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How to Select a Topic for Your College Admissions Essay

Ah, the dreaded college admissions essay. How do you, as a student, decide upon a topic that is unique to you, not over-utilized by other applicants, grants you room to be professional without appearing uptight and that allows you to convey something about yourself in a sincere manner? The selection process can be difficult, especially if the prompt is extremely open-ended or if there is no prompt at all. Like it or not, the vast majority of colleges and universities require some form of essay, whether it be a personal statement or a response to a provided prompt. Here are some strategies to successfully land on a topic:

1. Allow yourself sufficient time
Composing an admissions essay cannot be rushed through in a short timeframe. You must thoroughly lay out several topics, determine how you can potentially present and support them and then choose the most promising one. You will also need time to edit, so ensure you begin the process well in advance! During your “thinking time,” ask yourself questions like, “What do I most enjoy in my free time and why?”; “What am I passionate about?”; “How do my interests align and support the mission of the college or university to which I am applying?”; “Why do I want to attend X, Y, or Z University and why would I be a strong fit there?” After ruminating, pose your conclusions to family, friends or even teachers with whom you have a strong relationship. These are the individuals who understand you best, and they may be able to help you narrow your focus or hone an idea.

2. Settle on a topic about which you care, and then share a story about it
When you are passionate about a subject, it shines through with far less effort than when you aren’t. When recording answers to your initial questions, be honest. It doesn’t matter if you are the only person you know with an interest in internationally-renowned Greek dance; in fact, this makes you much more interesting, and therefore able to produce a far more interesting essay.

3. Recognize your limitations
First, if you intend to tell a story that could easily become a novel, you are going to have to either figure out how to whittle it down without losing the content that makes the piece compelling, or simply return to the drawing board. Acknowledge that your entire history is not going to fit into this essay, but a description of one life-altering or particular poignant moment will.

Second, acknowledge your limitations as a writer. You need to select a topic about which you are well versed, otherwise you will come off extremely vague about something that means very little to you (or something that just happens to be over your head). Allow your inner voice to shine through by ensuring you write about something that is truly important to you.

4. Be yourself
When you are authentic, it is evident in your writing. When you select a subject, consider issues that interest you, moments that struck you and compelled you to change your views on life, and/or instances that shaped who you are as a person. Writing honestly, no matter what topic you choose, is a wonderful method to show admissions staff who you truly are. Ponder what keeps you awake at night, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what sustains you throughout the day. The answers to these questions are a strong place to start in thinking of topics. Remember that this essay is an opportunity to demonstrate who you are, so don’t discuss your mother’s views or your best friend’s life-changing moments — write about your own!

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College admissions