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It’s that time of year: deadlines for college applications will be here before you know it. As if you don’t have enough to worry about, now you have to craft the perfect essay. This essay is going to be your chance to show your potential university who you are outside of your standardized test scores and your GPA. College admissions counselors read so many essays that it’s crucial you pick a topic to make yours stand out, so avoid these cliché ideas!

1.  Controversial Opinion Pieces 

In college, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to express your political and religious opinions. While it’s great to be informed, your college application essay is not the place to share your views.

Andrea Nadler, a college admissions counselor from Hofstra University, says that “there may be colleges who frown on it because you never know who is reading it, and this can be a subjective process.” If your essay is about why Obamacare is the downfall of this country and your admissions counselor is a strict Democrat, you may have just spoiled your chances. The same idea applies to if you write about your Catholic beliefs, and your reader is Jewish.

If the topic is personal to you, you can write about it as long as you can do it without demonstrating extreme bias. For example, if the implementation of Obamacare changed your life in some way, you could write about it – as long as you could do so without attacking the opposing side. You want to appear passionate and strong, but not offensive.

What to Write Instead

Instead of writing about a controversial topic that could spark anger in your reader, gear that passion towards something else. Any social issue could be an acceptable topic: drinking and driving, bullying, etc. Write about whatever you’re passionate about without potentially causing offense.

2. Listing All of Your Accomplishments

Yes, your college essay is obviously supposed to be about you; however, that doesn’t mean it should be a self-loving piece about all the accomplishments you’ve made.

“Listing accomplishments is what the resume/activity sheet should do,” Nadler says. “The essay should focus on one aspect or facet of their life—something not otherwise known from the other pieces of the application.”

The admissions officers have your resume already; they know what you’ve done. Use this opportunity to show your future university who you are beyond the qualifications written on paper.

What to Write Instead:

So you were the cheerleading captain, first chair in your school’s band and on student council? Pick the accomplishment you have achieved that means the most to you. What skills did you gain from it? What lessons did you learn? Taking a situation and explaining what you got out of it will show your university what you can offer to them.

3. A Sob Story

Admissions counselors are people, too, and they will absolutely be very sorry if you’ve lost a loved one or your parents got divorced. However, your admissions essay is your school’s first look at who you are, so show them you—not the tragic things you’ve had to deal with.

“Students do not need to write about ‘doom and gloom’ to get our empathy or sympathy, but if they choose to write about something sad or drastic, it should be a story about overcoming so we can see their resilience,” Nadler says.

Save the sad stories for personal essays in class; you’ll have plenty of opportunities to express that side of yourself.

What to Write Instead:

One way you can incorporate unfortunate things that have happened to you is to turn a negative experience into a lesson.

“I wrote my college essay about the organization I help found for suicide awareness after my friend unfortunately committed suicide,” says Hannah, a senior from Hofstra University. “I got a handwritten note with my acceptance letter from my admissions counselor saying how impressed they were with my ability to help turn such an awful situation in a way to help others.” This is a great example of how a terrible situation can be used in an essay to show your positive attributes.

4. Volunteer Work

Hear us out: volunteer work is definitely something to be proud of. However, so many students choose to write about volunteering in their essays that they all become very similar.

It’s a bit cliché to simply explain the volunteer work you’ve done. “Be careful when discussing volunteer work; you don’t want to sound insincere or that you’ve done it just to boost your resume,” Nadler says.

You want your essay to be about something personal to you, so make sure it isn’t a generic summary of the charitable work you’ve done. Anyone can write about volunteering and helping the community, but not everyone can make personal connections to it.

What to Write Instead

Rather than summarizing a volunteer trip in your essay (boring!), describe a pivotal moment in your journey. If there’s a specific situation you had volunteering that has a personal connection to you, focus on those moments. What did you learn from it? How did it change your life? Are you a different person because of it?


Writing your college admissions essay can seem intimidating, but there’s no need to worry! As long as you keep it personal and concise, the admissions will come rolling in. Happy writing!

Hannah is a junior at Hofstra University, majoring in public relations and minoring in psychology. Previously she's interned at 94.5 PST (a New Jersey radio station), PIX11 Television, thecelebritycafe.com, and is now a contributing writer at Her Campus. When she isn't working, writing, or taking classes, she is an active member in her sorority and is the public relations coordinator of an anti-bullying club on campus. She enjoys coffee shops, watching Sex and the City re-runs, and 90s boy bands.Follow her on Twitter!
Cassidy is a Digital Production intern at Her Campus. She's currently a junior studying journalism at Emerson College. Cassidy also is a freelance reporter at the Napa Valley Register and a staff writer at Her Campus Emerson. Previously she blogged for Seventeen Magazine at the London 2012 Olympics, wrote for Huffington Post as a teen blogger and was a Team Advisor at the National Student Leadership Conference on Journalism, Film, & Media Arts at University of California, Berkeley and American University in Washington, D.C.. When she's not uploading content to Her Campus or working on her next article, Cassidy can be found planning her next adventure or perfecting her next Instagram. Follow her on Twitter at @cassidyyjayne and @cassidyjhopkins.