Predictable Storylines

By Ryan Hickey + updated on October 4th, 2010

Don’t you just hate it when you know exactly how a movie is going to progress and end after watching the first five minutes? Isn’t it disappointing when you’ve got the next 350 pages figured out when you’ve only read 50 pages of a new novel?

Stories of all types can be predictable. Whether it’s two star-crossed lovers ultimately finding happiness in each other’s arms, the too-confident villain undone by an overcomplicated scheme, or an unlikely hero triumphing against all odds, we’ve all seen and read unsurprising, unimaginative plots that go exactly how you think they will.

Admissions essays, particularly the college variety, have their own group of overused stories that most readers can spot from the intro paragraph. In today’s post, I want to list ten of these plotlines so that you can avoid them in your own writing. However, I do so with a disclaimer: even though these are overused, they are not automatically awful. If you have a compelling reason to write on one of these topics, and you are confident that you can do so in a personal, original, and compelling way, you should go for it. There are no absolutes in admissions, so this list is simply meant to inform your own decisions as we move into the heart of the 2010-2011 admissions season.

1.      A family member or friend who suffered and/or died as a result of illness or tragedy

2.      Your parents’ divorce and how it made your life more difficult

3.      Volunteer work that “opened your eyes” to the plight of a disadvantaged group

4.      International travel that “opened your eyes” to diversity

5.      Scoring the game-winning goal, touchdown, run, basket, or point and how it reflected all of your hard work or leadership

6.      Suffering a difficult sports loss and having to cope with the resulting disappointment

7.      Being the first person in your family to go to college

8.      Getting in trouble or failing, learning from your mistake, and becoming a better student/athlete/person as a result

9.      Finding yourself overscheduled and having to improve your time-management skills as a result

10.  Interacting with senior citizens and learning from their stories/experience

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it does cover some of the more overdone essay storylines that we see on a daily basis in our work. As you prepare to write your own essays, find ways to make your story engaging from the start and captivating throughout. Such essays stand out in a good way, which will strengthen your overall candidacy.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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