Words and Phrases to Avoid in your College Essays

by | Oct 14, 2022

written by Casey Brown for Word Count

When it comes to college essays, sometimes the words you choose not to write make just as much of an impact as the words you do choose to write.Readers get bored with seeing the same old clichés and run-on expressions over and over again. And adding in fluffy language or confusing idioms can leave them feeling lost in your wordsSo how do you know exactly which words and phrases you should avoid in your writing assignments?

To start, you can seek inspiration from college essays that worked for other students. But ultimately it’s nice to have a list of what not to do to help you avoid potential mistakes along the way.

What you Should Avoid

1. Contractions

Contractions may seem informal or lazy to the reader. Take the time to write the full phrase out.

NO: It’s been a journey.

YES: It has been a journey.

2. Idioms

Idioms can be confusing and are often overused. Clearly state what you mean in your own words.

NO: I thought the fancy-looking house was going to be awesome, but all that glitters is not gold.

YES: Even though I thought the new house was going to be incredible with its fancy appliances and enormous windows, I was proven wrong as the appliances all broke within the first week and the windows all leaked.

Also, phrases that introduce idioms are overused. Avoid using phrases like: You know what they say… But we all know… As we’ve heard over and over again

3. Clichés

Clichés are so… cliché. Everyone is using them, and the words have lost their power. Choose specific and illustrative examples to use so your essay isn’t lumped into a pile with all the essays that use worn-out clichés.

NO: I knew I had to give 110% if I was going to win the race.

YES: I knew I needed to train harder than I ever had before—before school, after school, every weekend—if I was going to win the race.

Phrases like “Every cloud has a silver lining” and “Better late than never” have no place in a creative and original college essay. This is your chance to paint a complete picture of yourself and your personality. Use descriptive language to let the reader hear your voice in your writing instead of an overused, out-of-date expression.

4. Slang and Abbreviations

I hope u r 2 smart to write something like this in a college essay. Abbreviations are not at all acceptable in formal writing such as a college essay.

Also, slang needs to be avoided. Use common language that people of all ages will understand. Remember your audience; you’re writing for your professor, not your friends. And tone should reflect that.

NO: The party was lit, and everything was Gucci.

YES: The party was lively, the music was loud and fun, and everyone was having an amazing night.

5. Vague or Elementary Words

Use words that show you’re capable of a deeper, more thorough understanding of topics. Avoid words that are vague or simple when there is a better way to demonstrate your meaning.

NO: The thing I read showed that the environment is bad.

YES: The article I studied concluded that the environment had been devastated by the recent occurrences of hurricanes and flooding.

If you find yourself using words like thing, stuff, bad, good, shows, and gives, challenge yourself to replace these words with stronger, more descriptive language.

6. Run-On Expressions

A run-on expression is a phrase, usually at the end of a list, that indicates you could add more examples (and so on, and so forth, etc.).

If something needs to be added to your list of examples, add specific examples. Don’t add expressions such as etc. and and so on. These are vague and add nothing of substance to your essay.

NO: I love many sports: basketball, baseball, etc.

YES: I love many sports: basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, and lacrosse.

7. Filler Words or Weak Modifiers

Increasing your word count by adding filler words will make your essay actually, very, very, very weak.

If you can get rid of a word and it makes no difference to your writing, get rid of it. Or better yet, rephrase it to demonstrate what you truly are trying to convey.

NO: I totally believe that we should actually make the laws much, much more strict very soon.

YES: I believe we should urgently make the laws more strict.

8. Exaggerated Words

Not everything you write about needs to be about the best or the worst. When you exaggerate in writing, it can come off as being insincere. Words like always and perfect also fall into this category.

NO: My team was the best team ever because we always played well and our shots were always perfect.

YES: My team was gifted at the game and played well. We could make some amazing shots.

9. Unnecessary Words

Sometimes writers don’t even realize they are adding words that aren’t needed. Compare these two examples:

NO: She has got four little puppies.

YES: She has four little puppies.

NO: This lotion helps to smooth the skin.

YES: This lotion helps smooth the skin.

Eliminating unnecessary words makes writing more clear and coherent. This is also an easy way to cut down when you’re trying meet a word count requirement.

10. Grammatical Errors, Fragments, and Run-on Sentences

When your college essay draft is complete, make sure to proofread it thoroughly. And have a teacher or talented writer proof it again for you.

Avoid any spelling and grammatical errors, but also avoid fragments and run-on sentences. When it doubt, use an online sentence fragment checker or a grammar checker such as Grammarly to triple-check your work.

When writing, choose your words carefully. Pick the words that will make the greatest impact on your message and keep the reader’s attention. Avoid the words and phrases that will make your essay weak and boring.

With careful consideration of your word choices, your essays will stand out for all of the right reasons. You’ll be submitting advanced writing assignments that will help you ace your coursework!

Weil College Advising

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