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College Essays: 7 Tips You Can't Ignore!

Updated on August 8, 2016
College Essay Mistakes
College Essay Mistakes

College Essay Mistakes 101

Having to write essays in college can suck and it can suck hard. This is particularly true if you have to do it in APA Style and have little or no experience writing in this format.

I am not going to sugar coat it or present something here that is designed to get you all hyped up about writing college essays. The truth is if you want to learn how to format your papers in APA, MLA or some other style, there are plenty of resources on line.

That’s not what this article is about.

I’ll level with you. I am a college professor at a "Big 10" school who has been teaching courses at the graduate and undergraduate level for the better part of 20 years. I’ve seen just about every trick in the book when it comes to learners trying to pull a scam. Most of the time, I turn a blind eye

But there are just some things that can’t be ignored.

Really stupid college essay mistakes you may be shocked to hear
Really stupid college essay mistakes you may be shocked to hear

College Essay Don'ts

What I am going to share with you here now are things that no professor would ever tell you because it would get them fired fast.

So let me get straight to the point. There are 7 specific things you should never do when writing a college essay. What you will read below is raw, real and maybe even shocking. Take it for what it's worth.

FYI: Some of these items might strike you as common sense. Other points, however, should give you a moment to pause in reflection. Read them all so that you can fully absorb everything in context.

Do you do any of these 7 things?

7 things you should never do when writing a college essay!
7 things you should never do when writing a college essay!

1. Not giving yourself enough time

If you think you can write a quality, seven page college essay the day before it is due, think again. Let’s be honest – whatever you come up with is going to be rushed, sloppy and full of errors.

Most college courses publish a syllabus that outlines what assignments are due when. Start working on major papers at least 2-3 weeks before the due date.

Tip: Get off social media. it's sucking up valuable time that you really don't have.

2.Faking it

One thing college professors despise (big time) is when a paper is submitted by a student that is nothing more than a bunch sentences taken from another source, strung together with quotes around it. That’s not writing – that’s faking it. You haven’t written jack.

Another “faking it” technique is abusing bullet points. Having a few here and there is cool but if you have an entire page filled with bullet points, it’s not going to count.

Want one more? When you make up references out of thin air and place them in the references section. The dead give away here is that the citations in the body of your essay don't match up against what's on your reference page. Worse, references are super easy to verify with Google Scholar and most online search engines.

Your course instructor is looking for original writing and well sourced. This means reading whatever you have been assigned and then synthesizing the concepts through written narrative. While technically not plagiarism, the “faking it” approaches to college essay writing are a surefire way to get a big fat zero on your paper.

Are You a Faker?

Using a bunch of bullet points to fill in white space on your paper is faking it!

3.Counting title page and reference page as “pages”

If you are required to write a 10 page paper on a given topic in your college class, you need to know that the title page, abstract and reference page do not count towards the minimum page count requirements. It just doesn’t.

What does count is actual content – meaning the material you have synthesized and focused on through the writing process. This is also referred to as paragraph development.

Waiting until the last minute to Ask question. You seriously look like a stupid idiot when you do this!
Waiting until the last minute to Ask question. You seriously look like a stupid idiot when you do this!

4. Waiting until the last minute to ask questions

Students who make this college essay mistake are usually the same ones who are engaging in mistake #1 at the start of this list. If you are foolish enough to wait until the due date to start asking questions about the requirements of your essay, you seriously need to revisit your commitment to the higher learning experience.

That may be harsh to hear but it’s true. Writing in college is as much about critical thinking as it is about content. You demonstrate critical thinking when you ask questions in advance.

When you wait until the due date to start asking the “how do I” questions, you are showing your instructor you are a complete idiot.

5. Playing "I didn't know it was plagiarism game"

Now-a-days, plagiarism is easy to detect. With programs like, Grammarly and so forth, it takes only seconds to identify just how much of an essay was copied and pasted from another source.

But plagiarism itself isn’t really what angers your professor.

What absolutely pisses your instructor off (and digs a deeper hole) is when you play the “I didn’t know it was plagiarism” game.

Can I be real with you? You absolutely DID know it was plagiarism when you swept your mouse over entire swaths of material from a website and pasted that crap onto your paper. It’s called intentional plagiarism.

Rather than partake in fool’s errand, just be honest with your professor and ask to resubmit. I'm not saying you should cop to plagiarism. I am saying that you would be smart to apologize for taking for up her/his time and beg for mercy. The last thing you want is your instructor filling out a report that goes to the department dean.

Heres why.

Your school will likely begin to audit of ALL of your previously submitted essays from your past classes. If the dean sees plagiarism, particularly multiple instances, YOU ARE TOAST!

So whatever you do - don't play the "I didn't know" game! If you are unclear about what constitutes plagiarism, watch the short video below.

Don't Play Stupid!

The fastest way to piss your professor off is to say "I didn't know it was plagiarism." It's a surefire way to get expelled!

Plagiarism Video

6. Recycling old papers

Did you write a paper about economic policy for your ECON 501 class last year and save it for future reference purposes. That’s actually pretty smart! What’s stupid is when you take that same ECON 101 paper and try to submit it to your FINANCE 508 class for credit. Why?

It’s going to be considered a form of plagiarism.

What’s that – you didn’t know you can plagiarize yourself? Guess what, you absolutely can. Be sure to Google the term self-plagiarism to learn more. If you are in doubt, always ask your professor about using something you previously wrote. It might OK, depending upon the class but don’t assume this.

Overworked, angry faculty

Want to piss off your professor?
Want to piss off your professor?

7.Turning in your essay late without permission/explanation

Did you just complete a major college paper that was due 2 weeks ago? Did you submit it to your professor for review and say something stupid like: "Sorry I'm late. I've had personal issues."

Guess what … your professor doesn't care.

Here’s why.

College adjuncts are extremely busy people and work under heavily monitored deadlines. They are also badly overworked. Each week, they put aside time to grade work and offer feedback in a meaningful and substantive way.

When you submit your essay late – without permission, you are increasing that professor’s workload by forcing them to find new time to grade your paper - time they don't have. It's also just rude.

TIP – if you are going to be late with a college essay, let your instructor know ASAP. Don’t assume it will be cool to turn it in whenever you want. By talking with your instructor in advance, you are showing her/him that you respect their time. That goes a long way - trust me.

Seriously Pisses Your Professor Off!

Submitting work super late and without permission increases your professor's workload.

College Essay Poll

How many stupid college essay mistakes listed here have you made?

See results

College Essay Final Thoughts

The 7 items you just read on college essays covered the “biggies”. There are likely many more mistakes that have not been listed but there’s just no way to include them in one post.

To keep it real, your professor isn’t going to get ticked off if you make basic mistakes with grammar and APA. That’s part of the learning process and is to be expected.

What will anger your college instructor and possibly screw up your academic record is engaging in any of the shenanigans covered here.

If you are looking for tips on how to write college papers, I highly recommend the book: How to Write Your Essay In Half The Time (and still get an “A”) by Richard Glenn. His book is real and straight up. It's also a practical quick read.

I just gave you the down low on writing college essays from someone who has been teaching classes and grading papers for a long time. I hope you found the advice useful!


This article was submitted by a college professor who wishes to remain anonymous.


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