Writing College Admission Essays Is Hard

With early decision deadlines surrounding us this week, we'd like to point you to this classic article over at the Wall Street Journal that reminds us just how difficult it really is to write a college application essay.

We'd like to emphasize the thought these college and university presidents gave to the topics of their essays. Selecting your topic and point of view carefully is a fundamental part of writing the admission essay (not to mention all writing in general). Are you writing about yourself in the present? About yourself in the recent past? Are you writing about yourself before you had a change in opinion or experience?

The people the Journal write about here might seem different from typical college applicants in that they are older and more experienced than those applying now, but in reality, writing their essays is not so different from writing yours. You need to intelligently choose your subject matter, making it something that is distinctive, personal, memorable, and accessible.

Near the end of the article, one writer considers, but then avoids, writing about her morning workout routine. The reasons she cites are good - it's boring and self-congratulatory - but the more important reason not to choose such a topic is that it tells us little about the writer's life outside of the gym. These essays want to be more than a story of what you do. They can address who you are, and implicitly, they should be about what you can bring to a university, be it in the classroom or the campus at large.

Don't shy away from topics that feel overly emotional, just make sure not to convey them in tired, cliched ideas. One essay cited in the Journal article, about a sibling that had died before the author was born, used a topic that was full of emotional pitfalls, but if the writer is willing to be honest and talk about how that living condition affected him as a person without using cookie-cutter descriptions, then there stands to be an enormous amount gained by the reader.

This article is a strong reminder that writing is difficult, and being interesting while avoiding cliche takes effort. Put your time in now - get started early - and remember that the college essay ought to be the piece of writing you do more revision on than anything you've ever written.

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Good College Essay Topics For Your Applications

As students head back to school and the application season starts to really heat up, we thought we'd take this week to focus on things you can do to hone your work and make your writing more memorable to those overworked admissions officers.

One of the most obvious things you can do to make your writing stand out is to choose an exciting, accessible topic for your essay. Of course, many of the prompts will be decided for you, but that doesn't mean the topic is. College applications are known for their broad, interpretable questions that have a surprising amount of flexibility to them if you think about it for a bit.

Here are a few good places to start:

  • What are your favorite activities and hobbies? Why?
  • What are your talents/skills? How did you develop them? Who helped you?
  • Who have been the most influential people in your life?
  • What was your most memorable experience? Best? Worst?
  • How have you changed in the past four years?

We've got more good essay topics for you here. Remember to not always choose the first thing that comes to mind. It's much more important to have a good piece of writing than to just get it over with.