Senior year tends to be the most fun; graduation, the finish line, is in sight. However, it’s time to type up your college essay. College essays can be about anything, fact or myth?
Weirdly, yes, but also no. There is an extent to what college essays can and should cover. Most colleges provide a limited list covering topics they would like students to cover.
Nevertheless, other colleges can simply leave it open-ended, so it’s the student’s choice on what to write. For some reason, this can be even more nerve-wracking for seniors trying to write their application essays.
The Coalition App is a popular way that students apply to college; having all the requirements in one place can be incredibly beneficial. The 2022-23 school year Coalition App prompts include:
- “Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.”
- “What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?”
- “Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?”
- “Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?”
- “What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?”
- “Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.”
The majority of colleges will throw in a more inclusive and open-ended question, like number six, to give students more freedom. However, this freedom should not be mishandled.
What your college essay should reflect
The idea that your college essay must portray you as a perfect person is just wrong. There is no need to be dramatic or lie your way to perfection. Colleges are looking to find out about the real you through your writing.
Remember that all you are to them is a transcript; thus, you should reflect as much of your personality as you can in your essay. Remove the preconception that colleges want to hear how you traveled around the world during your summers.
You won’t be penalized because you did not have access to the same opportunities as others with higher economic status or family connections.
Not everyone can spend their summers abroad. This makes you wonder, do colleges like exchange students? Find out in my other article!
These prompts and topics are designed to allow you to voice your opinions, thoughts, and personal experiences. Even if you had an exciting experience to share, it might not be the best topic, to begin with.
What do applicants usually write about for college essays?
Now that you are aware that college essays can be about anything, up to an extent, of course, what do people write about?
What makes a great essay is a person behind it. The key to cracking these college essays is to describe your topic with a dynamic tone. Add in your strengths, values, qualities, and interests without sounding arrogant.
For instance, saying that ” I was the only one in the park, training for the competition at 6 AM every Saturday” implies that you are hardworking and pursue your goals. It is much better than saying,” I’m a hardworking student who works for what they want to achieve and pushes through.”
Use sentences that evoke those feelings instead of just describing them one by one. Moreover, do not mention things clearly seen on your transcript, test scores, or resume. The admission officer will already have those in hand.
In fact, this is a common and fatal flaw in most college essays. Want to learn the top 5? Check out my article on that.
Note that these essays are designed for colleges to see beyond just academic achievements and more of your essence. So give them what they are here for.
What are the best topics to write about?
College essays can be about anything, especially when you opt for an open-ended prompt. So, focus on sharing a story, more specifically, one about personal growth or learning to conquer obstacles.
You can also talk about challenging your beliefs or topics that captivate you. Lastly, the “solving a problem” topic might sound outdated, but only if you make it out to be. Your thought process to find a solution can be a crucial indicator of your character!
What to avoid in a college essay?
Avoid negative tones or words. There is no need to be all bummed out; focus on the silver lining even if your story was not the happiest. Maybe your pet bunny dies, but how did that evoke the urge to become a vet?
Stay away from any and all prejudice such as racism, classism, and sexism. Don’t use any statements that reflect badly on your character.
Steer away from violent and graphic stories, illegal actions, and foul language, in other words, cursing. If you have to wonder if something is controversial, it has no room in your essay.
Remind yourself that you don’t know who is reading your essay. Read it back to yourself, imagining you are different people. How would your grandma react? A military general? A teenager?
Do not make any personal attacks or jokes that might otherwise upset or insult anyone. For instance, maybe you are an immigrant and came from Colombia, but you get mistaken for a Venezuelan, which makes you upset.
Keep yourself from mentioning this fact, as a Venezuelan admission officer might laugh along or be insulted at it. You don’t know how people will react!
There is plenty to consider and excellent questions you can ask yourself to get your gears working. Let’s look at some below:
What are topics that you research and look at for fun?
If you read and learn for self-improvement, it might be fascinating to stop and ask yourself why. And colleges will be interested too. These topics can help you find out what you are passionate about and what causes peak your interest.
What is the proudest accomplishment you’ve had?
Though you shouldn’t go on and on about it or even mention it at all, it’s good practice. List all the essential aspects that you believe got you to achieve that goal.
Now, you can focus on those aspects and dig further into them. Find how they apply to your life, both daily and academically.
Have you changed your mind lately?
What did you change your mind about? Was it something that would affect your day, like where to eat lunch? Or something that would affect your life in the long term? Like changing your major.
Using these changes in your life to brainstorm and see how you changed and shaped yourself to be the person you are today can help you write your essay.
Though college essays can be about anything, remember to shift the focus on you and the presence you bring with you. Portray the person you are, not the person you want others to view you as.
Picking the topic
In the selection process, it might be hard to choose a specific prompt. Thus, most students go for the open-ended question and find themselves lost.
In the pool of essay topics, I suggest writing down a couple of words that you can expand into. Doing this to the few prompt options can help you pick which one you have the best opinions on.
Furthermore, something my teacher made my class do, was draft an essay for each topic. Though that might take some time, you can do two or three a week.
Not only will this help you practice getting better at writing college essays, but it also gives you options to choose from. Once you find one that fits in with you, edit the draft and fix it up.
Does a college essay make or break your application?
It can. The essay is a way to add another wow factor to your application. But it might just be that your transcripts already impress the admission officers.
A fantastic essay can fill in holes and gaps that your transcript is missing. Thus, in the end, it can significantly impact your application, but that depends on how good your essay was.
A messy essay, with plenty of errors and inappropriate whatsoever, can’t possibly help your chances, and it might even hurt your application overall.
College essays can be about anything! Anything? Well, yes, but I recommend sticking to the prompts.
Keep any foul language, violence, or disturbing stories out of your application. Don’t forget to edit your essay fully after drafting, and get some of your friends and family to read it.
A great exercise to perform is finding colleges that you are not your close friends and have them read it and, in a couple of words, describe what traits and qualities you seem to have through what they read.
If the traits apply to you and the person you are, then hooray! You are done with your essay. Now hit submit!