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Is my essay topic too controversial or risky?

asstronomyasstronomy Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
I’ll introduce myself a bit first:
Chinese American female from a mid range public school in the SF Bay Area
3.9 unweighted GPA, 4.2 weighted GPA
1580 SAT, top 10th decile rank
Activities: President of Model UN Club, Secretary of Satire Journalism Club, varsity badminton, studio art and illustration (placed in competitions), volunteer at Samaritan House free medical clinic
Awards: National Merit Semifinalist, AP Scholar w Distinction, Presidential Volunteer Service Award Gold (500+ hrs service)
Schools I’m applying to: Tufts, Wash U, Northwestern, Vassar, Swarthmore, Scripps
Major: Biology

I’m currently in the process of drafting my personal statement, for which I’ve decided to write about my summer internship. I interned at a preclinical research company which conducted animal studies to test medical devices. In short, it was a company that practices animal testing — a highly controversial topic. While my essay will definitely not include a pro-animal testing argument, it will describe what I experienced and witnessed in detail that may be uncomfortable for some people. My essay is about my ability to consider multiple perspectives/beliefs and adapt quickly to new situations, as well as my journey from a protester of animal testing to someone who wants to educate people about misconceptions of animal testing. This essay will illustrate my thought process and demonstrate many positive traits of mine as well as what I learned; however, is the topic of animal testing too controversial to write about to the point that it will hurt my chances?

Replies to: Is my essay topic too controversial or risky?

  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 Registered User Posts: 2,590 Senior Member
    I think it sounds like a great topic!
  • bjkmombjkmom Registered User Posts: 7,214 Senior Member
    I think you'll have to be very, very careful to refrain from sounding preachy. This essay is supposed to be about you, not a platform for your opinions. Those 650 words have to carry an awful lot of weight-- be sure that you don't waste any trying to educate or convince the reader of your point of view.
  • asstronomyasstronomy Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Thank you @bjkmom! I really appreciate the feedback. I'm definitely trying to stay away from the whole "pushing an agenda" essay; I just wanted to include a point at the end about how I've changed as a person following this experience. My only concern would be whether it might come off negatively if I say that I now plan to educate people on the misconceptions of animal testing. This sounds almost too close to me saying that I support animal testing, although that is not the case. Would it be wiser to just eliminate this point entirely?
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 28,718 Senior Member
    I would be uncomfortable to read about animal testing when I expected a narrative that showed me the assets we want at this college. I would also question how this "changed" you in ways relevant to the campus community. And, be turned off by the assertion you "plan to educate people on the misconceptions of animal testing." That's not your role on campus.

    This sounds like kids who want to use the admission essay to explain other controversial stands. It may be very meaningful to you, but may not work for an admission review. Anything you can say instead about your work with people, how your views evolved, you became more open, flexible, did some good for or with others?
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 34,533 Senior Member
    “Personal statement” isn’t really what the Common App essay is about. There might be a germ of a good idea in the essay, but it sounds more like a 5 paragraph school essay than it should. And you run a major risk that the admissions officer isn’t in favor of animal testing. Your essay purpose is to make them want you on campus. Keep that in mind.
  • asstronomyasstronomy Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Thank you @lookingforward! Unfortunately, I don't have many other interesting topic ideas to work off of, unless I take a very mundane event in my life and stretch the details to make it seem very significant. My plan is definitely not to explain my ideas on animal testing, but to simply use my internship as a canvas/template for me to illustrate my qualities through a unique story (I can consider different perspectives while maintaining my own beliefs, I am very adaptable and I show initiative, etc). I believed that since this topic is not very commonly seen, it would be more interesting to admissions officers, but should I just avoid it altogether and choose something else? (or hopefully, is it still workable...?)
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 28,718 Senior Member
    Unique doesn't make it relevant. This is not about uncommon. It's your job to show what they want to learn about you for their campus community. Not search for some unusual topic.

    Do you know what those schools do look for? Most kids find comfortable topics and put their own spin on it. Don't let them think you misunderstand.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 34,533 Senior Member
    edited August 10
    Is there something else about your internship besides the animal testing angle that you could mine for material?
  • bjkmombjkmom Registered User Posts: 7,214 Senior Member
    I think those "mundane events" are exactly what you're looking for. You're an 18 year old kid. In spite of what you read here on CC, no one is looking for you to have cured cancer or founded your own religion. They're not looking for one moment that converted you from a life of crime to Mother Theresa. They're looking for the kind of moments you talk about on Thanksgiving when you and your family sit and talk and laugh. Or the "remember when" stuff your high school friends reminisce about. Or the moments you'll look back on in 20 years and say "THAT'S when things started to change."

    A few internship questions:
    - How did you come to be chosen for the internship? Any life lessons there about taking initiative?
    - How was your first day? Were you terrified? Did you know anyone? Any small blunders there that you learned something from?
    - How would you have spent that time if you hadn't gotten the internship? Was the tradeoff worth it?

    See what I'm going for? No huge events, no preaching.
  • Tufts2021Tufts2021 Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    I would pass on that topic if I were you.

    In my opinion, being able to write an interesting narrative surrounding a somewhat mundane topic would not only impress, but would show admissions your writing skills. An interesting topic is not what makes an essay worth reading—it’s the way it’s written that does.
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