Common Essay Topics That DON'T Work #2Dec 05, 2022
When writing your essays for your college applications, it’s important
that you know that there are no do-overs in this process. When it comes
to the college essay, it is critical to get it right the first time.
Let's walk through two more common topics you should avoid when writing your essays, as well why they do not work. In this blog, we’ll talk about solutions, other options, and examples that you could write about with similar topics.
In our first blog about Common Topics (linked here) that do not work when writing college admission essays, we talked about community service, and life challenges. These topics are a lot of people’s first choice when thinking about what to write about for college essays. Now, we are going to talk about two more common topics to remove from your repertoire.
Common Topic #3: Athletic Essays
Let me begin by confessing my bias – I LOVE sports. I believe it is one of the best ways to learn lessons on and off the field. That said, I must admit there are many college essays written about athletics, and most of them don’t work in the admission process.
Why It Doesn’t Work:
Athletic essays typically fall into three categories: failure, success, or from failure to success. It is not impossible to stand out with an essay about sports, but it is difficult. The biggest pitfall is making the essay too much about the entire team, the sport itself, and not specifically about YOU. If you read your essay and think, “This might be too generic,” it probably is.
Consider why you love the sport. Are you competitive and love the challenge? Do you enjoy the community and camaraderie of your teammates? Are you a connoisseur, constantly rattling off facts and figures about your passion for the sport? Too many athletes decide to write about their sport, without completely reflecting on why they chose the sport to begin with and/or why they continued to play the sport for several years.
Story about Wayne in the book, SBHS football. Canceled Varsity Football, but he stayed on, he simply loved the sport for the community. He was determined to pass that down to the younger group of JV football players. What we learn about Wayne is his passion, his leadership, his determination to make things happen in the face of an extremely challenging time. In a time when walking out, quitting, or giving up is easier for most teams than pushing through the tough times – Wayne rose to the occasion.
This essay is less about the sport and much more about Wayne’s character and love of his fellow teammates.
Your resume will tell me which sport you played. Your essay should reveal your connection, history and/or lessons learned because of this sport. Some of my favorite sport essays have taught me more about the leadership qualities of the applicant, or the meticulous nature of a superstition or routine the player has, or the particular nuances or history of a sport that the student finds so engaging. Sometimes the best athletic essays are not about the sport at all.
Common Topic #4: Important People In Your Life
We need to have a little chat. Many of you will want to write about an important person in your life; mom, dad, sibling, grandparent, best friend, maybe a teacher or mentor. GREAT! I love it! Believe me, it is commendable when a teenager understands how an adult has helped shape his learning, her interests, and/or new way of thinking. But I want to talk about the black hole, how to avoid it, and the solutions to making it work.
Why It Doesn’t Work:
I may be stating the obvious, but most teens end up writing an essay about the other person and not about themselves. Hmm. How can I explain? In any story, there is the main character and the supporting roles. Most applicants confuse these roles when writing an essay about a most influential person. Remember: YOU are still the main character with the leading role.
If you haven’t drafted your essay yet, I recommend writing down the person you have in mind. Then write down all the words that come to mind about how that person has positively influenced you. Hone in on one or two words on the page and find a memory that captures those lessons. Write about that.
Fabian’s essay about his “commander”, the conversation they have, and how he is shaped by this person. Even as I recall the essay, I can clearly imagine the two of them sitting – the sergeant at his desk and the young boy at a chair next to the desk, peppering the sergeant with questions about his career, how or why he chose it, movies he likes, I remember working and re-working this essay with him in the essay camp last year. With each draft, my student was able to reveal who he was becoming, how his values were shaped. But I learn more about the applicant by the questions he asks the mentor. By the thoughts he shares with the reader of how the mentor’s answers, combined with his own ideals, values, and goals, shapes who he is and the direction he wants to pursue in life.
There are several compelling reasons to write about influential people, just keep in mind what it is you learned and why that is applicable to your current and future life. For example, the single parent that works two jobs, and taught you work ethic, or the mentor that has a debilitating illness and yet is the best example of staying positive, or the relative who served in WWII and influenced your desire to serve our country.
I hope this blog was helpful for you in figuring out what to write about (and what NOT to write about) for your college admission essays.
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