In truth, there are probably a hundred ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done. And perhaps next year I’ll add another seventy five. But for now, here’s the next to last one for 2015.

#24. Avoid being too general, or too complicated.

The too general essay speaks in broad generalizations, clichés, and platitudes, and usually takes on a bigger subject than an essay can handle. It is short on specifics and the feelings of the student. If your essay is demonstrating any of those characteristics, work hard to insert yourself back into it, add narrative to demonstrate your points, and look for places to give concrete examples.

The too complicated essay usually starts off strongly and somewhere along the way takes a left turn toward adding too many details. This usually comes from a student trying (with good intentions of course) to cover every base of his or her topic and it can lead to frustration and, even worse, a “bail out” mentality in the reader. A way to address this issue is to write a one sentence summation of your essay. Work on it for awhile to be sure it captures the essence of your topic or theme, then comb through the essay and delete or adjust anything that doesn’t support that sentence.

Bonus Point: A strong minded student will often make assertions (“Selling is an art, like painting or composing a symphony.”) in his or her essay that are highly debatable. This can lead the reader to inwardly (or outwardly, for that matter) shake his head in disagreement and can even leave a reader with a negative impression of the student. It is best, therefore, to avoid stating as fact a position that can be argued. At the minimum, qualify the statement (“The way I look at it, selling is an art, like painting or composing a symphony.”) to be sure it won’t offend someone who disagrees.

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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