10 Killer Common App Essay Topics + 3 to Kill
By Carol Barash, PhD Founder and CEO, Story To College
With less than two weeks until the first Early Decision and Early Action apps are due, there’s hype all around college admissions. Reporters dubbed it the College Admissions Arms Race, and the weeks leading up to November 1st can seem like a battle waged against your applications.
All this media attention can blind students to the fact that you have what you need to complete your application essays and the whole application – in your experiences, your perspective, and your unique voice.
The Common App essays are your chance to show admissions who you are and how you will make a difference in college and in life. The essays are the most important part of the application, after grades and SAT/ACT scores. The essays are more important than class rank, teacher recommendations, and your activities resume. Admissions officers describe the essay as a “deal breaker.” They use your essay to add nuance to the numbers and to distinguish between students whose records otherwise look alike.
So, how are you going to deal with this critical piece of your application? Take any one of the topics below and write a first draft of 500-1000 words about it. Eventually, you’ll want to prune it back to 500 words. But the idea here is to get past your usual responses, to get to the heart of what’s important to you. So just let your pen go. If you find your ideas going all over the place, that’s great; you’ll come up with a bunch of ideas by writing freely:
- My favorite pair of shoes
- If I were vice president
- The painting comes to life
- Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore
- Wacky weather
- Tea with Eleanor Roosevelt
- What I do after midnight
- A lie my parents told me
- Things I left behind
- The most important thing no one knows about me
And here are three topics that are almost always a mistake – because they make you sound smug, or privileged, and not someone who will be a positive member of your college community. Here’s how you can turn one of those around, and get your essays and yourself back on track.
- Why I don’t drink (or something else that’s pretty standard high school behavior). If you started Safe Rides at your high school, that’s important!
- My best friend. They essay should be about you, not someone else. So perhaps explore how that person has shaped you, and what you have done as a result.
- Traveling to another country and feeding my leftovers to a homeless person. To this person you are making a difference, and that is a great thing. But as JFK said, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” If you are in the position to see the disparities and make this sort of difference in one life, what are you doing closer to home with those insights, or perhaps on a broader scale?
Good luck with your essays. Let us know what questions you have
and what obstacles you run into, and we’ll do our best to get you unstuck!