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Which College Essay Topics Are Taboo?

CCEdit_TorreyCCEdit_Torrey 26 replies206 discussionsEditor Posts: 232 Editor
Are there any college essay topics you should avoid? The Dean weighs in. https://www.collegeconfidential.com/articles/which-college-essay-topics-are-taboo/
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Replies to: Which College Essay Topics Are Taboo?

  • 4gsmom4gsmom 669 replies23 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 692 Member
    While visiting a T20 school, one of their admission counselors said in the information session: "and please, please don't write about diarrhea. You'd be surprised how many essays we get about diarrhea."
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  • websensationwebsensation 2058 replies37 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2,095 Senior Member
    edited June 26
    Any essay that shows or expresses or even hints at intolerance for particular groups of people based on race, ethnicity, beliefs etc. should be avoided. Also, any essay that shows inability to get along with various types of people should be avoided. One time, someone asked me to review his essays which basically hinted that he was anti-social and then became more social due to his experiences, and I told him the adcom would not like his essays but he would not budge. Ultimately, he got into a college ranked around 100th (and got denied from every college except one) even though he had good enough stats to get into top 20 colleges. Basically, he was stubborn as heck, which is a good quality in many situations, but when it comes to college essays, you definitely don't want to come across that way.

    Also, any essay that hints at your difficulty in getting adjusted to a new environment should be avoided because colleges imo.
    edited June 26
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  • KevinMcCabeKevinMcCabe 2 replies0 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 2 New Member
    Colleges are becoming more open. Let's ask what is a "taboo" here?
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  • squ1rrelsqu1rrel 302 replies21 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 323 Member
    How is this for a topic: In eighth grade, I was ranked first in geography bee nationals going into the top ten but I had never been under such stress and choked my way down to tenth only to be bullied by kids on youtube.
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  • Florida25Florida25 11 replies3 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 14 New Member
    @Lindagaf , how would you feel about an essay where one explains how not having social media has affected their high school career and general wellness?
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  • LindagafLindagaf 8963 replies484 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 9,447 Senior Member
    @Florida25 , that almost doesn’t seem like a topic to me. Only because there are a ton of people in the world who grew up without social media. So your topic is kind of like asking kids today what it’s like to grow up without a microwave. It’s just life as you know it. If you have an interesting angle on it, go for it.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 28256 replies56 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 28,312 Senior Member
    Any topic that even has the slightest whiff of being suspected of racism. Disagreeing with Political correctness and stating any exceptions and doubts or hesitations.
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  • EmpireappleEmpireapple 1463 replies25 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,488 Senior Member
    Squirrel nobody cares what happened in 8th grade. That is a long time ago when you were still a kid compared to a young adult entering college.
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  • SincererLoveSincererLove 734 replies21 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 755 Member
    DS20 has had a boring life according to him. After much reflection, he wrote an essay on how he was bullied in 8th grade and was able to deal with the situation maturely and tied that to his HS anti bully work. D17 who is pretty good with essays (U Chicago EA) read it and said it is too cliche. Since DS only applies to Pitt bad Penn state, a cliche essay is ok? Appreciate your feedback.
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  • Sally_RubenstoneSally_Rubenstone 3010 replies1109 discussionsCC Admissions Expert Posts: 4,119 Senior Member
    @SincererLove -Did your daughter feel that her brother’s essay was too cliché because:

    1) He used a lot of hackneyed phrases in it such as “When all is said and done” or “At the end of the day”?

    2) He drew a trite conclusion (or two) at the end (e.g., “I have to stand on my own two feet and I can be whatever I want to be.”)

    3) She thought the topic overall was shopworn?

    If the issue is #1, it should be easy to go through the essay with your son (or Sis can do it) and try to chop out the clichés. If it’s #2, a fix might be a little harder but likewise possible. And keep in mind that good essay often tells a story but this story doesn’t necessarily have to end with a moral-of-the-tale sort of conclusion. Let the readers draw their OWN conclusions instead.

    As for #3, I don’t think that this topic itself is tired, but there ARE a couple pitfalls that your son should avoid. He doesn’t want to come across as whiny or condescending, either when he was back in middle school or now (as in “I was way more mature than all of the other numbskulls in my 8th-grade class" or “Most students, even in high school, unlike myself, don’t understand the harm that words can do”).

    But if he has written an essay that mentions his 8th grade situation yet puts the emphasis on the measures he’s taken more recently to combat bullying, it sounds like he’s landed on a potentially sound idea. This is assuming, of course, that he can be specific about his anti-bullying efforts. For instance, does he write a blog or a newspaper column? Is he involved in a group that presents in assemblies or at club meetings, etc.? Simply saying, “I get on my friend’s case when he teases the freshmen in the cafeteria” probably won’t wow admission folks.

    In addition, you are asking, “How strong does an essay really have to be for Pitt or Penn State?” Well, at large public universities where course selection, grades, and test scores usually play a starring role in admission decisions, the essay does commonly take a back seat ... as long as it’s at least competent and doesn’t suggest that a student will crash and burn the first time he attempts a college paper. So, if your son’s GPA and test scores put him at the high end of the median range (or above it) at Pitt and Penn State (especially if he’s a PA resident to boot), then you probably don’t have to duke it out with him over his essay at the dinner table just because his sibling called it banal. But, on the other hand, it’s early in the summer now, and so your son has plenty of time to improve it. As noted above, he need not go back to the drawing board and start over with a brand-new topic, but he should certainly put in a little time replacing trite phrases with more original ones.

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  • CU123CU123 3304 replies58 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3,362 Senior Member
    Let's see, topics to avoid.
    1. How/Why I killed my dog, cat, hamster.....basically killed anything
    2. How fantastic I am
    3. How fantastic you are
    4. Personal hygiene
    5. I guess I could just keep going but you get the idea.

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  • SincererLoveSincererLove 734 replies21 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 755 Member
    @Sally_Rubenstone , definitely 3, and she doesn’t like the fact that she knew where it was going after the 1st sentence. But it is probably because she knew the actual events. Yes, we are in state. He did have a lot of specifics, but it doesn’t hurt to beef it up more! Thank you so much for your feedback!

    The word limit is 650. He is currently 615.
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  • vgullavgulla 1 replies2 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 3 New Member
    How about an essay on struggles and confusion a teen is going through trying to find his gender identity and sexual orientation? Does this kind of personal story matter to the admissions officer at all?
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