Successful College Admission Essays :
Just Plain Dumb Topics
There are topics you should avoid. Many of these are obvious, but sometimes students get carried away and write about them anyway. The only exception is if you can undumb them by writing about them in an intelligent or unique way. But unless you can do this well (and have your work checked by editors), it is much safer to stay away from these subjects. The taboo topics include…
Sex….While sex sells in advertising. It does not work for college admission. It is okay to write about your experience as a sexual abuse counselor or your volunteer work to prevent premarital sex as long as your focus is on the work that you do and not the explicit experiences of your clients. Remember, this is an admission essay, not a television talk show.
Crimes and misdemeanors…On your application, you are required to report any serious criminal activity, suspensions or disciplinary problems. However, some students feel that even if they were never caught that their candor would be appreciated by the admission officer. Unfortunately, this usually sets off warning signals. As an admission officer, how would you feel if a student spent his entire 500-word essay detailing the number of freeway overpasses that he has marked with his graffiti art?
Of course, petty crimes those were committed when we were children are generally exempt. A great essay could be written about how at age 8 you learned a very serious lesson when you tried to take money out of your mother’s purse. It’s a very different story, however, when you write about nabbing a purse at age 17.
Drunkenness or getting high….One student thought it would be particularly entertaining to describe how he thought he was a chicken during his last substance-induced high. It may have been entertaining, but it did not gain him admission. No matter how humorous or memorable your alcohol or drug-induced antics may be, they are not appropriate for your essay. Like tales of criminal acts, they may make the admission officers think you need professional help before higher education.
Drug and alcohol abuse are serious problems on campus – particularly among first-year students. Almost every college has had serious or fatal incidents with underage drinking. This is not something that anyone finds amusing.
Bad grades…Some schools allow a space to offer explanations for poor performance. If there was something that severely affected your grades then you should use this space. However, do not waste your essay trying to justify or make excuses for your poor grades. This is a bad idea since it not only emphasizes that your grades have not been stellar, but it also makes you sound as if you do not take responsibility for your actions or that you tend to look for excuses when bad things happen.
Instead of trying to explain away bad grades, focus on what kept you busy or what kept you motivated. Such an essay will help to convince the admission committee to overlook your lack of academic performance in favor of your other talents and virtues. Admission officers know that not everyone can get straight A’s. If grades are not your strong point, show them what is.
Simple description of why the university is perfect for you. The admission officers are already familiar with the beautiful architecture, rigorous academic courses and opportunities to meet extraordinary people at their universities. So you would only be wasting valuable space by simply describing qualities of the college, especially since they probably know more about the college than you do. An exception is if you have a creative way of approaching this. This means that you do more than regurgitate the information from their website or pile on buckets of meaningless platitudes.
A major news story or disaster….There are some events that you can’t escape. These stories are in the papers and on the evening news programs for weeks if not months. While these events are extremely important because they have affected a large number of people, they will also be the topic of many students’ essays. Because so much has been discussed in the media, for most students there is nothing new to be said. Unless you have a personal connection to the event or a fresh perspective, don’t be one of the masses of students to write about it.
Mental imbalances or insecurities….The last thing that admission officers want to read is your self-evaluation of the mental imbalances or insecurities that you have. Surprisingly, some students use the essay as their forum for revealing their deepest insecurities. Some even rationalize that being honest about their shortcomings is the best way to write a genuine essay. You don’t need to present yourself as infallible in college admission essays, but you should strive to present yourself in a positive light.
Your plan to create world peace…It is true that admission officers like young people with bright ideas and determination. But when you write a whole essay about your plan to bring about world peace, stop hunger or end poverty, you sound more like a competitor in the Miss America Pageant than an intelligent high school student with a firm grasp of reality. There is nothing wrong with having ideals and dreams, just do not spend a whole essay writing about them. An essay about your dreams of doing the impossible, unless you can back it up with concrete examples of what you have done, will only make you sound unrealistic and naive.
Furthermore, such essays give nothing substantial to the admission officers. Anybody can say they want to end world hunger. More than a few applicants will fall into this trap and write at great lengths what they want to do in the future when in fact they should be writing about what they have already done. Resist any temptation to impress the admission officers with your grand plans since you will end up sounding more deserving of a rhinestone-studded tiara than a mortarboard.
The Big Game….Thousands will write about the Big Game, the Big Match or the Big Tournament. Be careful with this kind of topic since it is so common. If you write about a Big Game, be sure that you have an approach that will be different from the rest. A play-by-play narration of the Big Game is not original. Ask yourself when writing if others have had the same experience and might also write about it in a similar way.
Deep Confessions….If you would be ashamed to read your essay to your parents or friends then it is probably not a good essay to send to admission officers. The essay is your time to shine, not confess something extremely personal. Admission officers want to know why they should admit you to their school, not why you would make a great feature in the gossip column.
Now that you know which topics to avoid, it is time to pick a few ideas from your list and start to write.
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