Good is what you make of it

I was chatting with an admissions officer from a highly selective university, and when the conversation turned to essays, she shared a pithy way of thinking about topics. With the exception of those that are just flat-out inappropriate or offensive, there are no good topics or bad topics. There are just topics handled well or poorly.

Sports, community service, travel, leadership experience, personal hardship, summer activities—depending on the student, any one of those topics could be a fascinating story that helps the readers understand more about the writer, or a trite, clichéd, just-like-all-the-others essay that will have no positive impact on admission.

How to tell the difference? Here are three our Collegewise students follow:

1. Don’t try to impress the reader.
Trying to guess what they supposedly want to read is the fastest way to write the same thing thousands of other students are writing.

2. Own your story by sharing something only you could tell.
You do that by injecting detail. Someone else could write that their work in student government taught them leadership lessons. What happened in your experience, and what did you learn?

3. If you can’t find enough details for your story, choose a different story.

A good topic is what you make of it.