The college essay is tough. It’s not writing it that’s the hard part – it’s deciding what to write about that can be difficult. What’s most curious about the college essay is that many of the topics on this list (those that should be avoided) also happen to be some of the most commonly used topics out there.
But, why? Why are students writing about boring, tired out subjects?
A lack of creativity? Certainly not! Students know how to be creative.
A lack of gumption? Doubtful – many students even take it upon themselves to create their own version of an anti-essay (see number seven on the list).
For many students, the issue is the narrative, which begins at the essay’s focus: the topic.
A boring essay details a summary of Joe’s mission trip to Guatemala, where he volunteered at a local school with his family.
A great essay details Joe’s experience during his mission trip to Guatemala, where he volunteered at a local school with his family. It was there he met Anita, a local elderly woman who wanted to learn how to read but came from a poor family so she never had the opportunity. Joe and Anita developed a friendship…
See, you want to read more of the story, right? But, the first essay example didn’t make you want to continue reading on to learn any more details. That’s the difference.
You may think you know what you’re going to write your college admissions essay about but, before you do, read this list to learn what topics you should avoid and why.
1. A Summary of Your Accomplishments College essays are similar to life and, in life, nobody likes a braggart. These topics are broad, unfocused and make a boring read.
You may have accomplished a lot, but let your essay speak by allowing the reader to get to know you as a person through your experiences – not through you telling them how accomplished you are.
After reading your essay, a person should be able to come up with their own assessment of you – people don’t like to be told how to think.
2. Highly Polarized or Sensitive Topics The key topics to avoid here are the same as those at the Thanksgiving table: politics and religion.
Avoid preaching about sensitive topics, no matter how passionate you are about a particular one. You never know who is going to be reading your admissions essay and the goal at hand is to gain admission into college.
3. Sports The sports essay is predictable and should be avoided, if possible. Everyone knows how an athletic story will play out, regardless of the story or the sport. Find another topic that is unique and hasn’t been covered a million times over.
Admissions officers have heard enough about “the thrill of victory” and “the agony of defeat” in relation to high school athletics and they are sick and tired of pretending to care.
4. Humor Stop trying to be so funny. You may have a story in your essay that’s funny and that’s okay – but that’s different. Make sure you’re funny for a reason and not just funny because you’re attempting to be. If it comes out naturally in your essay, great. If it doesn’t, then don’t force it. Admissions officers will see the futile attempt – and likely not find it amusing.
5. Why You’re SO Lucky We get it. You’re privileged and you appreciate it, which is great. However, discussing it doesn’t make for a great essay. It’s actually super boring and, perhaps, may cause some eyes to roll.
Avoid this topic at all costs unless you’re starting with that followed up with some along the lines of, “…so I decided to leave my cushy private school to switch places at a public high school in Detroit with an inner-city teen and this is what happened.” Now THAT would make for an interesting essay.
6. Volunteer Experiences & Trips This may be one of the most popular essay topics out there…and it’s also one of the most boring clichés around. Nobody needs a summary of your vacation – people know what happens on mission trips and during volunteer hours.
While you should feel free to mention a great experience or trip, but your entire essay should not talk about your one experience volunteering during a mission trip in Costa Rica.
If you do want to bring up these topics, try to think of something interesting or unexpected that happened during your trip.
Did a particular person or experience have an impact on you? Specific happenings can make great topics – try to think of something unusual and craft your essay around that experience, instead. (See example within the opening of this article.)
So, you’re creative, smart and so over this whole essay thing. You’re not going to be put inside a box with a regular essay; you’re going to do your own thing. You’re going to whatever you feel like writing. Some of the best and brightest students do this: basically, they create the anti-essay.
Fine, but be prepared to write whatever you feel like writing from a college that may not be your first choice.
Whether it’s a poem, a random stream of thoughts, sarcasm, or some other form of writing in order to feel more creative, it’s not always the best idea. Before you do this, remember one thing: the sole purpose of your college essay is to get into college. You can show off later.
8. Illegal or Illicit Behavior Drug and alcohol use, sex, arrests and/or jail time are topics that you should steer clear of, even if they are life issues you’ve worked through.
You would not want your judgment to be called into question for the decisions you’ve made (even if they are in the past) or for making the decision to write about the decisions you’ve made. Either way, it’s risky business to go this route and is not recommended.
9. The Most Important [Person, Place, Thing] in My Life Read this aloud. Doesn’t this topic sound like an assignment that a second or third grader would write about? It really does and, if a child can handle it, it probably won’t gain you a lot of points with college admissions officers.
10. Tragedies Topics like death and divorce are cautionary because they can be extremely difficult to write about.
While these topics are tough, if you feel passionately that a particular tragedy impacted your life significantly and you do want to write about it, try to keep the essay’s focus on you.
Think about your feelings regarding the situation, how it affected you and what you learned from the experience rather than just simply recalling the situation or the person you lost.
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TOPIC: What makes you a perfect candidate for FIT? Why are you interested in the major you're applying for? This is your chance to tell us about your accomplishments, experiences, and activities.
Every person has a passion in life. My passion consists of fashion and writing. Looking back to when I was a child, the moments I treasure the most were when my parents brought home books for me. I was so fascinated by words and the way they affected me in different emotional ways. My favorite childhood book, The Little Engine That Could, was one of the books that affected me the most. The book depicts a story of a little engine, although surrounded by many big engines, bravely pulls all the cars up to the mountain because he believed that he could. The way the words illustrated the scene and moral of the story brought tears to my eyes. I was astounded and moved by how much words can affect a person. Likewise, fashion was also a very big part during my adolescent and teenage years. Each and every day, I was able to articulate and communicate myself though the way I dress. Fashion allowed me to have my own unique personality, to be someone different - someone I couldn't have been without the circumstances that clothes allowed me to express my individuality. If I could combine these two areas together, as done in the Advertising and Marketing Communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I would be able to pursue a career that I love: writing and designing advertising and editorial campaigns for the fashion industry.
In five years, I envision myself working at a fashion magazine firm as a fashion editor or at an agency like Saatchi and Saatchi or BBDO. As of now, I take courses in Italian and Art History, write daily, and read fashion blogs and study magazines relentlessly. Because I am interested in this field, every month I save up money to buy fashion magazines. Skimming through the pages of American Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire, I realized what I wanted to do. Every time I get a new issue of these magazines, I read through each magazine thoughtfully, looking at all the editorials, and then cutting out images of clothes, cosmetics, stories, etc. that I find intriguing and interesting. I then would paste these images in my own way on construction paper and I would write my own article as if I were really designing a page for a magazine. Each and every time I do this, I can tell that this is what I want to do with my life. I enjoy and love the way campaigns effect us all in diverse ways; that's what I want to do - I want to be able to create and generate campaigns that speak to not just one specific type of person, but to many audiences. And what better way than to combine that with fashion? Fashion allows a person to specify his or herself through clothing, accessories, and cosmetics. I would love to combine these two areas into one, where I can design ad campaigns for these types of products- expressing to many audiences why they should buy the product.
One thing that stands out about FIT when compared with other schools is that the school allows one to start his or her major as soon as he or she steps through the doors. FIT is also very notable for employing trained professionals in the industry to teach the students. Providing more useful information and giving the students an insight in that certain career, students will have more knowledge of what it is really like in the industry. I know that the coursework at FIT is more challenging than those of other colleges, and I am ready and able to take on the tasks that will be put in my direction. What I can offer FIT is my unique way of thinking and the countless ideas in my head. I can and will be able to submit my own concepts and notions on how to better or make a product innovative and relatable to many audiences. Although I did not have the opportunities for internships at magazine or advertising firms, I plan to attain internships during my studies at FIT. With the impressive resumes of internships that I will gain from FIT, I will land a job in the career of my choice, no doubt.
All in all, FIT is the perfect school for me because it allows me to get the proper education I need to go into my field of choice. Similarly to the way flowers rely on water and sunlight to bloom, FIT is my sunlight and water, and will be the foundation in which I will be able to prosper.