Not all admissions essays are created equal. While colleges and universities may, at times, require applicants to speak to a specific subject, others allow individuals to determine their topics for themselves. Such freedom can prove to be both overwhelming and/or disastrous for students with little idea of what to discuss. The essay represents an excellent opportunity to distinguish oneself from the competition, but the difficulty lies in doing so positively. Below are five topics to avoid:
1. The humor piece
Perhaps you, like many individuals, adore David Sedaris. Perhaps you admire his ability to effortlessly weave a good laugh into the meaningful reflections on events from his life. Perhaps you feel an admissions essay in the Sedaris style will suit you well. I urge you – strongly – to reconsider. Humor is subjective. What you believe to be amusing may not rouse an admissions committee – or they may even find it offensive. The use of comedy can also suggest a certain lack of (unfounded) seriousness on your part. Exemplary essays need to impart dedication to the pursuit of higher education.
2. The overly frank piece
This essay, like the example above, involves an issue of content. Honesty is a wonderful quality to demonstrate to an admissions committee, but certain subjects are best left alone. Have you committed a crime or engaged in some other sort of negative activity? While you may be a smarter, stronger individual from the consequences of these experiences, you need not to inform a college or university of them. What you write in your application remains with you for four years and may unnecessarily embarrass you or a member of the institution. Consider your higher education years a blank state.
3. The political and/or social piece
The education field acknowledges that its role is to produce critical, conscientious members of society – but this does not mean that the admissions essay is the appropriate opportunity to detail your political beliefs. More so than humor or illegal activity, the assertion of a specific manner of thinking can instantaneously polarize your readers. Are you a potential political science or social services major? By all means discuss your involvement in a campaign or cause and highlight how it demonstrates your leadership and organizational skills. But do not declare one perspective superior to another.
4. The “reads like a resume” piece
All college-bound individuals are eager to impress institutions with their accolades. The essay, however, is not the appropriate location in which to do so. Note such items as honor roll, perfect attendance, or state-level sports victories on your application. A large percentage of students can claim such prizes, and many commit the error of composing a list-as-essay. Such a decision bores admissions committees. It also ensures you will not distinguish yourself. If you possess a truly unique distinction (fluency in six languages, perhaps), you may discuss it in your essay – but only it!
5. The travel piece
Did you participate in a South American service learning project? Or did you recognize your privilege while on safari in Africa? If so, please do not share your realization(s) in your admissions essay. While such opportunities may be truly meaningful to a select portion of applicants, institutions also recognize that travel epiphanies are short-lived, often a ploy for an acceptance letter, and increasingly cliché. Sustained community service in your neighborhood serves as a stronger argument than one week of work in Bolivia. Relate experiences you are truly passionate about, no matter how small their scope seems.
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