Topics to Avoid
- Pity Me! Topics like sexual assault, death, depression, and suicide attempts are far too heavy for a college admissions essay. No one wants to read an account of a horrific event, even if it concludes with your impressive self-analysis and personal growth. Such topics may even raise a red flag as to how ready you are to handle college at this point. Save these topics for a therapist or your diary.
- Excuses. Excuses for bad grades (e.g. divorce or death in the family, moving to a new school, having an identity crisis) should be explained in a supplemental attachment. Most application platforms like Common App and Coalition provide an area where you can explain extenuating circumstances that may have affected your academic record. Keep these responses short, sweet, objective, and most importantly, far from your main essays.
- The Travel Itinerary. So many students write about traveling that it is no longer a unique topic. If one excursion changed you for the better or opened your eyes in some way, focus on it. Just make sure to explore the important aspects of the journey in-depth and introspectively, rather than providing an itinerary of places you’ve been to.
- Touchy Religious or Political Issues. Major issues like abortion, the legalization of marijuana, and overseas wars are extremely divisive. Though you may be convinced that your arguments are solid and that your point of view is “right,” no one likes being lectured to. The risks of offending the admissions officers are too high, so save these types of essays for history, political science, or sociology courses once/if you’re accepted.
- Your Heroism. This topic should generally be avoided because it is extremely tricky to pull off, but if you really insist on writing about a life-changing heroic act, then go ahead. Just make sure that your essay does not come off as arrogant, like you’re trying to toot your own horn. Be humble when describing your heroic efforts. Be sure to focus on how your heroic act changed you—your values, your perspective, your way of interacting with others, your self-esteem—and not on the act itself. You can do this by devoting significantly more word count to whatever happens after the act of heroism than to the parts before. You can also show who you were “before” performing this heroic act and contrast this with who you became “after” the act. And keep the heroic scene brief!
- Dating/Sex Life. Writing about a steamy or controversial topic may be an easy way to grab the reader’s attention, but it will likely just embarrass your reader. Avoid topics you would not feel comfortable discussing with a stranger. Some aspects of life are best kept private.
- Dodgy Behavior. Don’t ever write about anything remotely illegal, such as gambling, drag racing, or substance (ab)use, no matter how cool or fascinating you may find the topic or how seamlessly you can weave it into a narrative. Again, colleges are business organizations who seek to mitigate their risk, so avoid coming off as even 1% of a liability.