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Here is what college admissions officers don't tell you: college admissions essays most often eliminate the few candidates that write horribly, and almost never cause students to be admitted when they would not otherwise be admitted. Why? Because the responses to college admissions essays tend to be so typical that almost no one sets themselves apart.

Therein lies the key to college admissions essays: success follows from setting oneself apart from the rest of the applicant pool.

Think of it this way: when you write a college essay you are selling yourself to the admissions officers. You need to sell your strong points in a novel enough way to get them noticed. It's just like advertising. Avoid monotony, coming off as formulaic, etc. But also avoid making unbelievable claims.

One of the most common mistakes in College essays is overdoing it. Most writers wax dramatic about sports, determined about grades, nostalgic about volunteerism- and all in a matter so epic that it undermines the genuineness of the description. You should highlight your activities and strengths, but don't do so at the expense of your essay. Those things appear at other places in the application. Your essay is your chance to get things into the application that won't appear anywhere else.

So think: what is unique about me? What do my friends like about me? What am I passionate about? Nothing is too silly or stupid if it is genuine. This is your chance to get across things that you'll have no other opportunity to say. Are you particularly courageous? Exceedingly driven? Sometimes, the best thing you can demonstrate is that you are a good writer. This is, in fact, one of the biggest reason for essays. So if you don't feel like you have anything else to get across, be creative. Write in a clever style, or use imaginative events or syntactic technique.

Another way to impress college admissions officers is to demonstrate that you know something about the school you are applying to. Don't casually slip in that the undergraduate student body size is 12,083. But if you have a true anecdote, tell it. Did you attend your first football game in their stadium? Were you impressed by an article in their student paper? Did your aunt and uncle meet on campus and get married in the chapel? Personal connections like these are valuable because they tend to demonstrate that you have an attachment to the college, and that you are likely to be a happy and loyal student if admitted.

The biggest thing to avoid in college essays are treating them lightly. That doesn't mean you can't write a funny essay, or a creative or off the wall essay. But if you do so, make sure it is for good reason. And refrain from making off topic jokes, personal appeals and pleas to the admissions officers, etc. Remember that there is certain etiquette to follow, and that college admissions officers read hundreds, even thousands of essays. They do not look on it kindly if they feel their time is wasted by attempts that are less than serious.

Finally, be honest. Sell yourself, but sell your genuineness too. Honesty is something that is very hard to fake in writing, especially to the trained eye. Even if you don't think your accomplishments are in any way remarkable, if you deal with them honestly, poignantly, and insightfully in an essay, you will stand out.