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7 Common Admissions Essay Mistakes


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By now you likely are aware that applying to graduate school entails some effort. For many applicants the admissions essay is the most vexing and time consuming part of the graduate application. When faced with a blank screen many students panic and furiously generate words to fill the white space. It may seem like a good idea, but banging out your admissions essay at top speed is not advised. Remember that your application is likely the only personal contact you will have with the admissions committee. Sounds obvious, but many applicants become so consumed with completing the graduate school application that they forget to attend to details and forget to ensure that their application presents them in a positive light. Below are seven common mistakes to avoid as you write your admissions essay for graduate study.

Spelling Errors
Some applicants believe that spelling is not very important. However from a graduate admission committee's perspective there is no excuse for misspelling a word. Admissions committees assume that applicants to graduate school can spell everyday words and, if not, know how to use spell check. Spelling errors are a mark of sloppiness.

Grammar Errors
Considering that grammar is part of the elementary school curriculum, poor grammar can send a graduate application straight to the trash. The misuse of contractions and the apostrophe s are particularly common. Ask a friend to proofread your essay because grammar errors, like spelling errors, signal laziness at best, ignorance at worst.

Misuse of Words
Many words are commonly misused. As an applicant, you're trying to present yourself as intelligent, well educated, and prepared for graduate study. Confusing words like your and you're, for example, will not impress the admissions committee. Learn more about commonly confused words to ensure that your essay does not include silly mistakes. Other often confused words include:

  • loose / lose
  • affect / effect
  • to / too
  • they're / there / their

Sometimes admissions essays are too informal. For example, essays containing slang may turn off some readers. Others may dislike the use of contractions. Err on the side of formality to ensure that you don't offend the graduate admissions committee.

Sharing too Much
Perhaps the most important error that graduate school applicants can make in preparing their admissions essays is becoming too personal. The admissions essay is not the place to unload frustrations or provide a detailed overview of your childhood, for example. Here's the test of what to include: If you would feel comfortable discussing the topic in a face-to-face interview with a member of the committee, then include it. If you're unsure whether to include something in your essay speak with a faculty member at your school. Better yet, ask him or her to read your essay.

Addressing the Wrong School
Most applicants apply to multiple graduate programs. As they write their graduate admissions essays, most applicants refer to the university to which they are applying. Take special care to be sure that you change the institution name each time. An admissions committee will trash your application if the admissions essay refers to another school. Don't let a careless mistake prevent you from attending graduate school.

Making Excuses
The admissions essay is a place where you can add a personal touch to your application. It is where you can provide context for your accomplishments. Some students use the essay as a place to explain poor grades. Take care in your decision to discuss your grades. Appropriate excuses to offer include serious illness, deaths, and major life stressors. If you choose to provide an excuse for poor grades keep your explanation succinct. Don't make your admissions essay an explanation. Admissions committees have heard it all. They may empathize with your situation, but ultimately their concern is locating applicants who will excel in their programs. Focus on your strengths rather than explaining your weaknesses.

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