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How to Find the Perfect Admission Essay Topic
By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe

Analyze whether the topic reveals something about you as an individual.

Besides having an original essay, you need to make sure that it reveals something about you. It cannot just be a mere description of a person, place or thing. You want to reflect on an aspect of your life that was significant, preferably one that you are proud of. As you go through your list of topics, eliminate those that are not really important to you.

Revealing something about you is also more than a simple retelling of your life and achievements. Admissions officers expect you to demonstrate your ability to think and analyze topics and how they relate to you through your writing. Therefore, if you simply retell an interesting story of a childhood experience or recount various accomplishments, you will fail to impress them. To uncover something meaningful, you need to spend time thinking and analyzing.

Challenge each topic with a question.

If your topics pass the originality tests and can reveal something about you, the next step is to subject them to a battery of tough questions. These questions will help you prioritize those topics with the most potential.

  • Does your idea have good supporting examples or stories?

  • Can your idea be expressed within the limits of the essay?

  • Will your essay be interesting?

  • Is the topic truly meaningful to you?

  • Can the essay be recycled?

As you eliminate topics, you will notice that a few will rise to the top as being the most promising. These are going to be your best topics.

Eliminate any dumb or risky topics.

There are topics that you should avoid. Many of these are obvious, but sometimes students get carried away and write about them anyway. The only exception to choosing one of these "dumb" topics is if you can "undumb" it by writing about it in an intelligent or unique way. But unless you can do this well (and have your work checked by editors), it is much safer to stay away from these subjects. The topics that are taboo include these:

  • Crimes and misdemeanors

  • Drunkenness or getting high

  • Bad grades

  • Simple description of why the university is perfect for you

  • Your plan to create world peace

  • The Big Game

If any of these topics are still on your list, be very careful about how you write about them in the essay.

Dump topics you can't analyze.

The essay is not so much a writing test as it is a thinking test. The admission officers want to see how you think and analyze—after all that's what college is all about. To showcase your thinking ability, you need a topic that you can really delve into deeply. As tempting as it may be to write a narrative or tell a good story, your essay needs a fair amount of analytical mettle if it is to be any good. So get rid of topics that are superficial or that don't allow you to apply some good old analysis.

About the Author

Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Accepted! 50 Successful College Admission Essays

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Learn how to write the essay that will get you into your dream college with this step-by-step guide that includes writing strategies from top students and admission officers. Read over 50 successful essays, and learn the 25 essay mistakes you must avoid.

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Get Into Any College

By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.

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