The college essay! What should you write about? More importantly, what should you not write about?

Did you just break up with someone you were dating? Colleges don’t want to know about it. Are you a waiter who spit in a rude customer’s food? First, that’s gross. Second, there’s no need to tell colleges about that either. Is George Washington the greatest president in your opinion? Please don’t choose this topic.

Take a look at the examples above. Why are these potentially bad topics?

  • • There’s a risk when you talk about boyfriends and girlfriends in your college essay. Are admissions officers really learning a lot about you from your love life? Doubtful. And it could be a major turn-off.
  • • When it comes to ethical behavior, it might be good for your conscience to come clean about expectorating (SAT word) in a customer’s food, or cheating on an exam, or stealing a candy bar – but it’s not recommended. Admissions officers might be choosing between you and an applicant who just raised $5,000 for the local library. This probably won’t be a very difficult choice if you write about questionable behavior.
  • • Writing an essay on a famous historical figure can be pretty boring for admissions officers. They went to high school and have already learned about these same people. Can an admissions officer really know more about you because you chose to write about George Washington, or Babe Ruth, or Marie Curie?

It’s possible to write a good, or even great, essay on virtually any topic; it’s just that most college applicants do not yet have the skills to do so. So, picking a good topic is key.

When reading your essay, admissions officers want to know what you like, what you don’t like, what you’ve done or what you hope to accomplish. They will want to know how you’ll contribute to their campus community for the next four years, what activities you’ll participate in, if you’ll become a leader and what you want to study.

Finally, keep in mind that you want to come across as likable in your essays. Does this happen if you complain about your boyfriend, defend why you spit in a customer’s food or bore on about your admiration for Washington?

Probably not.

But would you like someone who taught English to immigrants? Would you like someone who worked hard for a year to complete a 5K race? Would you like someone who stood up for a friend at school who was being bullied?

We would. That’s what you should think about when writing your essays – let admissions officers know who you are and what makes you likable. Because if you don’t tell them, they might not ever know.

About the author
Stephen Friedfeld

Stephen is the co-founder and COO of AcceptU. He received a BA from Cornell University, an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, and a Ph.D. from Rice University. Prior to founding AcceptU, Stephen was an Assistant Dean of admissions at Cornell for four years and an Associate Dean of graduate admissions at Princeton University for six years. Stephen is an IECA Associate Member.

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