I’ve read several news articles in recent weeks featuring college admissions officials sharing what they liked about college application essays they read over the last year.
This feedback can be invaluable for students beginning to consider their essays and brainstorming topic ideas.
The admissions staffers at some of the greatest schools within the nation talked about the types of topics they enjoyed, and just why they found them effective in learning more about the student applicants, and connecting with them (and admitting them!).
What the articles didn’t consist of, however, were ideas on exactly just how you can find your own unique topics, and craft them into engaging and meaningful essays.
But don’t despair!
I have loads of tips and useful advice on how to not just find these awesome kinds of topics, but how to find your real-life stories and use those to power your essays just like these bright students.
I’ve extracted a few of the feedback from 3 associated with top colleges featured in a U.S. News article on Top Colleges Share Notes on Great Application Essays and will share my tips on why they worked along with links where you could learn how to write your personal.
The admissions counselor from Williams shared an essay she read in regards to a student’s love of language, based on the US News piece.
The student explained within the essay how he developed this passion from sharing stories with his grandmother, that has dementia. And how he went on to join a neuroscience lab to help understand her disease.
My Related Tip: Notice how the way the student did not just write about how much he loved languages. Alternatively, he used his real-life experiences of sharing stories with his grandmother to SHOW the reader exactly what inspired his passion.
HOW YOU CERTAINLY CAN DO THIS: Learn How to Find Your Stories
The dean of undergrad admissions at Johns Hopkins noted one memorable essay a student wrote about his role reading the morning announcements at his high school, based on the US News article.
The dean pointed away that the essay gave him idea of the student’s personality beyond just his accomplishments, and got a sense of the way the applicant would contribute to the school’s community.
My Related Tip: Notice that the writer’s topic wasn’t something impressive, but something everyday and simple? I call those ‘mundane’ topics and they frequently make the best essays, fingers down.
WAYS TO DO THIS: A Lesson in Mundane Topics
In the US News article, the Middlebury University admissions counselor enjoyed an essay a student wrote about his Pez dispenser collection.
The counselor noted that the humorous writing perhaps not only caught his attention, but allowed him to see the student’s quirks and personality traits.thesis statement for to kill a mockingbird
My Related Tip: Writing about something as everyday as candy also falls into that miracle topic camp of the mundane. Also, the student apparently featured real-life moments (‘a hilarious take on people’s odd reactions’) in his essay, which were entertaining and brought the piece to life.
Turning real-life moments and incidents into ‘anecdotes’ is one of the most powerful writing devices you can utilize to power your essay. Just Take the time for you to find out how to do this with your stories!
HOW YOU CAN DO THIS: Learn how to show your own real-life moments into engaging ‘hooks’ for your essays.
I strongly encourage you to see the entire U.S. News article to see the other examples from schools, such as Swarthmore, CalTech and Dartmouth.
See for yourself how the topics that made the biggest impression on the admissions staffers were those that used everyday topics, including Legos (even though that is way overused!), working behind the scenes in drama and being fully a sensitive ‘Bro.’ (Learning topics other students wrote about is a great means to inspire your own ideas!)
Still perhaps not convinced that everyday topics can get you into your dream school? Read how one Girl Got Into Yale After Currently Talking About Papa John’s Pizza.
In most of these essays and topics, the students were about to reveal both their personality and character. This is actually the magic mixture of a winning essay. Find out more about this in Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way.
I’ve been reading college application essays for the last decade.
I’m probably to the thousands by now.
Looking back, I have identified probably the most common flaw in most of them.
They are too general.
Which make them borrrrrrringggggg.
Many students end up with generic essays because they try to say too much about by themselves inside their allotted 500 to 650 or however many required words.
This happens the most when their essay topic is too broad.
In my opinion all of us make these mistakes in writing because we fear that we will error on leaving out something crucial.
So we try to work in as information that is much we can.
More is better, right?
These colleges and universities wish to learn as much about us as you are able to, yes?
What goes on when we cover too much ground about ourselves within our college application essays is that people end up not saying much of such a thing meaningful.
Our most fascinating points about ourselves get diluted because we decide to try to cover a lot of.
Here is my tip for avoiding generic, dull essays: Get particular.
The best means I have discovered to narrow an essay topic into one that is more focused and meaningful is to brainstorm ONE PART of yourself to showcase in your essay, instead of cramming in everything great you are able to think of about yourself.
I have a nifty post on exactly just how to complete that by learning how exactly to Find Your Defining Qualities.
If you’re just starting your college application essay writing adventure, this is actually the time for you to read and discover your defining qualities and characteristics.
You can also rein in your topic by framing it around one of your core values, which you can find in this post: Find Your Core Values to Rock Your Essay.
If you sharpen your essay topics right at the beginning, you have already greatly improved the opportunities of one’s essay being more interesting and relevant and far better in its role to help differentiate you from other applicants.
So instead of currently talking about how you are a natural leader in your community and enter all of the activities and lessons you have learned, look for a way to write in regards to a smaller piece of your leadership experiences.
Try to look for a quality or core value that you’ve got developed being a leader and make your instance for how you learned all about it.
Have you been a leader because you like to be at the head of the pack and a job model?
Have you been a leader because you like to bring people together and build consensus?
Are you a leader even if you are more of an introvert?
If you can narrow the primary point you want to make about yourself in your essay, you’ll be going deeper and revealing more about yourself when you explain how you got that way.
Trust that it’s better to say more about one part of yourself than trying to describe everything you can think of.
Here is a great post to enable you to get started: how exactly to Write Your Essay in 3 simple steps
You got this!
If one happens to reside near Laguna Beach, California, I’m holding essay writing boot camps come july 1st. Find out more.
If you are simply starting brainstorming ideas for your college application essays, among the first pieces of advice you may come across is to avoid ‘cliche’ topics.
I always warn my students about these often over-used topics, which can include:
Death of family
Activities (especially injuries and victories/losses)
Mission trips (volunteering)
Tutoring (especially special needs children)
Travel (family trips)
RELATED: College Application Essay Topics to prevent
The primary reason to avoid them is that droves of other students have already written about these topics, so that they aren’t as effective at helping you differentiate yourself from other applicants.
I have experienced numerous college application essays and some of the greatest ones, in fact on these exact red-flagged topics.
Although it’s useful to recognize potentially cliche topics, you can still write a brilliant essay about them.
As I like to say about ALL college essay topics, it’s that which you have to express about them that matters the most.
The challenge with cliche topics is that often students tend to say the same about them, which only makes them worse.
For instance, if you write about the loss of a family member, and also you mainly share just how terrible it made you are feeling and just how it made you now appreciate all your living loved ones, and also you include only general observations that way, your essay could fail to increase above its cliche status.
The secret is to find way to shift your cliche topic beyond the predictable.
If you are kicking around writing about one of these simple red-flagged topics, choose a unique ANGLE.
An ‘angle’ on paper means the point you would like to make about your topic in your essay.
If you can find a silly point to make about a cliche topic, or how you relate somehow for this topic, your essay could go from trite and dull to fresh and surprising.
For example, one student wrote concerning the sport of crew.
Regardless of the overdone activities theme, his essay was exceptional because he found a unique point to make about crew, which reflected on how it shaped his character.
His essay made the purpose that crew taught him how to find his ‘crazy’ side from the intense physical and especially mental challenges.
If he had simply discussed a competition he won, or lost, his essay might have been more cliche.
Or if he wrote about learning that hard work paid off, or something generic like that, it might have been cliche.
Instead, he featured this unusual point or ‘angle’ about nearly going crazy and continued to explain how he applied that intense energy to other endeavors in his life.
And that made all the difference.
Related: Read the Actual Sample Essay About Crew and Being Crazy
A twist is comparable to an angle, however it’s more about what happened in your essay than your unique point you would like to make.
To find a twist, choose a way to get something unexpected that involved you and your topic.
Maybe you learned something from working with it that surprised you.
One former student wrote about going for a family trip in a large camper with plenty of siblings for half her summer that she dreaded. But then she discovered some unforeseen pleasures and lessons along the means mainly about herself.
Another student wrote about perhaps not getting her typical starring role in the college musical, and how she learned the value of being a supportive actress and person.
RELATED: Find the Twist in Your College App Essay
If you can make the cliche topic itself more specific a subject inside a topic frequently you could make it more original and various.
For example, if you want to write about sports, and pick football or basketball or running, those are specifically challenging to find new things to write about them since they are so popular.
(And admissions officers have probably read many essays about those popular activities for the same reason.)
It’s not impossible to write about the greater popular sports, especially if you apply Tips #1 or #2 to your topic. But know it won’t be effortless.
If you take part in a sport that is unique in itself, however, such as for instance pole-vaulting, bobsledding, yo-yo-ing, karate, fencing, or other less popular activities, it might be easier to create an essay that doesn’t express the same old stories about winning their state championship or injuring an ACL.
Or maybe you have a physical feature that should have kept you from excelling at that sport (your twist), such as for instance being under 5′ and being fully a basketball star, or perhaps a girl playing football (sadly this is certainly still pretty uncommon), or water polo and having to swim. (You get my drift.)
Again, it’s exactly what you must say about it.
If you want to write about your mission trip to Africa, remember to find something particular and unique that happened to you while on that trip, and concentrate on that and what you learned (as opposed to currently talking about just the trip itself).
Frequently, if you can think about something which happened for you related to your cliche topic that is different, unique or unusual, that could set it apart from other essays on a single topic.
The main reason these cliche topics frequently make lousy essays is the fact that students say the same general, predictable things about them.
If you can find something different or unique to share about them either about what occurred to you or that which you learned these are typically no longer cliche.
You mainly have to dig deeper with your ideas and stories, and get more creative and insightful about your personal experience.
So do not cross these off your topic brainstorm list yet.
Just know they will need extra work to make your essays awesome.