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Words and phrases to Use in College Essays | College Coach Blog

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Common College Essay Errors: Word Choice

describe the image Over the last couple of weeks, essay review time of year has really started to pick up from College Coach. We’re diving straight into drafts each day, providing both the huge picture ideas and the small-scale tips to help students find success with their college application essays. The past blog entries have concentrated more on the big picture: how to approach the particular “failure” prompt from the Common App; ways you can effectively use the Additional Information section; brainstorming through writer’s block. These days I want to focus on the smallest of difficulties with college essays: the words you choose to make use of.


Write Like You Talk

Most students who enter into my office have normal vocabularies. There’s a big word dropped right here or there in reference to a concept they’ve discovered in school—maybe it’s existentialism or photosynthesis or even spectrophotometer—but multi-syllabic mouthfuls are rare when I am just chatting with a student about what this individual cares about and why, plus that’s the way it ought to be. Imagine our surprise when I receive that student’s essay in my inbox and find which he suddenly has developed a vocabulary at its best. Big words are stuffed straight into tiny sentences, adverbs are thoroughly tacked on to adjectives, and the whole ordeal becomes monumentally, staggeringly, unreadable (see? ). After you write your first draft, go back and read this out loud. Did you stumble more than certain parts of your essay? Did the inclusion of a particular word feel unnatural to you? If you can’t speak it, you shouldn’t compose it. The first part of keeping your voice is writing like you speak.


Drop the $5 Words

You’re going to have to fight the urge to “impress” your admission reader with the huge words you’ve learned from your SITTING practice. We’ve seen ‘em most, and we know both how they are generally used and how they are commonly misused. Just last week, I was reviewing a good essay for a student and discovered myself writing the following comment within the margins:

“Never use this word in any of your works. It’s one of those words that no one uses in conversation—ever—and yet this always seems to find its way into college essays. ”

I sent the particular comment to my colleagues and questioned them to guess the word my college student had used. There were votes pertaining to plethora (4), myriad (4), among, whilst, moreover, nevertheless, and heretofore.   When was the last time you heard anyone use these words in conversation? When was the last time you saw all of them printed outside of an issue of the New Yorker ? Except if you’re a college admission official, the answer is probably never. Keep the huge words to yourself, and stick with what you know. You’re more likely to create an impact using “obnoxious” than “obstreperous, ” and nobody really understands what an abecedarian is, in any case.


Be Aware of Your Strengthen

With only 650 words to tell a college admission officer all about yourself, what you say directly is only slightly more important than what you say indirectly. Be careful making use of words that seem harmless but connote an immature or combative perspective. Instead of getting in a battle with your classmate, get in a argument. Your teammate’s idea wasn’t stupid so much as it was undeveloped. Rarely is it a good idea to say you detest anything (except Brussels sprouts—and even then, be wary of the vegetable connoisseur). In casual conversation, we can say all kinds of things that we can support with the context of the discussion. But in your self-contained 650 word essay, your context is entirely about your words, plus you’re writing for someone who does not know you. Before you press send on that essay, have someone take a look at it—especially someone who doesn’t understand you very well—and ask exactly what they’ve learned about you. If specific words or phrases send the incorrect message, you’ll want to change all of them before they get into the hands of an admission officer.

When it comes to essay writing, your words are all you have. As with everything else in your application, make certain they represent you . That is, after all, what schools are really looking for.



Ian Fisher is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts . Ian obtained his master’s in policy, firm, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer from Reed College.

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