Picking the Perfect Essay Topic

The mere thought of writing the college essay is scary for many students. They are not used to writing about themselves and they are often unsure about what topic to choose. This Saturday, June 16th, I will be hosting my monthly Facebook Live session where I will be answering your questions LIVE on the college essay. In advance of Saturday's session, start thinking about the first step of the writing process—picking the perfect essay topic.

I bet if you asked your English teacher what stands out more, a well written essay or a powerful essay topic, they'd probably say a well written essay. But if you were to ask an admissions officer, I bet they would tell you that the topic is at least equally important as how well written the essay is. Why? Because admissions officers are not usually English or grammar scholars. They are often regular people like us who want to be "wowed" by what they read. Because admissions officers read hundreds to thousands of essays a year, they want to read about something fresh and revealing about each student.

To avoid writing an essay that anyone could write, here are some guiding principles when picking an essay topic:

1. Try to pick a topic that isn't going to be easily apparent or well-developed in your application.

Essays about extracurricular activities, major accomplishments, or even academic interests will usually be represented in the other parts of the application.

2. Pick a topic that offers a glimpse of your life that few (if any) truly know or fully understand.

Your teachers and college counselor will be writing letters of recommendation for you already. They will be highlighting the things they know about you. Instead, for your essay, consider writing about something that is hidden beneath the surface to the casual observer yet reveals your authentic self.

3. Make sure that the topic isn't about showing perfection.

A great essay is relatable to the reader (the admissions officer). No one is perfect. Having a moment in the essay that shows the human element of being different in some way often leads to wonderful messages. It allows you to show how you have grown, appreciated something, or evolved as a person. 

4. There always should be a silver lining.

Even if there's a point in the essay that isn't full of rainbows and unicorns, there needs to be a turning point that highlights something extremely positive about yourself. No one likes a sad ending. 

5. The topic should be something that will stand the test of time.

Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, you want to be proud of your essay topic and how it still reflects who you are.

"When you choose a topic for your #college essay, be sure to choose one that 'future you' will be proud of." TWEET THIS 

Spending time on the essay topic will translate into a much more personal and meaningful essay. Students should look inward for the best essay topics. It means they will need to open up about something that may not have ever seen the light of day. As long as it is an appropriate topic for a college essay, the admissions officer will be much more impressed than if the student stuck to something more predictable or perfect.