Remember that quote from my post “The Crucial Elements of a Great Personal Statement – Part 1”?
I can only echo the words of the famous novelist Elmore Leonard once again for part two of this subject: “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it!”
In that last post, we applied that statement to the 75% of a college admission essay that makes up the clarity and organization of your writing.
For this post, we will consider how it affects the 25% of the essay that has to do with the topic and content.
More specifically, I will answer the question: How will you choose a good topic?
I have noticed that some students become obsessed with trying to find an essay topic that they think is 100% original.
In fact, some insist that their topic is shocking, tragic, or reveals overcoming so difficult in their life that the moment the admission officer reads it, they will be filled with sympathy and awe, utterly impressed that the student lived to this day.
Other students try to shove all of their activities and accomplishments into one long, remarkable tale, even though all of these things are already listed in their application.
Neither of these approaches, though, is realistic.
Firstly, you cannot be 100% original. Nor is it necessary to have a tragedy as the centerpiece of your essay.
And, secondly, it is a complete waste of time to repeat information that is already contained in your admission application. Colleges are quite aware of that information already. It does not have to be repeated in your essay.
So, how should you focus your personal statement?
Simplicity and Personality
The best approach is to focus on a simple and modest topic. Something that will allow you to share more about your personality. Give an example demonstrating one part of your character. Elaborate on it in a modest amount of depth within 500-650 words.
Perhaps, you can talk about how you approached a problem, even a small one (no dramas or tragedies required), or how you handled being a leader. Or, maybe explain how you approached winning or losing something or making decisions.
And then, use a little bit of time at the end of the essay to point out to the admission officer why this quality of yours will serve you well in college.
When I was an admission officer, I could feel very good about an application if a student turned in a personal statement with a topic and content that was clearly true, well-written, and clear.
And that is what you want the admission officer to feel when they read your personal statement.
Past Experiences and Future Goals
You have a lot of options for what to include in your essay. These are personal choices. There is no right or wrong answer.
So, you may want to write about something pertaining to your future. Maybe you had a past experience that helped you define your career interests, the major you have chosen, or what you would like to get out of college.
And if you have not decided yet what your aim is for the future and you just want to use college to figure it all out? Do not ever force yourself to write about that type of content in a personal statement when it is not true for you. Being undecided about majors and career goals is, quite honestly, okay.
But are there topics you should avoid at all cost?
Pitfalls and Potentials
Sometimes, you may hear advice from a college counselor or admission officer of what not to write about. They may say: “Do not write about things that are too common or too ordinary!”
In their opinion, what does that include?
Often, four particular topics receive this warning:
- Athletics – You were an athlete in high school and your team won the final championship game, even though your team was the underdog.
- Summer Camp – You had an experience as a camper or working in a summer camp as a counselor.
- Volunteer Mission – You had the opportunity of going on a mission trip or participating in a volunteer opportunity to spend time in a developing country.
- Politics – Your views could potentially offend the person reading the essay.
At times, I have steered individual students away from the aforementioned topics. Why? Because, in their specific cases, writing about these subjects really did not show enough of who they were or the chosen topic was truly too controversial.
Still, I personally disagree with the blanket recommendation that all of these topics are always bad.
To me, all topics are on the table as “potentials.” Of course, there are pitfalls to avoid. But I have seen students write great essays about a variety of subjects—even the seemingly mundane ones.
The Bottom Line…
In the end, your essay is really is not just about your topic. That is not what makes your essay great. What makes it great to read is that you choose a topic that gives you the opportunity to say something about you. Show your personality.
Remember, you will not impress the admission officer with a specific topic. Rather, you will impress them with the whole package: take an idea and present it in an intelligent, clear, and insightful way.
If whatever topic you select allows you to do that, then you will have a great personal statement.
I have years of experience as an Independent Educational Consultant and would love to help you prepare your own personal statement for your college admission. Please, contact me.