Read Our Campus Tour Guide

Campus Tour
view free guide
Applying to College | College Essay | October 2012

College Essay Topics to Avoid

By Taylor Cotter |
with Judy Zodda, Zodda College Services.

college-essayWriting a personal statement can be the toughest part of the college application process. Students often express concern that they have trouble finding a topic for their college essay and articulating their thoughts on it eloquently. However, before you just settle on a topic for your college essay, we put together a list of college essay topics that college admissions officers have been less than excited to receive.

Does writing about one of these college essay topics warrant an automatic rejection? No! There have been countless students that have used these college essay topics with massive success. However, if you do take one of these approaches, be sure to make the college essay your own. Remember, your personal experiences cannot be duplicated!

Irony, Sarcasm or “Meta”

Writing about how you’re writing your college essay, or anything sarcastic, is a sure-fire way to turn off the admissions counselors. Remember, they are looking for writing skills and personality: derision will not highlight either of these.

Illegal Activity

There are plenty of instances when encountering something illegal would make you a better person or a more diligent student, however, it’s not what you want to highlight in your college essay. By discussing any illegal activity — from breaking and entering to drug abuse – you become a red flag. Don’t give the university a reason to worry about you based on the content of your essay.

Your Resume
You get to include your entire resume in your college application, so don’t use your essay to include it twice. Though you can use your essay to highlight a particularly life-changing extra-curricular activity or award, don’t use it as a bragging sheet. Instead, use your essay to highlight a piece of your personality that doesn’t appear anywhere else in your application.

Extended Metaphors

When college admissions officers read your essay, they are primarily looking to see if your writing skills are strong enough for a college classroom. In college, you are often writing analyses, critiques and arguments, and rarely writing creative allegories for your life. Prove that you are able to write concisely and clearly, and say exactly what you mean. Additionally, avoid poems or being too creative with your structure. If you’re looking for advice on structure and style, try On Writing Well.

Community Service, Studying Abroad or "The Big Game"
As a high school student, having a great community service or abroad experience can truly be life-changing. However, chances are you’re not the only high school senior that had this transformation. Writing about how your eyes were opened by volunteering in an underserved community or how hard it was to communicate outside your native country is not particularly original. The same is true of those athletes who want to write about “the big game” and the impact they had on the outcome or learning what teamwork really means. Better that you should write about what you learned from sitting on the bench! That’s a different perspective! If you do want to write about one of these topics, your experience, remember, write about it from a more personal place – make it a statement only you could have written. This is true of any topic that you choose! If someone else could write this, choose another topic or start again!

Offensive or Negative
Beyond your writing skills, colleges are looking to see if you are a mature, good fit for their community. If you are pessimistic, antagonistic, or if your essay has any sense of prejudice or divisiveness – drop it. You should use your essay to focus on the best reasons why you belong in college and why you will fit in to their community. While self-awareness is important, use your essay to highlight your most positive aspects.

Harry Potter
I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Everyone loves Harry Potter and it is one of the most iconic books of the past fifteen years. If it’s a book you heavily related to, I have some bad news: many other people did too. Wendy Livingston of the College of William and Mary wrote of Harry Potter essays, “Always avoid those topics that tend to be crowd pleasers because again, many people will attempt to write on that exact topic. Also, just a side note, many of my colleagues are not nearly as into Harry Potter as you and me so they may not be as excited or well-versed in your Hogwarts and muggle references as you are.” If you do choose to write about Harry Potter, tie it in with another book, or a totally original experience. This way, the story is about you – not Harry! StudentAdvisor’s Verified Advisor Judy Zodda added, “I actually had a senior last year who did write about being part of the Harry Potter generation and how it affected her life! It was a very effective essay and she did use it for her main essay and was admitted to 8 of 9 schools to which she applied, so others must have liked it too! As long as you can make it about you, I still think this topic is fine. Just put your own personal twist on it!”

What did you write your college essay about? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

Read College Reviews

Write a College Review

Ask A College Question

Compare Colleges