How to Select a Standout Topic that Wins College Admission
Tips for the College Essay Part 1
In the past two years, three major shifts in the college application process will affect your teen in the following ways:
- In the majority of colleges now, submission of test scores are optional.
- More students than ever are applying to competitive schools.
- Due to optional test scores, the college essays carry more weight for admission.
And what’s one of the most important parts of the college essay? A topic that shows your teens strengths. A topic that highlights what brings your teen meaning. A topic that demonstrates what is important to your teen. These details remain essential to help your teen shine among those thousands of applicants and garner the attention of college admissions.
College Essay Prompts vs. Topics
When most teens start thinking about writing the college essay, they go right to the list of Common App essay prompts. However, simply responding to a prompt without a strategy can create a big fail – as your teen misses the analysis needed to extract their unique voice and perspective, as they feel pressure to stick to that specific prompt’s expectations.
So What Does a Successful College Essay Topic Look Like?
The purpose of the college essay is to show the best qualities of your teen that the college admissions officers cannot learn anywhere else in the application. They want to know, beyond the test scores, GPA, and list of accomplishments, your teen’s character and personality. They want to know what brings meaning and is important to your teen.
Meaningful topics create essays that produce honest thought and introspection. That authenticity will be more engaging to a reader, while showing off who your teen really is.
Let’s take, for example, a time when your teen experienced hardship. What makes that hardship a successful topic is when your teen can reflect on the lessons learned from that experience. Did it shape them in any way or change their outlook? Were they able to form the negative experience into a positive regarding self growth? No matter how attention-grabbing the actual hardship might be, what it shows about your teen’s character is most important to the colleges.
Many of our teens, fortunately, have experienced pretty ordinary lives with few challenges. When that is the case, or if your teen is having trouble settling on a topic, brainstorming is the first step.
The simplest way to do this is to have your teen ask themselves meaningful questions that might generate reflection:
- Which qualities make you stand out amongst your peers?
- How would friends describe you? Teachers? Strangers?
- Who do you admire?
- What problems have you faced in the past that you were able to solve?
Freewriting in response to some or all of these questions will move them towards that college essay headspace and closer to a solidified topic so that they can write their essay.
Selecting the Perfect College Essay Topic
Once your teen has a list of potential topics, it’s time to narrow them down based on a) how connected they feel to each one and b) whether or not they can provide details. The more invested the writer is, the more engaged the reader will be.
The college essay is the opportunity to showcase aspects of your teen’s personality that the college admissions officers have yet to see.
If your teen is still up in the air about which to choose, have them seek advice from friends, family members, or even teachers and mentors. Those who give honest feedback and know your teen well will be able to help most.
Selecting a final college essay topic for the common app can be a daunting task, as it is one of the most important steps in writing this essay. Follow this approach and see what your teen creates; and, as always, for help crafting the college essay, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team to start the process. We welcome your email or call!