College Application Essays
Tips for Finding Topics That CBS Finds Worth Repeating
A couple days ago, Lynn O’Shaughnessy, a journalist who covers college admissions issues for CBS, featured this blog in her column for MoneyWatch. How cool is that? She shared one of my previous posts that try to help guide students toward finding college application essay topics that don’t fall into the common traps, such as being cliche, too controversial or just plain dull.
These topic “no-nos” do not mean it’s impossible to write about topics that have been written before or are sensational in nature, but it’s a good idea to understand that they can be more challenging to pull off and not backfire on you. Like anything, it’s not what you write about, but what you have to say about it that matters. Some topics are simply more loaded than others.
Here’s the article from Lynn’s MoneyWatch column for CBS:
By LYNN O’SHAUGHNESSY | MONEYWATCH | June 21, 2013, 8:12 AM
10 topics to avoid in a college admission essay
(MoneyWatch) For students who are applying for college, one of the scariest parts of the admission process is writing the dreaded essay.
A common mistake that students make when tackling their college essays is to pick the wrong topics. It’s a huge turn off, for instance, when applicants write about their sports exploits or their pets. I asked Janine Robinson, who is the creator of a wonderful website called Essay Hell and the author of an excellent ebook entitled “Escape Essay Hell,” to identify those essay topics that teenagers should absolutely avoid.
Here are Robinson’s college essay no-no’s:
1. Listing accomplishments. You might be the most amazing person on the planet, but nobody wants a recitation of the wonderful things you’ve done, the people you’ve encountered and the places you’ve visited.
2. Sports. Do you know how many millions of teens have written about scoring the winning goal, basket or run? You definitely don’t want to write about your winning team. And nobody wants to read about your losing team, either.
3. Sharing how lucky you are. If you are one of the lucky teenagers who has grown up in an affluent household, with all the perks that goes with it, no need to share that with college admission officials. “The last thing anyone wants to read about is your ski trip to Aspen or your hot oil massage at a fancy resort,” Robinson observed.
4. Writing an “un-essay.” Many students, particularly some of the brightest ones, have a negative reaction to the strictures of the admission essay. In response, Robinson says, “They want to write in stream-of-consciousness or be sarcastic, and I totally understand this reaction. However, you must remember your goal with these essays — to get accepted! Save the radical expression for after you get into college.”
5. Inflammatory topics. It’s unwise to write about politics or religion, two of the most polarizing topics. Avoid any topics that make people angry.
6. Illegal activity. Do not write about drug use, drinking and driving, arrests or jail time. Also leave your sexual activities out of the frame. Even if you have abandoned your reckless ways, don’t bring it up.
7. Do-good experiences. Schools do not want to hear about your church or school trip to another country or region to help the disadvantaged. You may be able to write about a trip like this only if you focus on a specific experience within the broader trip.
8. The most important thing or person in my life. This topic is too broad and too loaded, whether you want to write about God, your mom or best friend. These essays are usually painfully boring.
9. Death, divorce, tragedies. The problem with these topics is not that they are depressing, but that such powerful topics can be challenging to write about. Absolutely no pet stories — admission officers hate them.
10. Humor. A story within a college essay can be amusing, but don’t try to make the entire essay funny.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is a best-selling author, consultant and speaker on issues that parents with college-bound teenagers face. She explains how families can make college more affordable through her website TheCollegeSolution.com, her financial workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College and the new second edition of her Amazon best-selling book, The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.
MoneyWatch columnist Lynn O’Shaughnessy
OTHER HELPFUL LINKS FROM LYNN: