What Should You Write About?

By Ryan Hickey + updated on November 18th, 2010

If you haven’t noticed, it’s already the middle of November. For me, at least, the last couple months have absolutely flown by. The admissions season is in full swing for applicants to college, grad school, law school, and business school, so things are hectic here at EssayEdge.

First off, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I encourage you to head over to www.essayedge.com/webinars to take a look at one of our latest undertakings. We’re holding a series of webinars throughout the fall and are posting recordings of each on our website for those who aren’t able to make the live presentation. Our fourth webinar will be held on November 30 and will be aimed at helping applicants to MBA programs learn how to write an effective set of essays. If you or someone you know is interested, you can register here.

While that webinar will be focused on MBA applicants, I’d like to address a topic today that’s relevant to all applicants, regardless of the program or school to which you’re applying. And that is content selection.

One of the most common questions we get here at EssayEdge involves choosing content for an essay. In simple terms, it’s:

“What should I write about?”

I sincerely wish there was a straightforward answer to this question. But there’s not, regardless of what you may hear elsewhere.  There are a multitude of different factors that will influence what you should write about, including (but not limited to) the school/program to which you’re applying, the essay prompt, your personal experience, your writing style, and formatting cues like length limits.

That makes it very difficult for many applicants to figure out where to begin when deciding what to write about. A common reaction is to see what worked for other people, often by reviewing sample essays. While that can be helpful, there’s another option that’s much more effective.

Be true to yourself. It may sound clichéd (and at EssayEdge, we hate clichés), but for my purposes today, it’s extremely true. When you sit down to start brainstorming your application essay or essays, focus on you. Don’t go out and read hundreds of other essays, and don’t ask everyone you know what they think you should write about. Read your prompt, and then think about how it applies to your life and experience. Attacking this process that way will always lead to more success than spending a bunch of time and effort trying to figure out what worked for other people.

Simply put, you’re not those other people. You’re you. And the fact that you are a unique individual is your greatest strength as an applicant. Making the content selection process personal will ultimately result in stronger essays that make a better impression on the admissions committee.

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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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