How to Avoid Clichés on the College Essay

Crafting a college essay can be challenging as we often grapple with numerous notions of what constitutes a good essay, making it difficult to generate our own unique ideas.

However, the task of avoiding clichés, fortunately, tends to be a more straightforward endeavor.

We have curated a list of the six most frequently encountered clichés that frequently appear in our students’ essays. Read them and ask yourself, “Does my essay contain any of these Clichés?”

1. The Dictionary Opening

You might think that using intelligent-sounding words will show how intellectually capable you are, but the reality is that admission officers can tell that it’s not authentic. An example of this is:

“Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘passion’ as…”

Avoid this at all costs.

2. The Deep Quotes

If you must use a quote, pick one from someone important in your life instead of some random dead person, nobody knows.

“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

~ Confucius

Don’t integrate quotes in your essay as a way to sound deep and sophisticated. Again, the Admission Officers can tell.

3. The Vague Goal

This cliché is a classic one.

“I’ve always known, from the time I saw a keyboard, that I wanted to be a programmer.”

The tactic to strengthen our ambitions by linking them to a deep history, usually located in some far-away childhood or “ever since I can remember.” does not impress admission officers.

Try to create a story about why you chose to pursue the goal rather than resorting to the vague goal tactic. This will result in a far more profound piece.

4. “Going Meta” & Taking Wild Swings

Sometimes students believe so much in their writing ability that they become “too creative for their own good” and ultimately belly-flop. An example of this is:

“Was your childhood home destroyed by a dormant WW2 bomb? Yeah, neither was mine. I know that intro might have given the impression that this college essay will be about withstanding disasters, but the truth is that it isn’t about that at all. In fact, I am going to talk about X…”

The idea is, usually, that by calling attention to the convention of the college essay, one can speak more directly to the admissions committee on the other end. The vast majority of attempts will come off as condescending, rude, or flippant – and admission officers HATE it.

It’s better to focus on telling a real story. Don’t neglect the task by trying to be clever; lean into the opportunity to tell a committee about yourself.

5. Broad Conclusions

This one is very popular.

“So, in the end, it’s clear that we should settle our differences with our opponents and listen with open hearts.”

The college essay is about specificity as it relates to you and your life, not about big conjectures and broad realizations.

Don’t make your essay into a plan to solve the world’s problems – make it about how an experience taught you something specific.

For example, if you’re planning on writing about the trip you took to some country, write about a difficult or challenging experience, and explain its significance in terms of how it changed your thinking about community, culture, etc.

6. The “Aha!” Moments

The idea of a single moment of revelation is in itself a cliché.

“I realized in that moment that just as the shabbiest objects can become the most exquisite paintings, true insight can come from the most unexpected of places.”

Did you really realize what would alter your life in a split second, or was it the digestion of an experience over time that helped you “realize” something?

Talk about the process of coming to a belief, not merely about the belief itself.


Crafting a unique and engaging college essay requires the avoidance of common clichés that can undermine your efforts.

Focus on providing personal insights, sharing meaningful experiences, and conveying the narrative that defines who you are. Embrace the opportunity to express yourself authentically and leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Share the knowledge