The Ivy Coach Daily

August 26, 2017

5 Terrible Topics for the Common Application Personal Statement

College Essay, Personal Statement, Bad College Essays
Do avoid writing about grandma or grandpa in your Common App. Personal Statement. And in your supplemental admissions essays too.

Of the thousands of applicants each year to highly selective colleges, it may surprise some to learn that the vast majority of these applicants choose one of five topics to write about in their Common Application Personal Statements. That’s right. Even though these students may think they’re being super creative in their approach to the Personal Statement, their approach is often anything but unique or creative. In our quarter century of helping students earn admission to highly selective colleges, we can name on one hand the 5 topics students are inclined to write about in their Personal Statements that very much hurt their case for admission: sports, community service, dead or living grandparents, music, and foreign travel.

The Sports Essay

Don’t write about sports. That essay about how you hurt your leg but worked really hard to get yourself back in shape and win the race won’t wow an admissions officer at one of our nation’s elite universities. Rather, it will inspire an admissions officer to yawn a great, big yawn. So too will that essay about how you may not have won the water polo game but through the loss, you and your teammates learned about the importance of perseverance, sportsmanship, and teamwork. Does that sound cliché? If not, it should.

The I’m an Amazing Person Essay

You don’t need to do community service to earn admission to an elite American universities. It’s one of the most common misconceptions about the process. Working in a soup kitchen or in a hospital ward is the route so many college applicants choose to take to boost their chances of admission to their dream college. And do let them take that route. Don’t correct them. They’re your competition. Admissions officers so often view these sorts of activities as cliché, as efforts made simply in the hope of improving their odds of admission. If only these applicants knew how such an approach achieves the opposite effect.

The Grandpa Essay

Maybe grandpa is your hero. Maybe he recently died. That’s nice that he’s your hero and we’re sorry about his death. But college admissions officers don’t want to read about grandpa. They want to read about you. Common Application Personal Statements about dead or living grandparents so often read the same. They’re dull. They’re wonderful tributes to relatives. But they offer little to no insight into who an applicant is and how he or she thinks — which is the primary concern of admissions officers reading these essays.

The Trip to India Essay

Has a friend of yours ever asked you to watch his slideshow of pictures from a recent trip he took to Poland? Maybe it wasn’t Poland. Maybe it was Thailand. The destination isn’t the point. The point is that you were likely quite bored. It’s pretty cool to see the wonders of the world in person. Seeing it through photographs of your friend’s adventures typically isn’t as cool. And neither is writing about foreign trips in college essays. It also happens to convey wealth — that your family had the money to travel around the world. Admissions officers don’t exactly earn the most high-paying salaries. Don’t bore admissions officers with tales of your foreign escapades. And don’t flaunt your wealth. It doesn’t exactly inspire admissions officers to want to root for you.

The Music Essay

You don’t have to write about an activity in your Common Application essay. Writing about an activity — whether or not you intend it — puts you in the position of selling. This is why you should be admitted. This is why you would be of value to the college to which you’re applying. Don’t sell. Rather, showcase your love of learning and great intellectual curiosity without trying to impress an admissions officer about how you’re the first chair violin at your school. ZZZzzz is right.

We Help with the Many College Essays

But simply knowing what not to write about in your Common Application Personal Statement doesn’t exactly point you in the direction of what you should be writing about. It doesn’t offer you insight into how you can stand out in the crowded field. And that’s because that’s precisely what we do with our clients at Ivy Coach. We help them stand out. We help make them, in two words, wonderfully weird. Not just in the Personal Statement but in the activities, in the letters of recommendation, in the many supplemental essays (e.g., Why College essays) required of the vast majority of highly selective colleges. If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s assistance with these essays, contact us today to learn about our services.

And what do our readers think of these 5 terrible topics for the Common Application Personal Statement? Were you about to write an essay that falls into one of these categories? If so, we hope you’re now reconsidering.

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