You have good grades. You have good activities, recommendations, and test scores.
You have all the right credentials to get into your dream college.
But guess what?
Thousands of other students have the same GPAs, SAT scores, and teachers fawning over how smart they are.
I’m not telling you this so you don’t feel special.
I’m telling you this to make sure your essays are as special as possible.
With your Common Application essay and your supplements, you have the chance to show admissions officers the value that only you can bring to their school.
Cliché essay topics and phrases must be avoided because you risk sounding like every other student.
Do not write about the time you got cut from soccer tryouts and worked hard to make the team the next year. Thousands of other students have the exact same story. Do not write that you are a “hard-working person”—that will be clear from your transcript and your recommendations.
Admissions officers want you to show them, in detail, your drive, curiosity, and passion without using any of those words.
They want you to paint a picture of something that is important to you. Tell them something that they could not deduce from anything in your transcript, activities resume, or recommendations. This element of surprise will bring the best writing out of you and will be just as enjoyable to read.
The Best Essay I’ve Read
One of the best college essays I’ve helped edit was about singing in the shower. Why was it so compelling? They were able to describe singing in the shower with the same detail and emotion as someone would describe singing on stage at the Lincoln Center. It showed that they could bring their intellectual vibrancy to even the simplest activity.
Cliché topics are not limited to “hard work pays off” stories. For this year, I can guarantee that thousands of students will write about being isolated during the quarantine. They will talk about the quietness of their life, what it was like to be away from friends, and how they began a new bread-making hobby. Unless you truly have a unique, vulnerable, or creative moment to share about your experience with coronavirus, I suggest avoiding using the words “quarantine” and “coronavirus” because they will be so widely used this application season.
To ensure your essays are cliché free, I have a quick two-step process.
1.) Ask yourself—Is this a story only I can tell?
If you are writing about an experience that you know several friends could also write about, you have not thought of a story or topic personal enough to you.
2.) Show, Don’t Tell
This phrase should be written on a post-it note and stuck right above the computer you write your essays on. This is the number one rule that will make sure you are not using any clichés. That’s because when you go into detail and describe settings, emotions, and observations, you enter a world that is entirely your own. No one has your unique perspective and that is why all the best essays are written with this phrase in mind.