What Not To Write About In A College Essay

Crafting a compelling personal essay is crucial to college applications, but not all topics are effective. Certain clichéd, inappropriate, or limiting themes could undermine your admissions essay. This article provides an in-depth look at topics to avoid when selecting a memorable focus that showcases your unique personality, values, and suitability for a university.

Why Should You Avoid Certain Topics in College Application Essays? 

Admissions officers must review thousands of essays every application cycle, so finding an original approach makes you stand out. Recycled themes come across as uninspired and lacking self-awareness. Worse still, inappropriate or insensitive subject matter could raise ethical red flags that jeopardize your college admission chances.

Thoughtfully avoiding problematic topics opens creative space to highlight your individuality. Admissions committees aim to understand the whole person behind test scores and transcripts through your writing. A focused, thoughtful, and mature topic choice sends the right message about your character.

College Essay Topics To Avoid

Here are 13 common subjects to steer clear of when brainstorming ideas for more effective college application essays:

Inappropriate Topics

Avoid writing any topics involving illegal activities, substance abuse, inappropriate sexual content, or dangerous behavior. Colleges seek students who will contribute positively to campus life. Shock value has no place in application essays. Tread carefully with humor as well – admissions officers may not appreciate satire or irony. Keep essays focused on showcasing your character.

Accomplishments Rehash

Don’t just repeat what’s already on your transcript and activity list. Admissions officers want to learn about the personal motivations, inspirations, and obstacles that shaped your high school journey. Share behind-the-scenes insights that transcripts alone can’t capture. Use vivid examples to illustrate your passions.

Relationships and Romance

While meaningful relationships help shape who you are, avoid fixating solely on romantic interests. This can seem short-sighted or melodramatic. If you reference relationships, connect them to larger lessons about yourself. Focus on growth and self-discovery rather than intimate details.

Hero Essays

Essays fixated on admirable public figures or personal heroes often rely on clichés versus substantive personal examples. Unless you have an exceptionally unique connection to your hero, admissions officers learn little about you from this topic. Turn the focus inward on your own development.

Sports Stories

While athletics and other extracurricular activities may be important to you, resist the temptation to rehash the entire game or season play-by-plays. Admissions officers have likely read many of these. Focus instead on less obvious lessons like perseverance, teamwork, or confidence sports provide you.

Tragedies as Manipulation

Be very wary of excessively dwelling on trauma or family deaths. It can come across as emotionally manipulative if mishandled. Make sure any challenging life events spotlighted tie back to your resilience, growth, or cherished memories of lost loved ones.

Oversharing Personal Details

Certain deeply personal struggles deserve sensitivity as essay topics. Avoid providing intimate health or family details that don’t directly relate to positive traits, lessons learned, or how you overcame challenges. Not everyone needs to know your most private matters.

Controversial Issues

Avoid polarizing political, religious, social, or moral debates. What you see as a well-reasoned stance may intensely alienate more conservative admissions officers. It’s usually safer and more effective to find less divisive topics.

Confessional Essays

Resist fixating on past youthful misdeeds or mistakes for the sake of shock value. This risks making you appear less mature. We all make poor choices sometimes. Spotlight your ability to reflect, grow, and make amends. Minor past errors need not define you.

Cliché Travel Stories

While service trips and study abroad adventures are great experiences, many essay approaches on these topics have become overused or generic. Find your unique story within the broader journey. Share specific formative experiences and insights about how these shaped you.

Childhood Stories

Admissions officers want insights into the present you as a graduating senior. Unless a childhood experience was extraordinarily formative, focus on recent anecdotes and development moments from your high school years.

Flaunting Privilege

Be mindful of appearing oblivious about the advantages you’ve had over peers. If highlighting opportunities, balance with humility and appreciation. Demonstrate self-awareness regarding your blessings.

Bashing Schools

Never directly criticize or insult the reputation of the very school you’re applying to! This suggests attending is a backup rather than an aspiration. If you have concerns, either don’t apply or be prepared to focus solely on perceived strengths.

Final Thoughts on College Essay Topics to Avoid

Avoiding clichéd themes, inappropriate content, or topics with limited relevance to the present-day is crucial for an essay that stands out. Admissions officers gain little insight into your core values, outlook, maturity, or intellect from mediocre essays that lack self-awareness.

Instead, challenge yourself to reflect candidly and meaningfully on a personal experience that truly reveals something distinctive about you. For example, well-crafted essays could highlight your intellectual curiosity, work ethic in overcoming obstacles, leadership skills, empathy, sense of humor, or resilience.

If feeling stuck, try free-writing exercises to identify your defining moments, relationships, and activities demonstrating personal growth, integrity, creativity, or passion. Vividly recounting specific anecdotes will always transcend vague platitudes.

With an authentic, distinctive topic and graceful yet honest writing style, your essay can capture an admissions committee’s attention and advance your candidacy without relying on risky or controversial subject matter. Trust your ability to tell your story!