Common College Essay Writing Problems


There are some common problems that many students commit to when writing essays in college. These errors are made in the college admission essays, as well as when students are completing essays for classes they are taking. Keep these points in mind when writing an essay to ensure the highest score possible. You don’t want all the hard work you put into the research to go to waste because of a lower score due to the following errors.

Repetition and Wordiness In An Essay

This is a common stylist error found in admission essays, as well as other college essays too. Many times an essay could be trimmed down to half or even a third of the length it is at. Meaning is not lost when this is done, instead the essay becomes more meaningful and engaging than it was before. Wordiness and repetition can come across as redundancy, filler or fluff. The essay becomes dead and the reader losses interest immediately.

Vague Words In An Essay

Watch out for vague words, such as stuff or things in an essay. Use precise words when writing. Avoid words that say very little. Other words, such as aspects, society, groups, etc do not express who or what you are talking about. Identify what you are talking about and use those words instead.

Using I Too Much In An Essay

If your writing an admission essay, you will be using the word I and that is fine. However, do not use it too much. It can become repetitive to read it over and over again, even when writing a first person essay. This is true in other college essays that are written as well from the first person perspective. Using I too often can become monotonous and boring to read.

Using Too Many Adjectives and Adverbs In An Essay

Adjectives and adverbs are fine in an essay, however too many of them can make reading the essay difficult to read and digest. Instead look to use strong verbs in place of adjectives and adverbs.

Choosing Weak Verbs In An Essay

There are many verbs that can be used in an essay. Choose strong verbs that convey the action or state of being. Instead of weak verbs that can end up coming across vague, choose verbs that are descriptive and truly state the action or state of being that you trying to get across.

Choosing Cliches In An Essay

Cliches are just that, phrases that have been used again and again. Cliches should be completely removed from an essay. Too many times a cliche is used to try and make a point, but instead because a cliche was used the point is lost. An essay should be interesting, informative or even exciting to read. Using cliches will come across as if you have no creativity to add to your essay. Here are a few common cliches:

  1. be able to give back to the community
  2. make a difference (in someone’s life)
  3. this experience taught me (the value of)
  4. given me the opportunity to
  5. I was determined to continue on
  6. I still remember that day
  7. I would never be quite the same again
  8. battling for my life
  9. people from all walks of life
  10. from this mistake I learned
  11. a sense of awe spread over me
  12. I want to experience as much as possible

Losing Focus In An Essay

Avoid digressing in an essay and losing the focus of your essay. Occasionally an anecdote or other asides can work, but rarely. This is only adding words to an essay and rarely keeps the essay on topic. It can also make reading the essay confusing and complicated for the reader. Going back and forth, too many witty phrases all can end up taking away from the essay, instead of enhancing it.

Using A Passive Voice In An Essay

Using a passive voice when writing can take away from the essay entirely. For instance, the door was left open, is a passive sentence. It does state who left the door open. Instead, Susan left the door open, states who left the door open and there is an action taking place. Using phrases that are not passive also will mean that there will be fewer words in the writing. This goes back to making sure that the writing is focused and makes a point.

Excessive Expletive Constructions In An Essay

Excessively using phrases such as it is, there is, there are for instance are weak verbs. These may need to be used, but too many of them will make the writing dry and the sentences come across as empty or meaningless. Too many expletives can also be considered filler words in an essay. Removing these and using concise words will make a world of difference in the essay.

8 Responses to Common College Essay Writing Problems

  1. Olly

    I find myself losing focus in my college essays especially when they are over 2500 words, i have now started writing a detailed plan before i get started!

    • Erik

      It goes without saying, “fail to plan, or plan to fail”….

  2. Klik

    Looking back on my high school career – I am happy to report that all my essays are well and truly written with a lot of help from essay tips my mother told me. She is now over 40 – Still has that pool of wisdom.

  3. Dave

    Sometimes I use a lot of vague words and the quality of my essays really does down pretty fasy. I work on that problem, so hopefully your article will improve my college essays. Tahnk you.

  4. James

    This is a great article. As a test I had a look back at one of my old essays – The subject was on Great Expectations. I started and found about nine I’s in the first paragrapgh. -_-

  5. Mima

    Sometimes I use passive voice in my college essays and the result was awful. I wishI can turn back the time now, but unfortunately, I can’t. :) Great article which will guide many people to write only great college essays.

    • HiHo

      Hmmm – I also seem to remember using passive voice in a lot of essays. Luckily I’m still in school so I can rewrite them :D

  6. Stemar

    Really great tip which will help many people to write good essays without much efforts. As I see, the most common mistake which I do is losing a focus. I also use many cliches in my college essays, something which I will avoid in the future. Thank you of these awesome college tips.