“What should I write my essay about?” is one of the most frequently asked questions by college applicants. They’re nervous, they want to please and most don’t have a clue how to present themselves to an admissions committee.
The mantra from the Admissions Office goes something like this: “Tell us about yourself,” “What makes you tic?” “Share what you’re passionate about,” “Get personal” etc.
Some students take the “get personal” too far and write about things that were better left unmentioned. Quirky and unusual are good but here are some taboo topics for college essays:
Sex. Most parents are aghast that a student would even consider writing about sex. An essay on your sexual experiences screams “too much information!” Don’t write to shock or embarrass your reader. I’ve witnessed students trying to defend this topic as something they feel passionately about. What they may be feeling in passion they are clearly lacking in good judgment. Very simple – this is a totally inappropriate topic.
Experiences with drugs and/or alcohol. The essay isn’t the best place to share your “wild and crazy” stories. Even when these experiences are in the past and the student has overcome the problems, it still paints a dicey picture. If you present yourself as “the only kid that didn’t do drugs” – you’ll get stuck in a “holier-than-thou” theme and that doesn’t work well, either.
Secret revelations of negative behaviors or personal struggles. Eating issues, suicide attempts, violence towards family members or friends, etc. make admissions people nervous. You have to ask yourself: “If I were in college admissions, would I want that student on my campus?”
Intolerant attitudes. Essays don’t need to be sanitized and totally “PC” (politically correct), but overt prejudice, rude and/or negative commentary raises red flags.
Some less obvious no-no’s:
• Writing on predictable essay topics – “saving the world through mission trips.”
• Describing your life’s goal as making a lot of money
• Telling the college that the main reason you’re interested in attending is because they are a prestigious school and sit high in the rankings.
• Revealing to the college that they are not really your No.1 choice. You don’t need to lie, but being brutally honest could be a buzz-kill.
• Sharing that you really aren’t interested in learning anything or making a contribution to society.
• Detailing your contribution to something that makes you sound arrogant. Don’t take all the credit for winning the game or hosting an event. Humility will get you much further than bragging.
Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.
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