The essay is one of the most important parts of a college application. It shows colleges who you are in a way that can’t be captured by grades, scores, or recommendation letters. An original, engaging essay can make your application stand out — but a dull essay will get lost in the shuffle.
One of the most difficult parts of writing a college essay is picking a topic that is unique to you. If the topic and content of the essay aren’t things that only you could write about, admissions officers have probably read at least a dozen essays similar to yours. Before you start writing, stop and think: “Am I the only person who could write this essay?” If the answer is no, then you need to keep searching for a topic. Here are some essay topics that are considered risky because they are so clichéd, and some ideas for how to avoid them:
The Service Trip
Arguably the most common topic, essays about community service can be boring if they lack detail. If you just write broadly about how the trip made you realize that giving back to society is important or helped you “discover yourself,” readers will be disinterested because they’ve seen it all before. If you choose to write an essay about community service, the key is to focus on one thing that made the trip meaningful to you specifically, and to include plentiful detail so that the reader remains engaged. Focus on a specific moment of the trip that stands out in your memory. It could be anything from a significant interaction to a cultural learning experience. This gives colleges a window into your unique experience, helping them form a clearer idea of who you are as a person.
Tragedy essays can be powerful and compelling if they’re done right. With these essays, it is important to keep the focus on yourself and how you grew from the experience, as opposed to focusing on describing the experience itself. How did the tragedy make you feel? What did it drive you to do? Focus on the impact and the aftermath of the tragedy instead of the tragedy itself.
The Sports Comeback
This is the hardest cliché to pull off successfully, as these essays typically follow a predictable storyline. While it is easy to make sports stories interesting, and while these experiences can illustrate qualities such as leadership or perseverance, it is hard to make them unique. Because of this issue, we recommend that students generally steer clear of sports essays.
Remember, the best essay topic is one that is most unique to you. The goal of your essay is to show your personality and unique qualities to admissions officers, and it’s up to you to decide which events or experiences define you most.