What does cliché mean?
According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, a cliché is an unoriginal, overused, tired phrase, expression, theme, situation, or characterization. Something that has become overly familiar and so commonplace that it loses any effect and makes your writing boring and trite. For instance, starting an essay off with “According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary” is a huge cliché!
A college application essay filled with clichés is death to your application. Admissions officers read thousands of essays every year, and so many students use the same topics, ideas, and expressions that their essays blend together and cause admissions officers to either roll their eyes or fall asleep. You want your application to stand out. You want to make the admissions officer connect with you and remember you.
The problem is that most students don’t even realize that their writing is cliché!
That’s why MEK has a list of tips on the most common cliché mistakes students make and how to avoid them.
Beginning of your essay:
According to Webster’s dictionary, strength means….
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “…
The biggest obstacle I ever had to overcome…
Starting your essay with a dictionary definition is not only unoriginal, but it’s also boring. Admission officers know the definition of strength; they want you tell a story of how you have found it, used it, or witnessed it in another. It also makes your essay immediately sound very impersonal. They are not hearing your voice; they are hearing Merriam Webster’s voice. The dictionary is a useful tool, but has anyone ever just sat and read it for fun? We don’t think so.
Beginning you essay with a quote may sound like a good idea, but for the most part it’s not. While you think you’re coming across as smart and well-read, while also setting up your topic, your admission officer is wondering why you wasted precious writing space using someone else’s words other than your own. The first voice they hear should be your voice. They want to get to know you. You want them to remember you not Emerson or Shakespeare.
Don’t repeat the prompt in your essay. Admission officers know the prompts, so don’t waste your time and bore them by repeating it. Students do this all the time. Instead, get right to the point.
Remember your introduction is your chance to make a first impression. You want to capture their attention right away. Avoiding these three common clichés will go a long way to helping you. Keep in mind, thousands of other students before you have used these openings.
There are always exceptions to the rules. For instance, at the beginning of this blog, I used a cliché in order to humorously give an example of a cliché. Sometimes you can use a tired idea and turn it on its head in order to surprise your reader. For instance: “The famous Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, ‘to be great is to be misunderstood.’ Obviously, Emerson never had to eat alone in the school cafeteria of a public high school. It definitely did not make be feel like a misjudged genius.”
If you use a cliché this way, you will want to have others review your essay to make sure it works. If you don’t think you can do it well, then just simply avoid these overused opening lines.
Topic of your essay:
I scored the winning goal…and learned to always work hard and believe in myself.
My beloved pet died…and I learned about life and death.
My grandmother died…and I learned about life and death.
I admire my dad more than anyone else because…and I learned why my dad is such a good person.
I went on a volunteer trip/mission trip to Mexico…and I learned people can be poor and happy.
I went on a volunteer trip/mission trip to Jamaica…and I learned to appreciate everything I have.
Essays about sports victories, community service projects, or your pet dying are topics college admissions officers have read thousands of times.
After awhile, Jason who made a half-court basketball shot to win the district title in Texas starts to blend with Mary who scored the winning soccer goal to clench the regional championship in Oregon. Furthermore, victory stories are often not nearly as interesting or revealing as failure stories. Talking about a time you failed and how you responded to that failure is more engaging, relatable, and memorable.
The same goes for a story about death or volunteer trips to developing countries. Often, it’s not the topic itself, but what you learned from that topic that is unoriginal and boring.
If you write about these topics, you want to make sure you’re writing about it in a meaningful way. Ask yourself, “Can anybody else tell this story? Or is this specific to me?”
Furthermore, writing about someone you admire or someone who has passed away can be tricky because you don’t want the admission officer to only learn about that person and not you. It’s about you. After all, they are trying to decide whether to let you into their school. Make sure that no matter what or who you choose to write about that the admission officer learns more about you than your dad, Gandhi, or your mentor teacher.
When picking a topic, don’t try and pick something that you thinks sounds good. Pick a topic that you really care about. Something that already keeps you up at night. Also, don’t pick a simple topic. Pick a story or a subject that you have mixed feelings about and show the depths of your thoughts on the matter in your essay. You will automatically write a more original essay, and your passion will shine through.
Language of your essay:
This is only a small sample of common expressions that you should avoid in your writing. These phrases are so overused that they carry no impact, and make it seem like the expression is doing the thinking for you rather you coming up with your own thoughts about the world, situation, or experience.
Hopefully, this helps you avoid common mistakes and start thinking about how to write an original memorable essay.
For more help, call 855-346-1410 to register for our College Essay Boot Camp starting August 28th-August 30th. In 3 intensive days, we help you write a completed, polished college app essay!