3 years ago
Admissions Advice

What are college essay topics that are over used/not original?

I do not want to have an essay that has been read a million times before, what are some that you commonly see/hear other writing.

🎉 First post
Let’s welcome @laurareesekurt to the community! Remember to be kind, helpful, and supportive in your responses.
@Melokenzie3 years ago

The advice I got I that it's not so much the topic being a cliche but rather the takeaway. The problem with the topics listed below is that they usually have the same ending, ex: I learned to be a team player or I learned to help others.

3 years ago

Yep, this is a fantastic point! While it's still generally a good idea to stay away from the topics that have been mentioned if you're able to write them in a unique/interesting way OR come up with an unexpected takeaway you could write about them. This is really hard for a lot of students so most people just suggest avoiding it altogether.

Earn karma by helping others:

1 karma for each ⬆️ upvote on your answer, and 20 karma if your answer is marked accepted.

3 answers

Accepted Answer
3 years ago

DON'T use these essay topics:

1) Big sports games

2) Mission trips

3) Glorified resume (where you just write a paragraph about each extracurricular; please don't do this bc you can't get into enough depth and it doesn't add anything to your application if it's already in the activity section)

4) Major life changes that have happened to other people besides you (eg. moving to a new school/house, divorce, hospitalization, etc.) (I'll explain this more down below)

5) Anything that you have nothing good to say about. It's absolutely valid to have parts of your life that are difficult to talk about, but don't talk about something you aren't ready to. Whatever your essay ends up being about, it should leave a positive impression on the admissions counselors. This is really hard to do if you're writing about a topic you feel overall negatively about. Side note: if you have something on your chest that you want to write about just to get it down on paper, I encourage you to do so! The personal essay process can be really good for reflection, I'd just suggest you do it for you and not for an essay you submit. However, during this process you may discover a part of your life that was related tangentially that you do feel positively about, in which case you might want to consider whether to write about that for a college essay!

6) COVID-19. If you want to talk about something you discovered about yourself during quarantine you can do that. Just make sure it's tailored to a specific experience you had, not just the general experience of staying home more.

One note is that if you feel that any of the above topics is truly, deeply ingrained in who you are, you don't have to omit them entirely (particularly for #4). However, many people tend to choose a big topic (like the ones above) and write about it too broadly because there's a lot to explain about big events. You can still have such events underlying your essay as a whole, but write very specifically. Your essay should be something ONLY you could have written about. There's this quote by Richard Price that I think is applicable here: “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.” Big, impactful events are, by nature, impactful to a lot of people and often very common; that's why you don't want to write about moving to a new state. You could, however, write about how a quirky tradition at your new school introduced you to the nuance of balancing homesickness with excitement about the future or something reflective like that. The "big event" shouldn't be centered, but it can be part of your essay's context.

Here is one thing you CAN do to come up with a topic!

1) Open up a google doc and write down literally everything you can think of about yourself. Formative memories, tiny memories that you don't know why you remember, places you've been with family and friends, your favorite things, aspects of your identity, people you care about, hobbies, experiences, etc. If it pops into your head, write it down. Even if it seems trivial, it's way better to write a bad idea down than have it bounce around in your head. You can also look through old notebooks and items in your house that are important/memorable to you. Write down any notes/feelings you think of as you're writing stuff down, and any applicable tangents your brain goes on. When you're done with all that, you'll have this massive document of ideas + memories specific to you that you can potentially write about (mine was like 12 pages lol). Later on when you're looking at the prompts you can look back through the document and highlight anything that jumps out at you (again, even if it seems trivial! Especially if it seems trivial! Some of the strongest essays I've read have been meaningful reflections of trivial events). You can also go through each bullet point and try to connect the moment/memory/thing to anything meaningful you want to talk about (deeper topics like finding joy in trivial moments, how leaps of faith are super nerve-wracking but also rewarding, etc.) If you find yourself getting into the flow of doing this step, that bullet point may be something you want to write about! If you're having a hard time coming up with a meaningful connection, just move on.

As a final note, the list at the top is probably not comprehensive. I encourage you to look up videos/articles by people who review college essays for a living, either actual admissions counselors or people who offer college essay review services. They have seen WAY more essays than I have, and can tell you what people write about much better than I can. It's also just pretty fun to watch YouTube videos and count it as part of your college application process. Here are some links if you want to explore this more:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7mbTzRSPD0 (overused essays; video by an essay reviewer)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XH2pHQwaCTw (unique essays that worked; video by an essay reviewer)

https://youtu.be/_PhK7n4Labg (overused essays; video by an essay reviewer)

https://www.collegeessayguy.com/blog/college-essay-examples (unique essays that worked; article by an essay reviewer)

3 years ago

Simply if it’s cliche, you want to avoid it. Such topics as “the big [sports] game” or “the time I moved” are commonly used examples of cliche, unoriginal topics. It’s all about context, if it’s not unique, such as would be with these two topics, then it will fail to please your admissions readers, rather it may discourage them from choosing you. To avoid such a feeble, large-consequence mistake, you should focus on a time where GROWTH + PERSONAL IDENTITY was shown.

An example: “my contribution to curing cancer: the time I reached out to a university researcher to assist in genetic breast cancer therapeutics”. For one, this shows a great deal of maturity where you took initiative (this would be GROWTH) and it expresses what you are interested in (PERSONAL IDENTITY). Yet another example: “when my [parent] passed away due to [health issue], I held a local event to inform of the dangers of [health issue]”. This one has the two features of before, but has an emotional bonus where VULNERABILITY + RESILIENCE are included to the extent of the writer’s portrayal. As long as you are able to “connect with the reader using a ‘uniquely-you’ topic”, then you’ll be fine!!

The best examples for EACH prompt: ( https://blog.collegevine.com/common-app-essay-examples/ )

Here is insight into college application essays: ( https://www.noodle.com/articles/the-best-and-worst-topics-for-a-college-application-essay ).

Here are topics and tactics NOT to EVER write about: ( https://ingeniusprep.com/blog/worst-personal-statement-topics/ ).

Hope this all helps!!

3 years ago

Really common one I've heard of include: Sports injuries, death of a grandparent (while it's still sad, it's a commonly used essay topic), and mission trips. If you really want to stand out, I'd use something completely original. I know a girl who did one about this pen pal she's had for over ten years and how their relationship has grown without ever seeing each other's faces. If you think about it, there's a ton of things that's happened in your life that are unique to YOU, you just have to figure out how to express it in an essay correctly.

What are your chances of acceptance?
Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
+ add school
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Community Guidelines

To keep this community safe and supportive:

  1. Be kind and respectful!
  2. Keep posts relevant to college admissions and high school.
  3. Don’t ask “chance-me” questions. Use CollegeVine’s chancing instead!

How karma works