How to Make Your College Application Essay the Best Writing You’ve Ever Done (#3 of 25)

Here’s the third of the “twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.”

#3. Go Small

Students sometimes feel that by associating themselves with a major societal issue – climate change, poverty, the cure for a horrible disease – they will be demonstrating their seriousness as a human being. And to some extent, this is true. The danger, however, is that the essay then becomes more about the issue than the student. In most cases, therefore, I strongly suggest that the topic of your essay remains small.

Of course, “small” does not mean trivial or frivolous. It means intimate, personal, and manageable. It means rather than writing about your burning desire to bring peace to the Middle East, you will be better served by taking on a less well known subject, like bringing peace between your parents and the neighbor who leaves nasty notes in their mailbox. It’s not that one subject is “better” than the other. It’s that the smaller topic will give a student more opportunities to reveal him or herself, which we all know is the primary purpose of the essay.

Another danger in tackling larger issues is that a reader might have preconceived notions about it. This can work for or against the student, but it’s not a risk that is worth it, or wise. Choosing to focus on situations that reflect a student’s first hand experience (see blog #2 in this series) can also make the essay more fun to write, which usually makes it more fun to read.

Despite my suggestions, if you do decide to use a well known issue as the thrust of your essay (final decisions about the essay, from concept through final edit, should always remain with the student), it’s important to monitor your work carefully and make sure that you haven’t left yourself out of it. Don’t merely describe events, tell the reader how you felt about them. Reflect on the issue from a personal point of view, rather than a universal one. Finally, remain objective. If the essay doesn’t seem to capture the real you, scrap that big subject and “go small.”

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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