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I Don't Know What To Write About: The Elusive College Admissions Essay Topic

While there’s no shortage of internet lists of college essay must dos and must don’ts, few address the real issue that students face when staring at a blank screen: what should I write about?

Many students genuinely believe that nothing has ever happened to them that's worth writing about. That’s because they are under the erroneous impression that unless they started a non-profit organization in third grade or lived through a tsunami, they have nothing to say. You'd be surprised at how even the simplest of life events can have a major influence on who we are—and that’s what a college admissions essay is all about.

Remember, the objective is to paint a picture of who you really are. No one wants to read lofty turns of phrase about the meaning of life. Admissions officers read tons of essays, and they know when someone is hiding behind stilted language and broad philosophical statements. What piques their interest is a well-told story about a specific moment or moments that have contributed to who you are.

For example, a high school senior told us about how, when she was 10, her dad quit a secure job as a truck driver delivering bread. He was 40 years old at the time and, despite his family’s belief that he was crazy to take this kind of risk in mid-life, decided to go into his own business. This seemingly minor event had had a profound impact on her, teaching her the value of ignoring the naysayers and betting on oneself.

So explore the mundane moments. You just might find the hidden gem that will form the basis of a heartfelt, engaging essay.

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