The Top Mistake on College Application Essays

I’ve read a lot of college application essays -- both during my time as part of the UC Berkeley admissions team and over the past ten years guiding students as they apply to college.

Within moments of reading a college application essay, I can tell if a student makes one of the most common mistakes when it comes to writing a college application essay:

Staying on the surface.

I oftentimes find that students either are too afraid to get personal in their essays or have no idea how to reveal their true selves.

They’re afraid of getting judged (let’s get real — they ARE getting judged by the admissions team) or feel like it’s too weird to share their personal thoughts and experiences.

You know what’s even more weird? A student self-sabotaging their chances of getting into their dream school by not opening up in their college application essays.

Students oftentimes have no idea how incredible and unique their stories are. 

I had a student last year who wanted to complete a biology research internship over the summer. She proceeded to email SEVENTY nearby professors with her offer to work for free in exchange for an opportunity to help in their research labs.

She received many rejections, but most professors simply ignored her email.

Out of those 70 emails, one professor responded back and accepted her as an intern in his biology lab. She was the only high school student among PhDs and doctoral students.

In her first draft of her college application essay describing her internship experience, she made no mention of this incredibly unique part of her story.

When I asked her why, she looks at me blankly and said, “I didn’t think that was a big deal. Is that an important detail?”


I asked her, "What do you think sharing that detail reveals about you?" 

After carefully thinking it through, she said, "That I created my own opportunity. That I was persistent and dealt with rejection. That I did something no one else at my school did ... I should probably mention it, huh?"


I'm hosting a free live online training called "Three Things You Must Have on Your College Application Essay That Most Students Miss".

In it I'll go over how to:

  • Use actionable strategies to improve your college application essays
  • Think like an admissions officer and understand what they're looking for
  • Identify strengths and opportunities using case study examples

The class will be most helpful to rising seniors and their parents, but I welcome rising freshmen, sophomores and juniors, too -- it's never too early to get informed.

You can register for the next live training >> here. <<

Can't make the live training? The replay will be available for a limited time, but only to those who sign up. Reserve your spot here.

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