Personal Essay Mistakes that will Get You Rejected from College (Mistake No. 1)

I like that this sign doesn't take into fact the consideration that an opportunity for success doesn't necessarily guarantee success. Unless, that's what the designer was trying to convey... that's very meta.
Which will you choose?

For those of you who will not be interviewed, your personal essay will be one of the very few moments throughout the entire application process that you may speak directly to the people who will decide whether or not you are admitted to your Preferred University. It is a very important part of your application, so take it seriously, follow our advice, and don’t commit these Personal Essay Mistakes that will Get You Rejected from College.

Mistake #1: A personal statement is NOT an essay-format version of your resume. It is more than a simple enumeration of past accomplishments.

Consider this example introduction:

I will graduate cum laude from my high school in May 2014. In addition to being a varsity member of both the track and basketball teams, I was also a member of the debate team for four years. Other than speech and athletics, my interests include reading, writing, and math. I am writing this essay in order to ask that I be considered for admission at My Preferred University.


Okay, the point is not to pick on this poor, imaginary essay writer. Rather I want to illustrate a common mistake made by high school seniors all across the country. The admission officer reading your essay will almost certainly have in his or her possession a copy of your resume; in fact, you’ll probably have to submit at least two different versions of your resume just to complete your application. Do not waste the admission officer’s time, and your own, by using your personal essay to reiterate information that is readily available elsewhere on your application.

Consider the facts as they are outlined in the above example essay: this student is a graduate with honors, a varsity athlete in two sports, has academic interests and hobbies, and also (get this!) really wants to go to Preferred University. The worst part about the above introduction is that the presentation of these awesome facts is so dull and generic that they just don’t come off as impressive as they actually are.

Ideally, your essay should not focus on your accomplishments, but how they have prepared you for this next stage of your life. It is not important that you were on your debate team in high school; it is important that you have developed the ability to think critically. It is not important that you were an athlete; it is important that you invested in an endeavor and were successful. It is not important that you graduated with honors (it is, but not in the context of your essay); it is important that you are committed to academic excellence. These items are important not as bulletin points on your resume, but as indicators of your attitude and potential for success. This is how you should treat them in your essay.

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My accomplishments have come to define me, but I am so much more than my accomplishments. I firmly believe that each interest of mine has been valuable to me more than as a simple benchmark of success, but as endeavors that have challenged and even provoked me to better myself. As an athlete I learned that perseverance and commitment are the hallmarks of success; as an honor student I’ve come to better understand the world we live in. I would like to believe that it is not by my accomplishments that I am defined, but by my growth. It is with this sentiment that I wish to be considered for admission into Preferred University for the class of 20xx.

In this introduction, the student doesn’t explicitly say how her accomplishments have prepared her for life, but she does put an emphasis on her experiences helping her to become a better person. So, if she is emphasizing how she has grown (and would like to continue to do so), can we infer that her accomplishments have prepared her for this next stage in life? Absolutely! Note: this second example is a bit more formal than what is typically necessary for a personal essay of this type, but it should at least give you a standard or idea of what is expected of you. Either way, the main point I’m trying to make is that your essay should show the admission department at your Preferred University that you have prepared yourself to be a successful undergraduate.

In closing, I would like to clarify one point: it is okay to talk about your accomplishments in your personal essay! We are not saying you should avoid the specifics of what you have achieved; just keep in mind that you should frame a discussion like that within the context of how these accomplishments have prepared you to be successful at your Preferred University.

You can learn more about Interviews, Resumes, and Essays here. Remember, if you need help with anything college, the college admission and test experts at Test Masters are available year-round to help.

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