While most parts of a college application are very straightforward, the college essay can be a tricky sticking point for many students. Unlike GPA and test scores, which are very structured, the essay, sometimes called a personal statement, gives students tremendous flexibility in picking their topic and deciding how to present themselves. So how should you pick your college essay topic? It’s hard to give an exact answer, because every student is different, but here are a few tips to get you started:
What do you care about?
The best college essays are personal, and show that their authors are sincere about their subject. This means students need to ask themselves a very personal question: “What do I care about?” Maybe this is a friendship or relationship with a mentor or family member that has meant a lot to you. Maybe it’s an extracurricular activity or school subject you’ve loved. Maybe it’s even a cause you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to be the entirety of an experience—even just an important moment can be a good start. But starting with what matters to you is always a good idea when planning your college essay.
What are you proud of?
This is another personal question. The college essay can be a chance to show off a bit to admissions officers, and you should take advantage of that. Whether it’s overcoming a personal hardship, or achieving recognition for one of your accomplishments, your college essay is one place where pride is no bad thing—in fact, it can be an advantage!
What about you isn’t obvious from your record?
When you apply to college, the admissions team already has a lot of information about you. They know your grades, your test scores, and your extracurricular activities. They know what classes you took, and if you ever changed schools. They know if you took honors or AP courses. But what they don’t know is you. If there’s an important fact about you that wouldn’t appear on your record, or even an aspect of your personality, like determination, or a love for your community, it’s time to let them know about that! Which college you attend is a deeply personal decision, and the application process often reflects that—while schools already know you ‘by the book,” they want to know the whole person, and your essay is a great place to showcase this.
Choosing an essay topic is one of those things where there’s no “right” or “wrong” answer—just as every student is different, so is every college essay. But as long as you’re writing from the heart, and taking care to “show off your good side,” you’re already on the road to essay success!