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Last updated July 12, 2023

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Three Mistakes to Avoid When Writing a College Essay About Goals

Key Takeaway

Writing a successful college essay about goals requires avoiding three common mistakes: ignoring the 'why' behind your goals, not linking your goals with the university's offerings in supplemental essays, and focusing only on yourself without considering how your goals impact others.

In a lot of ways, applying to college is all about goals. You have a goal to get in, to study a particular subject, to have a great time on campus, and to get a job that can support you after you graduate.

So writing your college essay about goals makes a lot of sense.

But “goals” is a popular topic for the Common App personal statement and supplemental essays.

To write a good essay about goals, you’ll need to avoid three common mistakes.

Ready? Here we go.

Mistake #1: focusing on the outcome but not the why

Let’s say you’re applying to be a biochemistry major because you want to go on to be a doctor.

You write your college essay all about how you started a medicine club at your high school, you volunteered at your local hospital, and you can’t wait to practice medicine someday. You go in-depth about how you’re so passionate about biology and are excited to be a doctor.

But in doing so, you don’t give admissions officers any sense of the why behind your goal to become a doctor.

Without the why, your goal only tells admissions officers where you’re hoping to go. It doesn’t reveal any genuine insight about who you are, and it certainly won’t help you stand out from the tens of thousands of other applicants.

Admissions officers need to know your motivations so that they can better understand who you are. Be vulnerable and reveal a deeper part of yourself by delving into the “why” behind your goals.

Questions to consider:

  • Why do you have your goal?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Why is it meaningful to you?
  • How does your goal connect to your deeper values and motivations?

Mistake #2: not making direct university connections in a supplemental essay

As you might already know, supplemental essays are all about showing how well you fit into a school’s community and academic environment.

And to do that, you often need to make explicit connections to the school you’re applying to.

Sometimes supplemental essays about goals get so caught up in the goal itself that they forget to fulfill the mission of a supplemental essay.

In a supplemental essay, you want to show that you’ve done your research, know what the school has to offer, and are able to make a compelling case for your admission.

Take this Virginia Tech supplemental prompt, for example:

Describe a goal that you have set and the steps you will take to achieve it. What made you set this goal for yourself? What is your timeline to achieve this goal? Who do you seek encouragement or guidance from as you work on this goal?

To return to our aspiring doctor example, a strong response to this prompt wouldn’t just touch on why you want to be a doctor or how you came to that goal. It would also mention VT’s pre-health academic advising, the ample biochemistry research opportunities, and even EnglePalooza.

The more specific, the better. Be sure to make those connections for admissions officers.

Questions to consider:

  • How would the school’s offerings help you meet your goals?
  • What specific resources or opportunities are appealing to you because of your goals?
  • Given your goals, what would you be able to contribute to the community or classroom at the school?

Mistake #3: focusing entirely on yourself

Now, of course any college essay you write will be about yourself. That’s the whole point!

But when you only write about yourself in a college essay about goals, your essay can come across as conceited or out-of-touch.

Think about it: your goals exist because of particular experiences, influences, and interactions you’ve had, whether they were good or bad or somewhere in between.

It’s hard to write about the “why” behind your goals without delving a little deeper into how your goals came to be based on your involvement with the people around you.

What’s more, you should also write about how your goal will help people beyond yourself. Sure, becoming a doctor will be great for your own life. But how would it help you help others? How would people be positively impacted along the way?

As you’re writing, be specific and genuine, and think about what you want your admissions officers to learn about you through your essay.

Questions to consider:

  • How is your goal influenced by your family, friends, or loved ones?
  • How will your goal help others?
  • Why will the world be a better place because you attend this school and meet your goal?

Example College Essays About Goals

Want to read some great examples? Check out some of our personal statement favorites: Gone Fishing, The Bowl that Taught Me Not to Quit, and The Muscle Show.


Remember, colleges want to admit students who will become great alumni. They want people who are leaders in their field and who make the world a better place. Having goals is a great way to show that you’re just that kind of person.

But when writing any college essay about goals, you need to connect the dots between where you’ve been and where you want to go. When relevant, be sure to discuss how this particular school can help you get there. It’s all about creating a cohesive application narrative.

You’ve got this.

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