“Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past….If something inside you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability.”

This is from Anne Lamott, from her popular how-to writing book called Bird By Bird. (I highly recommend this guide, especially if you want to read one of the best books on learning how to write.)

Lamott takes a lot of risks with her writings, especially in her memoirs, and has the courage to splash all her insecurities, flaws and mistakes all over the pages.

But because she sticks to the often-blemished truth, she is both poignant and hilarious.

With these college admissions essays, I think that you can write the most compelling pieces if you are willing to take a hard, honest look at yourself and life—especially something that you weren’t necessarily proud of but somehow turned around or learned from or changed for the better—and share some of that with the reader.

When you write about any type of problem, include how it made you feel. Open up. Share your thoughts and opinions. Be vulnerable.

It is always a tough question about picking a topic that is too controversial or sensitive when writing college admissions essays.

You certainly don’t want them to think you are a total freak.

But my opinion is that if your topic helps you reveal something special or unique about yourself—go for it!!

One trick when writing about potentially loaded topics is to write more generally about the sensational parts, such as describing someone’s illness or injury.

In other words, if something is really graphic, just provide enough information so the reader understands what you are talking about.

If you get the sense that what you are writing about is a total turn-off or is just trying to shock or push hot buttons, of course, avoid it.

But if you are genuine and truthful, I think it’s worth a try.

Always have someone you trust read your work to get some neutral feedback.

You can always tone it down, if necessary.