I have recently read a number of articles about subjects to avoid in writing your college admissions essay and have reached the following conclusion: There is no suitable subject for the college admissions essay.

From legitimate family tragedy to your high school basketball team’s double overtime championship game, college application experts have put a strong warning label on a wide array of essay topics. This one is too sad; that one is too boring. Be funny but not too funny. Stay away from bold subjects. Be as bold as you’ve ever been.

Confused yet? I’m sure many students are.

Personally, with obvious common sense exceptions (That night you got arrested for swimming nude in the fountain in front of city hall? Bad essay subject.), I believe that a good essay can be written on almost any topic, as long as certain criteria are met. Those are:

1. The essay reveals (I know you’ve heard it before but “shows, not tells”) positive values held by the student.
2. The essay demonstrates that the student is proactive and a leader. This does not necessarily mean, president of the senior class. In fact, it’s often better to use a less traditional example.
3. The essay shows that the student is introspective, alert and aware, a deep and curious thinker.
4. The essay is honest, not calculating. There is no “hard sell” of the student.
5. The topic is unique in some way. Making it highly personal, choosing a subject that only you can write, will assure that this goal is met. Small is okay, as long as it’s meaningful to the student.
6. There is an emotional content to the topic, that the reader (the Admissions Director) can relate to and feel.
7. The essay has an “entertainment factor” that will cause readers to sit up a little bit straighter in their chairs, no matter how many essays they’ve read that day.
8. The “story” of the essay flows smoothly from point to point and contains drama, humor, suspense and a memorable ending.
9. The essay fully answers the prompt (surprisingly, many don’t.)

I am not in any way suggesting that these objectives are easy to fulfill. But if they are in fact met, they will open up a vast number of powerful topics and creative approaches that you can use for your college admissions essay. So, rather than starting with a list of “don’t’s”, start by doing an exhaustive search for the ideal topic. It may prove elusive for awhile, but once you discover it, your essay will be more effective and easier to write.

For more personal help with the college admissions essay, please contact Craig Heller at 818-340-1276 or [email protected]

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