Lesson Two: Question-Specific Strategies

Admissions officers will often emphasize that they do not care what you choose to write about in your essay. They stress this because most writers err on the side of unoriginality, having tried too hard to meet the expectations of their imagined readers and discarding all of their own personality in the process. Of course, there is truth in their advice: You should write with the goal of expressing your own values and conveying the qualities most important to you. You should frame this discussion in a way that highlights your unique character. However, you must exercise your creativity with a definite eye toward the themes and points that will justify your suitability for college. Your ultimate goal is not just to stand out as a likeable person, but also to obtain admission to your college or university of choice.

As a guide, we discuss common essay topics.

EssayEdge Extra: Words of Wisdom from Admissions Officers

"So many of the applications submitted to us are from students who possess excellent academic credentials. One way that we distinguish among students is through the essay. The essay provides applicants with the opportunity to become real and fully dimensional to the readers. It also provides a forum for the applicant to come forward about life's priorities; we look at the essay as the culmination of how a student thinks about what is important to him or her."—Admissions Officer, University of Pennsylvania

"Your essay should provide the reader with a fuller view of who you are and how you think. You don't need to write about thermonuclear war or a life-shattering event. Everyday happenings in our lives often reveal more about who we are and what makes us tick."—Admissions Officer, University of Southern California

"Essay topics are designed generally to draw out the student's creativity and thought processes by requiring him or her to assess abstractions as well as to discuss the concrete world. The process of writing a mechanically sound essay is an integral part of this. Some bright students write poor admission essays that demonstrate to us that they are either careless, sloppy, or overly confident—that they are certain their grades and other accomplishments will be enough to get them admitted."—Admissions Officer, Williams College

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