Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Writing College Application Essays: How to Choose a Topic, Part 2

It can be tough deciding on a topic for your college application essay. Many students just can’t think of an idea.

That’s why, in a recent post, I suggested 3 questions to ask yourself if you’re having trouble choosing a topic for your college application essay:

1. Is there a time in my life I’ve taken a risk?

2. Is there a time I’ve turned a failure into a success?

3. Has there been a difficult choice I’ve had to make, but I’m glad I made it?

Here’s another way to choose a topic for your college application essay:

Do this: Close your eyes and think of 2 or 3 moments in your life that stand out. Don’t think too hard! What comes to mind first? Is it a success? A failure? An embarrassment? An opportunity? Maybe it’s a moment spent with a family member, friend, or even someone you briefly met and never saw again. Be honest with yourself. Don’t toss a memory under the rug because it’s painful or embarrassing. Write it down.

Now: Ask yourself why that memory stands out. Did you learn anything from it? Did it change you in any way? Did it influence your actions or thoughts, the choices you later made, or how you see the world somehow?

Sometimes first thoughts are best thoughts. Take the time to figure out why these memories have made an impact on you. They might just make a great college application essay.


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Writing College Application Essays: How to Choose a Topic

I was speaking to the Joel Barlow High School PTSA in Redding today (thanks, PTSA!) about writing college application essays, and was asked a great question: Do I have any suggestions for the student who’s having trouble deciding what to write about? Yes!

Choosing a topic for a college application essay can be a daunting, if not downright intimidating experience. Many students think that because nothing big or dramatic has happened to them in their lives they don’t have anything to write about. Wrong!

You don’t have to be the best athlete, have won lots of awards, or had a big “moment of revelation” to write a great college application essay. Far from it. While big experiences can make good essays, the small things can be just as powerful, if not more so.

Remember, colleges look for 3 main things in a college application essay:

  • How well you write
  • How well you organize your thoughts
  • You. What makes you unique? What kind of person are you? What kind of choices do you make?

When you’re choosing a topic you want to find an experience — a story — that will reflect what’s unique about you. You never want 100 other students to be able to write the same essay you’re writing. It should only be able to come from you.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself if you’re having trouble choosing a topic for your college application essay:

1. Is there a time in my life I’ve taken a risk?

2. Is there a time I’ve turned a failure into a success?

3. Has there been a difficult choice I’ve had to make, but am glad I made it?

Notice that these questions deal with a personal journey —  they ask you to discuss and reflect on some way that you’ve grown into the person you are.

Start with these questions. If you can’t think of an answer, ask your parents. Parents are excellent resources when you’re looking for college essay topics because they know you well, have seen you grow, and may remember something that you don’t.

Always remember that no matter what topic you choose, you want to represent yourself in a positive light. But that light can shine just as brightly on the small things as the big ones — as long as it reflects you.


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College Essay Writing: Will The College Think You’re A Match?

I had lunch this weekend with a friend from Norwalk, Connecticut, who told me about the essay help her daughter had gotten from a high school teacher. The teacher asked her students to be very creative with their ideas, and my friend’s daughter wrote about a dream to fly in hot air balloons.  My friend said the essay was good; it was interesting, filled with ideas and a good sense of self, and was, indeed, very creative. But it wasn’t a good submission for their daughter. Why? Because this young lady was applying to a physician assistant’s program, and her parents felt she needed to show that her goals matched the goals of the school. They were right.

If this young lady were an aspiring writer or pursuing another form of the arts, a creative essay on balloon flight might have served her well. But for her, the essay didn’t achieve an important purpose.

Colleges want to see that you can write creatively about your goals and aspirations. But colleges also want to see that you understand who THEY are. Do you understand their educational philosophy? Can you show them how you’ll fit in and make a positive contribution to their school? Are you a match?

Given the program she wanted to attend, this young lady hadn’t done that. She needed to make a change.

So my friend’s daughter wrote a different essay, discussing the influences in her life that led her to want to care for others. She was creative, but she also found ways to show the college that she was a good match for their program. It was a good essay choice. This year, her mother told me, she’s starting their physician assistant’s program.