Writing college essays is hard. It took me forever to start writing my essays because I was so stressed about whether I was talking about the right things that I didn’t know where to begin. So here’s my handy-dandy Venn diagram to help you choose your college essay topic!
(Yes I’m aware that you probably haven’t seen a Venn diagram since third grade. Yes I still think it’s useful. Bear with me.)
Stop laughing at my lumpy circles.
So on the first side of the Venn diagram is “Staying True to Yourself.” This is the most important part of the process, because if you try to be something you’re not in order to get into college, then you may not be a good fit for the colleges you get accepted to. By talking about things that don’t actually matter to you, you’re giving the admissions officer an inaccurate picture of who you are and you’re risking ending up on a campus where you don’t really feel comfortable.
Here’s the part people don’t often believe: Being yourself in your application will HELP you get in to college.
Seriously. I promise.
Admissions officers read a lot of essays. It’s our job. During the course of reading season (that’s January through March), there are times when I’m reading around 100 essays a day. The essays are short, but that’s still a lot. In the midst of that massive amount of reading, your job is to get me excited about what you have to offer. So how can you expect to get me excited about something that you yourself don’t care about? If you are bored by your own application, why would I disagree?
By making sure the things you talk about in your application are the things that really matter to you, the things you stay up late thinking about, and the ideas that get you fired up, you ensure that the passion that animates you will come through in your application. By allowing yourself to get excited, you’re encouraging me to get excited too. And that will help you get in to college.
Now let’s switch gears. On the other side of the Venn diagram is “Being strategic.” This one is probably a bit more straightforward, but one of the key parts of being strategic is to remember that you are trying to get into college. So you should be writing about things that matter to college.
Think of it this way. Maybe you really, really love your dog (hereafter referred to as Fred). Maybe you get incredibly excited about Fred, your passion just bleeds out of you whenever you talk about Fred. That sure sounds a lot like what I said about being yourself, doesn’t it? But I don’t recommend writing an essay about Fred (and believe me, I’ve read LOTS of essays about people’s dogs). And the reason isn’t that I don’t care about your dog – I would probably love Fred. Just look at how cute he is. The reason is that your dog has almost no bearing on who you will be in college, and therefore won’t help me understand your voice as it will impact our campus.
So as you’re thinking about the things that you’re truly passionate about, also consider which of those things are going to teach your admissions officers about who you’ll be in college. A big part of being in college is being a student, so make sure that at some point in your application you’re talking about the things that intellectually excite you, the types of academic conversations you like to have, or the type of student you’ll be in the classroom. But at the same time, a big part of being in college is being a person. You have plenty of opportunities to tell us many different things – we require four essays in total. So show us how you interact with your friends so we can see how you’ll fit in the college culture, talk about what you did as president of a club or captain of a team so we can see what kind of leader you are, or talk about how you care about others so we’ll see how you’ll be a good roommate.
This may seem like a tall order, but you don’t have to do all of these things, you just have to make sure the essays you’re writing are all doing some of these things. Your checklist is actually pretty simple – and it should look like this:
If you answered yes to both of these questions, well, then it sounds like you have your essay topic. Happy writing!