10 Most Common College Essay Editing Mistakes

Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

We know—the editing process proves difficult for lots of people. That’s why we’re here to explain the ten most common editing pitfalls! Now, as you’re combing over your essays one final time before you send them off, you’ll know what to avoid. Let’s get started with some common college essay editing mistakes.

Your college essays speak for you within your application. They tell your story and your dreams. They remain your best opportunity to really pull together your resume, transcripts, and letters of rec in order to create a complete picture of who you are as a student. And it’s your first and last chance to make an impression on the admissions officer who has never met you before but will eventually decide whether to accept or reject your application.

This pressure is no joke. But rather than paralyze you, it should serve to emphasize the importance of the final draft you submit! With stakes like these, you should absolutely edit your drafts to ensure you catch the little details. College essay editing mistakes you can avoid starting right now…

Focused student surrounded by books in a library
Number 1: “I write pretty quickly, so starting my essays a few weeks or so before the deadline will be plenty of time.”

You will need more time than you expect. Always. Writing about your whole life story and condensing all of your intellectual goals into a few hundred words is a tall task. Take some of the stress off and start brainstorming (and drafting) early. 

Some of our students use each year of high school to refine and develop their extracurricular narrative so that by the time they reach their senior year, the essay just falls into place. It may sound easy, but that thoughtful, stroke-of-genius essay you see now was years of planning in the making! Our counselors are great at finding ways to start crafting this narrative at every stage in your high school journey. 

Portrait of a smiling male student with others writing notes in the classroom
Number 2: “I have to write about my most impressive accomplishment or accolades for most of the essay to make sure the reader notices them.”

Often, your most meaningful and hard-won academic accomplishments are one and the same. The rewards of fulfillment, accomplishment, and pride in your progress and growth make strong content for your essays! However, you do NOT need to write about what you believe is your most impressive competition just for the sake of prestige. Only write about experiences that you genuinely connect to strong memories of character development and encapsulate your personality well. Otherwise, the writing will sound forced and generic.

If you’re interested in reading some more examples, check out the advice in Empowerly’s Guide to Essays. To get to know what kind of tools we have available, book a consult with our team! You can get a sense of the wide range of topics students can choose to write about–and what some of the most overused ones might be.

frustrated young business man working on laptop computer at office
Number 3: Alternatively: “I should try to play up and dramatize any hardships I’ve faced to make myself seem more impressive.”

This is a similar issue to pitfall #2. Don’t start a pity-party if you don’t have a reason—or something on your resume that really begs for an explanation. If you’re a relatively strong or even average student and are looking for ways to make yourself seem better because you overcame average struggles, it won’t make an impression on your reader. In fact, you risk sounding whiny or self-centered by focusing only on your problems instead of your strengths. Believe it or not, this is one of the surprisingly common college essay editing mistakes.

Number 4: “I’m the best writer I know, so I’ll just carefully edit my essays myself. I don’t need to ask for a second opinion.”

You might be a great writer. That’s awesome. It doesn’t mean that you can objectively remove yourself from the equation when you edit your own writing. And when you’ve been reading over the same document for a few hours, your proofreading brain switches over into autopilot brain and you just can’t see your own typos! Trust me on this one—you need outside opinions.

Mother with kids in library with notebook
Number 5: “I’ll ask my mom to read over it since she already loves me, so I won’t get harsh feedback or risk embarrassment.”

Your mom or dad or parent or guardian is a little biased. Even if they do their best to stick to the facts, they are inclined to think your writing is great the way it is, and they may soften their feedback to avoid hurting your feelings. 

Not only are they sentimentally attached to the subject matter you’re writing about (it’s your life, after all!), but they probably already know what you meant to say. They just can’t see the blind spots in your explanations or catch missing details as well as a stranger can. 

Students on lawns looking at laptops
Number 6: “I’ll just give my essay to a couple friends and make them read through it, and that will count as ‘good enough’ for peer editing.”

Casually passing off your essay without asking your reader to look at specific things will get you a whole lot of nothing. General instructions lead to general (read: unhelpful!) feedback. It saves you and your editor time and effort if you let them know in advance what your concerns with the piece are, so you can get targeted responses on the elements you need help on.

Number 7:  “I should always take every piece of advice and feedback I get and apply it to my essay, especially from my smartest friends.”

No matter what, your essay should sound like you wrote it. Sure, maybe your friend is a better student in English class and always knows whether to use “who” or “whom”—but that doesn’t mean they know your personal story and what will make you a great candidate for your top schools. That has to come from you. If you make too many changes from too many sources, you risk losing all of the originality of your first draft in the process.

Student studying in the library with laptop against room with large windows showing city
Number 8: “Where’s the thesaurus? I should try and include more big words to make myself sound more sophisticated.”

You don’t need to make yourself sound good enough if you already are. And overcompensating with big words that you don’t actually incorporate into your regular lexicon will likely sound forced or fake! Authenticity is key.

Businesswoman sitting at her desk navigating the internet on a laptop computer using the trackpad, over the shoulder view of the blank screen
Number 9: “Spell-check is a good insurance policy for the little stuff.”

I can give you three examples right now why spell-check just isn’t up to snuff for all your editing needs. Sure the internet is great, but it won’t catch things like:

  • Homophones. If you write “see” when you mean “sea” or “your” when you mean “you’re,” the computer just sees a word that’s spelled correctly—not the context.
  • Style errors. It’s technically correct to write that you won “3 awards that year,” but the general rule of thumb for most institutions asks that you spell out numbers under ten in formal writing, so you won “three awards that year.” If you didn’t know that, your computer won’t tell you either!
  • Repetitive language. If you accidentally include the same sentence twice because you forgot to delete it or say the word “difficulty” four times in the same paragraph, it won’t show up with a flag.

You’re still on your own if you rely on the computer to catch all the mechanical errors.

Student with a notebook outdoors with a group of people at the background
Number 10: “I should use common buzzwords to make sure I answer the prompt and make myself sound like what the college wants.”

Don’t fall into these easy traps! If you want to stand out from the crowd, your writing should be original, flawless, and unique. Thinking outside the box and using specific, detailed language are a few ways to help you get there. Don’t try to be someone you are not.

Yes, editing is hard. But college essay editing mistakes won’t hold you back if you are prepared. With these tips in mind, you have a little more information about how to edit well. But if you’re looking for easy-to-access sources for qualified peer editing, keep this in mind: 

Our superstar editing team is at your disposal, right now. You can get the feedback within 24-hours from the comfort of your own home. After that, if you decide you want more essay edits from our team, you can choose to purchase more right from the Empowerly Portal.

What are you waiting for?

Questions? Let us know!