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Really Bad College Application Essays

These are some bad college application essay #FAILs waiting to happen.

You know you need to stand out in your college application essay—but it’s important that you stand out in a good way. While you might be convinced that your essay is sure to impress the admission committee for its...uh..unique approach, it may not go over as well as you think. In fact, it might be downright bad.

When it comes to inventive application essay topics (or formats, for that matter), you don't want to go too far. Remember, the purpose of the application essay is to convey who you are, what’s important to you, what you’ll contribute to your community, and your college readiness. The application essay ideas below are simply bad at achieving those goals.

Trust me: you can be genuine and creative without them.

The foreign language

Writing your application essay in a foreign language might seem like a standout way to show your passion for the subject. But even if you’re planning on majoring in that language, it’s still a bad call. Besides, the admission committee has enough to worry about without getting your essay translated for them.

Instead: Write about your trip to the Dominican Republic and how speaking only Spanish made you realize you want to teach the language.

The poem

A poem instead of an essay
Can get a little bit messy
Try as you might
They often sound trite
As well as contrived, I must say

(Okay, that’s not very good. But poetry’s hard. Hence, don't go this route for your application essay.)

Instead: Write about your tradition of writing a poem for your grandmother on her birthday.

The devil’s advocate

Being controversial for the sake of being controversial has never been a good way to win hearts or minds. Your future college is looking for thoughtful, passionate students, not shock jocks.

Instead: Write about your experience on the school’s debate team.

The edgy rebel

Expletives. Violence and gore. Hot-button issues. What you might see as showing your edgy, rebellious side might actually come across as disrespectful to the admission committee. And why would they admit you if they don’t think you would represent their school well?

Instead: Write about how you love words, their cadence and meaning, and how one of your favorites happens to be a swear—without actually using the naughty word.

The overshare

If it’s related to bodily functions, it’s probably not an appropriate essay topic. Also, please, please do not talk about sexy times with your S.O. as part of your college essay. It’s not romantic; it’s awkward.

Instead: Write about how you were the only kid growing up who wasn’t grossed out when someone skinned their knee and how you found the coagulating blood fascinating, you future pathologist, you.

The arts-and-crafts project

Your application essay isn’t an extension of your art portfolio. Don’t submit a papier-mâché sculpture of the person who most influenced you. In fact, don’t send in anything the application doesn’t specifically ask for. It doesn’t help your case for admission, but it does make you look like you can’t follow directions.

Instead: Write about your penchant for knitting, how you use it to focus, and how the click-click of the needles helps you calm down when you’re stressed.

The big picture

Questions of great significance—Why are we here? Where are we going? What does it all mean?!?!—can lead to insightful writings and conversations, but they’re terrible application essay topics because they have little to do with who you are.

Instead: Write about your favorite summer camp memory: lying around the campfire, looking at the stars, and talking about philosophy with your friends.

The sob story

This is a tough one, because a personal (or even societal) tragedy can be hugely influential in your life. Even so, this is another essay topic admission counselors recommend avoiding, since it’s hard to get a sense of who you are as an applicant, however moving your story might be.

Instead: Write about how much you value being the person your friends turn to when they need a shoulder to cry on.

The Friday Night Lights

Have you ever watched a sports-related TV show or movie and thought, “This is really similar to that other sports-related TV show or movie I saw.” Well, it’s a lot like that with sports-related application essays, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Instead: Write about how you used your time on the bus rides to and from away games to sell homemade energy bars.

So, what does work?

Now that you know all these college application essay don’ts, what are the do’s? What should you write about and how? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered:

And if you want to take a new, inventive approach to your application essay, why not try an application video? Lots of schools are accepting them now. More advice here.

Have you seen any other application essays that just didn't work? Are you tempted to use one of these "bad" ideas anyway? Tell us your story! Leave a comment or get in touch.

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More on CollegeXpress

The popular subreddit r/tifu (aka “Today, I F**ked Up”) received a post Tuesday night that may hold historical significance. Redditor “bedwetter95” went against the “Today” portion of the subreddit’s name and posted a college application essay that he’d written last year. Why did it take an entire year for him to share his essay? Shame.

Yes, pure, unadulterated shame—the kind that not even a throwaway Reddit account can fully wash away. His essay is so bad that it might even be a groundbreaking new form of writing—that is, if people couldn’t distinguish between avant garde and reallybad.

The writer’s unnamed college of choice told applicants to write about an experience in high school that affected their decision to pick this particular college. According to bedwetter95, these “were the exact words written on the application” (and we’re assuming the exact formatting, too—one long paragraph):

“Prodip Goldman was a quiet kid in High School, he never had many friends and he never acquired any pussy. Prodip’s nights would mainly consist of smoking large amounts of doritos flavored weed and starting YouTube comment wars until 4 in the morning. One particular Autumn day while walking home from school, Prodip set a goal, and his goal was to snatch up some pussy inb4 Winter break. As weeks went on, Prodip was sitting at lunch and overheard a couple of the cool kids talking about weed, and they were thinking about getting a huge shipment of some super good shit for an insane house party during the weekend. Prodip grew some balls and went over to the group and mumbled, “I can hook yall up with some dorito flavored loud for the party.” As surprised as they were to hear that, the cool kids were down. Though Prodip continued, “But, only on one occasion, you guys gotta hook me up with some mad pussy at the party.” One kid in the group named Quan said “Ayy bruh we got tons of model bitches comin’ thru, they be down to fuck long as you hook em up with that dorito dank na’mean?.” After lunch was over, Prodip ran to the bathroom squealing in excitement about the pussy he would acquire at the party, and immediately called up Ron, his dealer.”

“I was pretty baked when I wrote this and submitted it,” bedwetter95 wrote on Reddit, “and I deeply regretted it after I realized it was sent.” 

We’re going to assume that he used the word “baked” loosely here, as it would most likely require some sort of tranquilizer, in a dosage high enough to sedate a medium-sized moose, to write and then actually send this block of text to the college that you hoped would launch your life and career.

And what college might that be, anyway? Well, Berkeley Lab—managed by U.C. Berkeley—employs a scientist by the name of “Prodip,” while the U.C. Berkeley campus employs a professor by the name of “Goldman.” It’s a stretch, but perhaps the essay’s writer named its protagonist by randomly pointing at the U.C. Berkeley directory. Goldman is common enough, but Prodip is not a name you run across everyday in the United States. Prodip could also be an allusion to this company, but that seems unlikely.

If this essay is real, and the college was Berkeley—or an institution of similar prestige—we can understand why it took a year for bedwetter95 to speak openly about his essay. It resulted in both a rejection letter and “a notice attached to it from the local police department saying [he] was not allowed on their school grounds for any reason.”

The “95” in his username aligns with the birth year of someone who would have applied to college last year, but we’ll need more hard evidence to prove that this is the all-time worst college application essay.

So far, the only comment that the throwaway account made was “I appreciate my all of my fans,” in response to the question “Are you the product of inbreeding?” 

We’ll be sure to keep you updated if more proof shows up. Real or fake, though, the post has already been cross-posted to r/copypasta, meaning it’s now a piece of Internet history. Still, it would be nice to have the sort of photographic evidence that this all-time greatest high-school report included—in particular, a photo of the notice that the local police department allegedly sent him.

H/T BroBible | Photo via Coty Grissom/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)