How to Choose a Topic for Your Common App Essay

Contributed image, Michele Turk

Contributed image, Michele Turk

By Michele Turk, Founder, A Bloc of Writers

You’ve never trekked through the jungles of Thailand, volunteered on a mission trip abroad or founded a non-profit organization? Don’t worry — you will still find something to write about in your college application essay and get into a competitive college.

One of the most nerve-wracking and intimidating aspects of the college application process is writing the college admissions essay. Many students become preoccupied with the notion that they need to write about a life-changing adventure or an enormous personal challenge to impress college admission officers.

“Nothing bad has ever happened to me!” they complain, not realizing their good fortune. Likewise, parents lament, “He’s led a relatively normal childhood.”

Not to worry. Ask any college admissions officer and they will echo the same advice: write about something you care or are passionate about, and make sure it reveals something about you. It’s true that admissions officers read thousands of essays, so you want yours to stand out. But the goal of the college application essay is not simply to impress the admissions office; a thoughtful, well-written essay gives colleges insight into who you really are and what’s important to you.

One of the biggest mistakes students make is to write what they think admissions officers want to read. These essays often end up being forced and inauthentic. Instead, the best approach is to choose a topic or theme that you care about, and something the reader wouldn’t know about you by looking at the rest of the application.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to travel far to find a winning essay topic. In fact, some of the most compelling essays are written about experiences closer to home, on topics as simple as a first job, a particularly memorable moment from your childhood or an academic interest, challenge or accomplishment. There’s a piece of advice every aspiring writer has heard: “Write what you know.” When it comes to the college essay, you probably know more than you realize.

See also:

Four Red Flags on the Path to an Impressive College Essay


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