The College Essay – How do I choose a topic? What if writing is not my strength?

Q&A with Debra Santostefano, MA, MBA
Director of Guidance and College Planning, Windermere Preparatory School

Q: How do I choose a topic that will be eye-catching?
A: Pick a topic that is personal to you. Colleges want you to share something specific and different that they wouldn’t find in the application. Once you have done this, dive right into it! You only have a few minutes to catch the eye of the reader. Choose a hook or a story. Share positive messages and powerful outcomes.

Q: Are there any topics I should stay away from?
A: Yes, you do not want to tackle a subject that cannot be answered in a short essay. Stay away from “downer” topics such as death and dying. These cannot usually be addressed in 250 words or less. Very controversial topics (politics and religion) are also risky.

Q: I’m not a strong writer. What should I do?
A: Begin by reading successful sample essays and remember colleges want to hear from you. Your essay is a way for them to get to know you. They want to hear your voice and express who you are. It should be personal. Develop an overall strategic essay writing plan. Make an outline. An essay should take several drafts, so ask someone to read and proof your essay throughout the process (your English teacher, your counselor, someone you trust.). Your college planning office and/or the book store will have great samples of writing essays for you to begin to get an idea of how to start.

Q: How many sources (i.e. quotes, research, etc.) should I use to strengthen my college essay without going overboard?
A: Use them only if it is who you are. They are not needed and if forced, will look manufactured. If you use quotes, make sure they are relevant and well-integrated.

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