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Author Bio: Jason from Prompt. Prompt provides access to free and affordable writing feedback from real people delivered in as little as 1 hour. Prompt’s admissions experts have helped students get into nearly every top-50 U.S. university. Get a free college app essay review at prompt.com/college-admissions/.
Bad grades, cultural heritage, music, sports, drama, summer camp, travelling, your childhood, community service, politics, a family member’s cancer, personal flaws … the list of bad essay topics goes on. Amazingly, these bad topics also happen to be some of the most common application essay topics according to an analysis done by Prompt.com’s essay experts. These topics also yield an essay score a full letter grade lower than other essay topics. What gives?
Admissions officers tend to look for three things in essays – your passions, your personality, and your hopes and dreams. The bad topics tend to take the focus off of you, the applicant, and make the essay about someone else. Bad topics contain content that is either unimpressive, uncompelling, or paints you in a negative light. Bad topics include experiences that do not relate to your personality traits or subjects that do not relate to what you hope to accomplish in your future.
Let’s take an in-depth look at each of the bad topics, why they are bad, and the few instances where you can effectively write about these topics.
Your cultural heritage. First, culture is another one of the most common topics. Second, the essay needs to be about you, not your family. Third, it’s difficult for culture to come across as being core to your identity. The only time you should use this topic is if your culture truly defines you as a person and has a significant role in your personality and your future plans.
Music, drama, and sports. First, these are the most common topics that people write about. Second, your essay needs to tie to your passions, your personality, and your hopes and dreams. Many people who write about these topics struggle to show specific examples of how the experience relates to who they are and how this affects who they want to be in the future. Only use this topic if it’s a core part of your life and you gained many life lessons that will play a key role in your future.
Summer camp or trips. First, these experiences tend to be short and therefore, the impact of the self-realization tends not to be believable. Second, it’s hard to write about these topics in a way that relates to your passions or your hopes and dreams – unless you went to space camp and want to be an engineer. Third, experiencing other cultures for a few days does not make you a well-rounded individual. Only use this topic if you spent a good amount of time at camp or traveling (one or two weeks doesn’t count), and you can tie your experience to your passions and hopes and dreams.
Community service. First, community service makes this list only because so many people use it even though they have had a limited impact on their community. Spending a single morning helping the poor does not count. Raising under $1,000 for charity struggles to count as a significant impact. Second, many people write about community service, but the impact on their lives today and in the future is not clear. Do not write about community service if it is not a passion or yours and is unlikely to play a key role in your future. Only use this topic if you have devoted a substantial amount of your time to serving others, are passionate about service, and see service as playing a role in your future hopes and dreams.
Your childhood. First, an event early in your life rarely has such a significant impact that it defines you as a person. Admissions officers want to know who you are today and who you hope to be in the future. Second, it’s difficult to tie in experiences from your childhood with your passions, personality, and hopes and dreams of today. Only use this topic if you can clearly tie a specific event from your childhood to who you are today. Even if you use this topic, make sure you only spend a few sentences discussing the moment from your childhood and that you tie in relevant examples from your more recent life history.
A family member having cancer or some other medical condition. First, this is one of the most common essay topics. Second, the essay needs to be about you, not a family member. Write about this experience only if helps define your personality and affects your career or life goals such as planning to go into a career in healthcare.
Bad grades. Getting a B, working really hard, and then getting an A does not tell the reader anything. First, a B isn’t so bad. Second, why weren’t you working hard in the first place? Third, will you be able to do the work college requires? There is nothing redeeming about this topic.
Failures caused by a personal flaw or poor decision making. First, writing about failure is the single most difficult thing to do. Second, failures commonly show an unappealing side of you. The only acceptable type of failure to write about is when you tried to do something new such as running for student council, but learned a lot from the process.
Wanting to inflict bodily harm on yourself or others. This is a touchy subject and mental health issues are serious, but should not be addressed in your essay. Colleges typically do not want students who pose risks.
Politics. First, you don’t want to state something with which your reader may vehemently disagree; you want to control your message. Second, this essay is about you, not the goings-on in the world. Only write about a politically sensitive topic if it has personally played a significant role in your life and what you hope to accomplish – i.e. you aren’t just stating opinions; you are telling your story.
So to recap, DO NOT write about these topics unless one is completely integral to your life, helps define you as a person, and directly relates to your hopes and dreams. Prompt.com can help walk you through the process of selecting a topic and writing your outline by using their free essay outlining tool at prompt.com/outline. In addition, you can chat with one of Prompt’s essay experts for free as you create your outline and get free feedback on your outline before you start writing your draft.