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  • Writer's pictureaeraustol

Ignore (some) Advice; Precede with Caution

If you google "college essay topics to avoid" you will find things like, personal tragedies, obstacles in sports, immigrant stories, mental health issues, people you look up to, relationship break-up stories, or volunteer experiences. What else is there? And also, how can you be yourself, and be authentic while also NOT picking a topic that is most central to who you are – just to be accepted into a college. Sounds like really misguided advice to me. And maybe a good clue that that college is not the best choice for you.


Here's my take. How about instead we talk about the writing topic in terms of choices and options, rather than dos and don'ts. College-bounders can write about anything that is truly meaningful to them with certain guidelines or a precede with caution approach. I don't ever tell my clients not to write about a certain topic. Instead, I listen. I find out what is most at the core of their essence, what experiences have been most transformational, and what I hear they want to write about. Then I help them craft an essay in a way that keeps the focus on the student’s abilities, passion, and potential for growth and how the the challenging experience shaped them into who they are. If the experience didn't create a measurable, articulable positive impact than you probably wouldn't think to write about it in the first place and if you could find a better way to show the best of who you are without that very difficult, transformational experience, you would. Right?


The trick is to decenter the experience or hardship and center yourself in the essay so that the tone is hopeful, uplifting and showcases your strengths, rather than making the traumatic or challenging experience the main character. You are the main character. And it's ok to express how the experience first impacted you. You don't have to pretend like you got yourself off the metaphorical couch right away; it’s ok to admit weakness. It shows authenticity, humility, and vulnerability. You just don't want to hang out there very long or else you'll miss out on using your precious word limit on specific details that make you stand out through this story that is only yours to tell.


Take a ways:

• You always have choices.

• Write about an experience or topic that shows the best of who you are.

• The only reason not to write about something is if you aren't able to articulate with lots of sensory-rich details why the experience shaped you in a positive way.

• All the story themes and topics you could ever think about have already been written about a million times in college essays - well, maybe not a million...But you get the i dea. It's all about how you handle the topic. How you tell the story. How you grew into the person you are because of the difficult experience.


Cheers to ignoring advice that doesn't work for you! You've got this.



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