By: Susanna Cerasuolo, M.Ed.
1. Sports- Don’t write about it. Don’t even try. Don’t just start a rough draft to see if your sports essay might somehow work. It won’t. They all sound the same: you worked hard, you got injured, you scored some winning point, and as always, your team became like a family. You sound the same as every other athlete, but for this main essay, you want to be remembered. Unless you’re the new Hemingway, stay away from this topic.
2. Mexico Mission Trip- While I understand that seeing abject poverty really opened your eyes unless you came back home and actually did something about it, I wouldn’t write about it. The thesis for this essay is usually: all those poor people had nothing but they were so happy, and I felt guilty for what I had. Dangerous territory, because it’s been done so often. Keep going on mission trips, but maybe write about the French Club.
3. Depression, divorce, death- I think these topics need to be written about, absolutely, if any of them apply to you and if you feel compelled to share. The place to put this info is in the Additional Info section of any application. This could be one paragraph up to two pages. I recommend that you really consider including this essay if one of these situations (or some other hardship) affected your grades especially. But admission officers are speed-reading, so show them the sunniest parts of yourself in your main essay, and tack your difficulties essay onto the app as extra!
4. All the great things I’ve done- Do not give in to the urge to use the main essay to “sell yourself”. The main essay is a chance for admission reps to hear your voice and your reflections, not your accomplishments. Bragging always backfires, so relax and write a funny story about a time you really learned something meaningful (like that high heels and bleachers don’t mix) and how it changed you.
5. My beliefs- Religion and politics are sensitive topics and I wouldn’t focus the main essay on either one. Admissions reps are trying to bring kids to the campus who will be good roommates and classmates, curious about all beliefs. Using your main essay as a philosophical treatise about why you are right is not a wise move. Move on.
Note: Of course there are always exceptions and situations in which these essays could work! This is just our opinion based on our experiences.