65 Clichés to Avoid Using in Your Common App Essay

[fa icon="calendar"] 4/18/18 12:00 PM / by Amanda Orbuch

For many students, a primary source of stress throughout the college application process is the persistent sense that their applications will not “stand out” to admissions officers.

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Frequently, this stress manifests in the form of essay anxiety, here taken to mean the fear associated with the feeling that one’s essay is not original, creative, impactful, or eye-catching. There is some basis to these fears; in reality, admissions officers read thousands of applications and essays in a very limited amount of time, and this necessitates some degree of “skimming.” In this sense, if the student’s essay doesn’t contain something immediately compelling, the application may be overlooked.

However, while this fear may have some degree of logical grounding, it is not a productive, nor necessary, fear to have. In truth, it is possible to intentionally craft an essay that stands out; one need not leave the success of an essay up to luck or some romanticized notion of divine inspiration. There are concrete tips to follow that can substantially improve the quality of an essay. One such piece of advice? Avoid clichés.

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This directive ought to come as no shock. Most students know the clichéd topics to avoid in their Common Application essays— the service trip or volunteer work essay, the sports game essay, a standard response to the death of someone important, the admiration/tribute essay. However, when it comes to the content of the essay itself, many students will see their original and creative essays lost in an amalgamation of cliched phrases. In the following list, partially drawn from Be a Better Writer's "681 Cliches to Avoid in Your Creative Writing," I will address some top college essay-specific clichés that students may want to forgo.

  1. “…in this day and age…”
  2. “…little did I know…”
  3. “…the time of my life…”
  4. “…silver lining…”
  5. “…against all odds…”
  6. “…back to square one…”
  7. “…it all came down to …”
  8. “…calm before the storm…”
  9. “…blood, sweat, and tears…”
  10. “…cross that bridge when we come to it…”
  11. “…go the extra mile…”
  12. “…go with the flow…”
  13. “…cried my eyes out…”
  14. “…down to earth…”
  15. “…easier said than done…”
  16. “…be all, end all…”
  17. “…bend over backwards…”
  18. “…every fiber of my being…”
  19. “…think outside the box…”
  20. “…eye for an eye…”
  21. “…follow my heart…”
  22. “…for all intents and purposes…”
  23. “…benefit of the doubt…”
  24. “…force to be reckoned with…”
  25. “…in over my head…”
  26. “…forgive and forget…”
  27. “…get to the bottom of…”
  28. “…goes without saying…”
  29. “…could have heard a pin drop…”
  30. “…beg to differ…”
  31. “…in my element…”
  32. “…to each her own…”
  33. “…too good to be true…”
  34. “…judge a book by its cover…”
  35. “…keep my head/chin up…”
  36. “…like there was no tomorrow…”
  37. “…make the best of it…”
  38. “…at the end of the day…”
  39. “…never look back…”
  40. “…never say never…”
  41. “…not the end of the world…”
  42. “…on the tip of my tongue…”
  43. “…one in a million…”
  44. “…pillar of the community…”
  45. “…scared to death…”
  46. “…even the playing field…”
  47. “…see eye to eye…”
  48. “…seize the day…”
  49. “…last but not least…”
  50. “…light at the end of the tunnel…”
  51. “…put my best foot forward…”
  52. “…sigh of relief…”
  53. “…stop and smell the roses…”
  54. “…take one for the team…”
  55. “…made my day…”
  56. “…moment of truth…”
  57. “…time and time again…”
  58. “…to the best of my knowledge…”
  59. “…not to mention…”
  60. “…wakeup call…”
  61. “…worst nightmare…”
  62. “…you only live once…”
  63. “…to be honest…”
  64. “…let’s face it…”
  65. “…gave it my all…”

Though this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the possible clichés a student might use, hopefully it can provide a solid starting point. If you find that your essay contains one or more of these phrases, search for alternative ways to say them. Even better perhaps, do a bit of introspection to find a more precise way to say what you feel. 

For more help with college essay writing, visit Synocate.

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Amanda Orbuch

Written by Amanda Orbuch

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