Kill the clichés

From a recent New York Times piece, “Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers”:

“Kill the clichés. If you want to give the reader an outside the box perspective on how to solve a problem from hell by reimagining the policy toolbox to include stakeholder voices — well, stop right there. Editors notice these sorts of expressions the way French chefs notice slices of Velveeta cheese: repulsive in themselves, and indicative of the mental slop that lies beneath.”

A cliché is an expression of a common thought or idea that has been so overused that it no longer has any originality or impact. “It’s not whether you win or lose; it’s how you play the game” is a cliché. So is “The early bird catches the worm” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” While there is often truth in clichés, everything from the sentiment itself to the actual sentence has just been worn out.

While a college admissions officer may not react to a cliché in your essay quite as harshly as a French chef would to processed cheese, clichés will chip away at your ability to stand out. You and your experiences are more interesting and complex than a trite, over-used phrase like, “If I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything.”

The surest way to avoid college essay clichés is to stop asking yourself, “What will sound good?” That question leads applicants to inject meaning that wasn’t there and to extract life lessons from experiences that were rich enough without adding a moral to the story. Instead, just be honest. Share the details of the experience that help you own your story. And if you wouldn’t say those words to someone else, don’t write them in your college essay.