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Charted: The most tragically banal ways to begin a college application essay

Reuters/Enrique Castro-Mendivil
If this class were less boring I might feel more creative.
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Take pity on college admissions officers. Of the thousands of gushing essays from eager students that wash across their desks each year, a great number are virtually the same.

Per the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS), the UK organization that manages applications to British universities, far too many teenagers’ personal statements begin with ”hackneyed phrases.” UCAS looked at submissions from 700,000 students who applied to British schools in the past year and found several opening lines being used again and again, which suggests that the subject matter is often drearily similar, too.

“The personal essay is supposed to be personal,” admonished UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook. “Learning to write about yourself in a compelling way is a vital skill when applying for jobs.” Teens don’t seem to have gotten that message yet. Below are 10 most repeated first sentences from those 700,000 apps:

Personal statement opening lineNumber of students who used it
From a young age, I have been interested in/fascinated by…1,779
For as long as I can remember, I have…1,451
I am applying for this course because…1,370
I have always been interested in…927
Throughout my life, I have always enjoyed…310
Reflecting on my educational experiences…257
Nursing is a very challenging and demanding career/profession…211
Academically, I have always been…168
I have always wanted to pursue a career in…160
I have always been passionate about…160

Nelson Mandela can take credit for the eleventh most repeated opening line: ”Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The quote was used by 148 of the applicants in the study.

To be fair, striking the right tone about who you are and your life mission in fewer than 1,000 words is a daunting task. But the rise of rote ideas and clichés might be a sign that society needs to focus more on getting today’s kids to flex their creative muscles.

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