cannot cut and paste. I saw a post on social media the other week from a reader from a college or university, and they were talking about how students just cut and paste from ChatGPT, and they even leave the little vestiges at the top and bottom that ChatGPT is putting in.
The other thing is if your parents write the essay, because I can even tell sometimes when parents write essays. I have to bat off parents from writing students’ essays that I work with. Isn’t it enough that they hire a professional coach to coach their kid through this? But then the parent writes the essay? It’s a perennial problem. I even have students who will tell me in a session that their mom wrote it. But we know what old people sound like versus what young people sound like. If it doesn’t sound like a young person, that could be a problem sometimes. Now, obviously, if it’s your voice, that’s fine. But we want it to be your voice; we want it to be authentic. And we want it to have the optimism and brightness that a 17-year-old’s essay should have. So if it sounds too much like some 55-year-old attorney wrote it, that’s a problem, and it needs to change. So don’t be that person, and write your own essays.
If you need help in the process, that’s fine. You can get a coach to help you figure out what the best story is that you can tell. You can have somebody read through your essay and tell you if it’s sending the wrong message, if the grammar’s bad, or whatever it is. You can definitely get other eyes on it. I definitely recommend that you do that. But write your own essays.
It Does Not Show Your Personality
Okay, number two: your essay doesn’t reveal anything about you that I couldn’t learn from a resume. It just answers the questions. So another problem that I have sometimes with students is that there’s no personality in their essays. I can’t tell who they are. They “answer the questions,” but I don’t learn anything about the student, or at least nothing more than I already knew from the rest of the application that wasn’t essay-based. I had a student that I’ve been working with who got rejected from every school she applied to last year—over 12 of them. And part of the reason, I think, is that in a lot of her essays, she simply says what she’s interested in. And it’s all stuff I could have read in her resume. And it doesn’t tell me why you like a certain subject or why it fascinates you. Can you show me a wow moment from your life or show me your aunt’s collection from seventh grade? Tell me stories, reveal your personality, and be a human. Don’t just tell me what you want to do; tell me why you want to do it. What motivates you? What inspires you?
Your Underlying Message Tells A Problematic Story
Number three: the underlying message of your essays tells a problematic story. So, oftentimes, students don’t realize the subconscious messages that their essays are telling. You have to think about your audience here. If the challenge you’ve overcome has problematic themes, you’re in trouble.
Let me give you a few examples. Once I had a student write an essay, and by the end of it, my takeaway was that she really doesn’t like her mother. But then the theme of the essay becomes, “This girl hates her mom.” Does that make you a great candidate for my school? No, definitely not.
I had another student—and this is a theme, because I’ve actually had multiple students write this—write about how they love trading stocks because they love how they can make so much money, or they can make so much fake money. Yay, greed, right? If the underlying theme of your essay is “I’m greedy and I want to make a lot of money,” colleges don’t want to hear that. Please don’t say that.
Third, another person I had was homeschooled, and she explained in her essay that she was homeschooled because she couldn’t stand how restrictive traditional school was. Guess what colleges and universities are? They’re kind of traditional schools. If you don’t like traditional school at all, don’t tell a college or university that, because that’s really awkward. Because then I’ll think that you’re going to drop out after a year, and I don’t want dropouts; it’s going to look bad in my statistics. Make sure that whatever message is being sent, you know what it is and that it’s a message that is positive for a college or university.
Yes, you have all of these essay questions to answer, but all of those essay questions are actually getting at something deeper, and that’s the question you should have in your head. How do I show I’m awesome? How do I tell universities I would be amazing on their campus, and how am I going to change the world? If you’re not answering one of those questions, you’re probably not helping yourself, but if you’re answering a different question or you’re putting forth information that’s problematic in some way, even if you didn’t mean to, that can be a problem, and it can really hurt you. And that’s why it’s so important that before you turn in any of your essays, have someone read them. Whether it’s an English teacher, a parent, or a coach. But be careful about the messages you’re sending, and make sure that you know what the underlying takeaway is when we read your essays.
I hope you guys found this blog helpful!