Idiom in scholarship essay - strike or keep?

DD has drafted a competitive scholarship essay which states that she sometimes “bites off more than she can chew.” This statement is true, and I personally think it is more colorful than writing something like “I take on too much.” But, I am curious if idioms are a considered a “no-no” for college essays. Thoughts?

Totally fine, IMO.


An appropriate answer to your question requires a review of the entire essay.

Without more, I suggest avoiding the use of idioms or colloquialisms as they often reveal a lack of ability to express oneself in a concise manner.

There is no unwritten rule to not use idioms in college essays. It’s important that your student use their authentic voice. The idiom you refer to is fine, remember we are talking about a 17/18 year old and their writing. Resist the urge as a parent to over edit essays, and don’t rely on content advice from those who don’t have both training and experience in college essay writing (for example, this eliminates many English teachers, who have no idea how to write a college essay). No offense to English teachers who have had college essay writing training.


Again, an appropriate answer requires a review of the entire writing.

Idioms require an explanation. An unexplained idiom is usually an example of poor communication skills.

Idioms are fine if they suit the context and style of the essay. The biggest thing to vet from a reader’s pov is how it scans as a whole. So clarity, coherence, structure matter. Avoiding clichés, pretentious vocabulary, or obscure slang is good.

edit: what @Mwfan1921 posted while I was writing this!


Not necessarily! It’s hard to imagine an AO who would need an explanation for the one in question.


In my view, this is very poor advice. Without an explanation of an idiom, the writing could be the work product of anyone. And this is the opposite of what college essays are designed to elicit from applicants.

Essays for college admissions can be more informal and conversational in nature than some are comfortable with. They should reflect the writer’s personality and experiences.

BTW, I draw the line at typing the entire thing in texting shorthand. I will take a well placed idiom or regional saying any day over even a sprinkling of netlingo shortcuts. LOL

This is a place for them to use their authentic voice, but still remember their audience.


My personal opinion is that it is fine if it is her authentic voice and fits with the style of writing. I’ve read phrases like, “I stepped out of my comfort zone” and “I found my voice” in scholarship applications.

One thing to note is that if she is limited on words or characters, “bites off more than she can chew” is more than “takes on too much.”


But weren’t those idiomatic expressions explained in the body of the essay ?

Yes, they were explained and, in my opinion as a reader, it made me feel that the student had a greater awareness of what was happening. But that could just be me.


I’m surprised that posters appear to have accepted the example expression as an idiom. It correctly represents a metaphor, in my opinion. Regarding its suitability, it relies on an overused choice of words, and I’d prefer to see an original or less common — or even simpler — construction in an essay. I wouldn’t argue this point especially strongly, however. The expression certainly can stand as written.

The Grammarist says the phrase is an idiom, and it also appears in the idiom dictionary.

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I love that there are other posters who enjoy parsing the difference between metaphors and idioms :slight_smile: #justsayin


Essays should not be too formal. I think using that phrase is fine, if it conveys more personality, though it is not an unusual wording of course. PM’ing you.

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Absolutely nothing wrong with using idioms.


Well, the difference between an idiom and a common expression is reasonably distinct. An idiom is far detached from its original usage, and typically no longer has current literal meaning. An expression has clear meaning based on a common understanding of every day language. If the terms become conflated through misuse, then the language will lose idiom as a useful word. If modern websites contribute to this, then that makes this even more likely. I knew, of course, that my post would be regarded as parsing in this forum, but that’s unavoidable.

but you say that as if parsing is a bad thing! I’m all here for it :grin:


You know, I thought that at first! I’m too used to seeing “parsing” used negatively on CC though.