When you begin brainstorming topics for your college admissions essay, it may be tempting to write about something that demonstrates how great you are as a person, or an emotional piece about how a death in the family has taught you how valuable life is. While these may answer the prompts, they are overused topics that will not bring you a strong, unique, successful essay. Choosing a cliche topic is not the only common mistake that should be avoided when writing essays. Avoiding these ten things will bring you closer to the winning essay that will get you acceptance into the college of your dreams!
- Cliche, overused topics with common perspectives- This fall admissions committees will spend weeks reading through admissions essays, many of which will be written about the same old topics: role models, mission trips, death, and so on. While all of these may seem like great topics to write about, they will not make you stand out from all of the other college hopefuls. According to The College Essayist Guidebook, "While these are all still possible topics to consider, unless you are able to think of special qualities surrounding these topics that make you unique, it is safe to say that an admissions counselor will move on to the next candidate. Do not dismiss all such cliche topics, however. Look carefully at your list and clarify whether or not you will be able to provide a unique perspective to a former cliched topic. If yes, keep it in the list. If not, eliminate it!"
- Topics that are too big or small for 650 words - Remember, there is a word count on this essay! When selecting topics keep in mind that you should be able to discuss the topic in 650 words. This means do not select a topic that is only worthy of a paragraph, nor a topic that you need 7 pages to write about.
- Pity parties - Often it is the hardships in life that bring out the best in us, but when writing about a tragic topic demonstrate the positive outcomes of it. How it has made you stronger as a person, how it has inspired you, etc. College admissions officers want to see how you can grow from hardships as a bigger and stronger person.
- Writing all about your family - We know you love your family, and in many ways, they have shaped who you are as a person today. Students tend to fall into the trap of getting so wrapped up in the story of their family that they forget that the essay is supposed to be about them! It is great that your great grandma is Janet Jackson, but this doesn't necessarily mean you have inherited her talent. Unless you find a unique way to discuss how having a famous grandmother has impacted your life in a unique way, then it is best to just avoid topics like these.
- Writing all about how you like to help people - On the surface, mission trips to other countries seem like a great topic for a college admissions essay. You may think mission trips show you are worldly, caring, and mature, but many other students have had the same experience. Unless you can find a unique way that the trip impacted you, or you can focus on a specific anecdote from the trip it will just be the same boring story that admissions committees have already seen thousands of times.
- Struggles that may make you seem privileged - Sometimes we experience "first world problems." Though these problems may feel real, when put into perspective they may make you seem silly and unaware. If not making the school baseball team or losing the big game was the worst thing to ever happen to you, you will seem privileged and self involved. Rather, write about what you learned from not making the teem or winning the game!
- Writing about something not everyone may understand - This may include sports, culture, art or really any topic. Unless something is obviously common knowledge, it is best to avoid the topic altogether or to make sure you thoroughly explain what you mean. An essay filled with football jargon will be boring and confusing to a reader who doesn't watch football.
- Someone else's ideas to sound smart - An essay that is filled with quotes and picks apart an academic idea that you don't fully understand and can't contribute anything new to is never a good idea. Selecting a scholarly, complex topic and giving someone else's paraphrased opinion will come off as insincere and will show you as the exact opposite of scholarly and complex. By all means, quote if you believe you can provide an alternative point of view, but if you are just quoting to use up word space, rethink your essay.
- "Bar fight" topics (religion, politics, etc) - This one is pretty self-explanatory. Topics such as religion and politics are always controversial. Since you don't know who will be reading your essay and what their opinions or beliefs are it is best to steer clear. However, topics like these at the same time can also be used, if presented in a manner that is individualistic, yet respectful.
- Past mistakes - Unless the fact that you have been arrested has had a deeply significant impact on your life it is best to just avoid bringing up old things that reflect poorly upon yourself. What you think shows growth might leave an admissions committee just hung up on the fact that it happened.
Follow these simple 10 no-no's of college essays, and you'll be annihilating college essays to the extreme.