Writing College Application Essays

Don’t Let These Clichés Kill Your Essays

Looking for some tips to make your college application essay stand out? Avoid falling into the trap of using clichés and overused language that can make your essay – and you – sound uninspired and unoriginal. Every year, students unwittingly rely on the same tired phrases and ideas, which can hurt their chances of being accepted. Don’t let that happen to you. In this article, I’ll provide you with some actionable advice on what to avoid when writing your college essay. By steering clear of these common mistakes, you’ll be on your way to crafting an essay that stands out from the rest and isn’t immediately thrown into the open graves of the cemetery of rejection.


INSTEAD OF SAYING “Opened my eyes to…”

Try saying: “made me realize,” “changed my perception of,” “called my attention to,” “showed me the urgent need for,” “raised my awareness of,” etc.

INSTEAD OF SAYING “Dream come true…”

Focus on: how and where your interests fit within the university. Connect your reality to their reality with specific examples, e.g., “My interest and research in reanimating the dead has long been informed by the work of Miskatonic University’s own Dr. Herbert West, under whose instruction and tutelage I know I would thrive if afforded the opportunity. His research, like that of Miskatonic’s late Professor Allan Halsey, is what inspired me to nurture my interest in necroscience and led to my successful reanimation of a rat, which went viral on TikTok.”

As for “today’s world,” “the world we live in,” and, worst of all, “the world we live in today,”

….just say “world.”

Unless you’re sending your applications to interplanetary colleges or discussing the potential for colonizing other planets, the readers are going to know that you’re not talking about a world we don’t live in and that you wish to solve contemporary problems, as opposed to going back to 1347 to cure the Black Plague.


  • The word “enthrall” or any of its variants don’t land as hard as you think they do. Neither do “excited,” or “thrilled.” These words show up every season and they never sound believable. Try a more sober approach.
  • “Perfect fit.” This is almost as bad as “dream school.”

    “Perfect fit” is usually backed by hackneyed gibberish about how Dream University’s “intriguing interdisciplinary approach to education” makes it the only school you could possibly succeed in. There’s an exception to this: hyper-specialized fields or schools with particularly strong departments. If you’re going to say a school is a “perfect fit,” then you’d better back it up with specific examples of where, exactly, that fit exists: your work and specific interests as they relate to the department and specific professors with whom you want to work.

    More importantly, it’s unhealthy to fixate on a particular school when so much of admissions is a numbers game.

  • “I’m fascinated by __________ University’s interdisciplinary approach…”

    STOP. Nearly every western university’s approach to education is interdisciplinary: if there’s one that doesn’t have an equivalent to, say, Columbia’s Core Curriculum that provides a basic exposure to philosophy, mathematics, literature, and the other disciplines that comprise a modern liberal arts education, then I haven’t seen it.

    There are better ways to express – or feign – your interest in exposure to an interdisciplinary curriculum, especially if you’re an engineering or STEM applicant who may not understand what Shakespeare or Plato have to do with a robotics degree.

    A sentence or two talking about how the classics (think: The Odyssey) have always informed exploration is much better than a throwaway sentence like “Dream School’s interdisciplinary approach will help give me a solid foundation in education as I pursue my goal of eventually earning a PhD in Laser-Assisted-Robotic-Processing.” Sentences like that will only demonstrate laziness, an ignorance of an interdisciplinary education’s purpose, or an inability to articulate the value – not the definition – of cross-disciplinary learning.



While it’s good to be specific, listing classes (there’s no point in using the class codes: please note that the following is intended to be a bad example) and then rewording the class description (e.g., “I’m interested in taking classes such as LARP 241 Laser Assisted Robotic Processing, which will help me understand the laser-assisted robotic processing and ERTH 116 Environmental Concerns and Policy-Making in the 21st Century which will help me understand environmental concerns and policy-making…” )isn’t going to make your essay any stronger. Look up the class description. Find a syllabus. Do some research.

If you’re freaking out right now because you’ve done all these things that I’ve just told you not to do and hit send, chill. The good news is the same as the bad news: everyone does this. The bigger point is that’s why it’s a problem.

If you’re just starting to brainstorm and draft your essays and would like some specific guidance and coaching, contact me for a consultation and I’ll help you get started.

Image by Wälz from Pixabay

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