Myth 4 of Top 5 Series: Lies Applicants Tell Themselves about College Admissions Essays

Myth 4)    I should restate or highlight something on my application that may have been overlooked.

This is a favorite of students and parents and oddly enough is most true of students with excellent GPAs and SAT/ACT test scores.  Some still hold the false belief that a college application littered with a long list of activities is the way to go. Others know that an applicant with a short list of activities/interests shows escalating responsibility or dedication to practice is of much greater value to individual students and thus to admissions readers as well.  It’s easy to sign up for five different music clubs (in and outside of school), but transitioning from a member to a vaulted leadership position in one club says much more about an applicant.  Such is the case for someone who is no music clubs but over time develops a mastery of an instrument and performs in venues unaffiliated with high school.

Yet, I have seen all three applicant types (shallow devotion to many activities, deep devotion to one interest, or escalating responsibility in a particular club or two) think that admissions readers just won’t “get it”. Thus they don’t pen an essay or prompt answer of substance that provides insight and dimension into an element of their lives not mentioned elsewhere on their application. Instead, they use their answers to short essay prompts or their main personal statement as spotlights of their already listed activities. 


Here’s some food for thought on restating your activities in your essays. 

1)    Try as you might, you can not decide what an admissions reader will feel is important as a qualifier for you to gain admittance to a given college or university. Yes, you can make it clear what you consider crucial but that’s it.  Once you send off that application it is literally and figuratively out of your hands.  Any attempt at manipulation will be obvious and prove a waste of time.

2)    Trust the admissions readers and the process.  You believe this school you are applying to is worthy of your time, money and effort?  Well, then they must have admissions readers with enough common sense to properly weigh your list of activities.  They are not going to ignore or forget about them.  Have a little confidence in the institution you’re willing to have tied to your name for the rest of your life.

3)    Yes, there are instances when detailing an activity, sport, interest, passion or talent that is also listed elsewhere your application will be a great move.  This only holds true if doing so highlights something about your or your life that is not obvious.  Any admissions reader knows that learning to play the violin is difficult. (Not worth writing about.)  That same person has no way of knowing that you almost quit playing the violin after a particularly horrendous performance that made you fearful of failure or an astounding performance that made you fearful of further success and expectations. (Worth writing about).

4)    Delving into anything in the essay section that is noted in the activities and interests section must also answer the prompt(s).  If you can’t answer a prompt in a compelling and honest fashion, don’t shoehorn your activities into this space where they don’t belong.  Each answer to a prompt has to have a bit of a Cinderella moment.

5)    Finally, just keep in mind that the essay section is an optimal place to talk about so much more than what is easily categorized on a college application.  This is your opportunity to paint a more complete and detailed picture.  Why restate what you have already said in another section?

Finally, consider activities you’ve participated in that because of something either minor or catastrophic, you wouldn’t even bother to list on your application.  What have you learned from parting ways with this activity or talent?  Why did you decide to cut it out of your life or was that not really your decision?  I don’t know your answer to these questions, but I’m sure they’d form an amazing personal statement or essay answer. 

Plus, it’s not like this unlisted activity will show up elsewhere in your application. ;)

Happy writing, 

Leslie Diane Poston