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Need some opinions on which essay topics to chose...

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Replies to: Need some opinions on which essay topics to chose...

  • moilamortmoilamort 16 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited June 25
    Most contenders for the tippy top never lose their stride, yes, quite true.
    But the fact of the matter is that I did have to play catch up. Was it my fault? Absolutely not. I'm from the South Side of Chicago. I'm African American. I live in a bad neighborhood, one that is plagued by gun violence, drugs and poverty. I have attended failing schools. Not to play into stereotypes, and not to play the victim, but surely you have heard stories about the area where I am from?

    Most people from my area never dream of attending college, and have never heard of something along the lines of a T20. I'm one of just a handful of AAs who attend my high school, which is the top in the state, and frankly is also a testament to how bad the system here is. Most black kids at my school never make it to even trig, let alone AP Calculus.

    I worked my butt off to catch up, because the system placed me twenty spaces behind everyone else. I started high school counting on my fingers, not because I goofed off in school, but because my school taught me far below the levels it should have. I didn't know I had an issue in math.
    Is that my fault? Should that work against me? It shouldn't, because colleges use a holistic method when reviewing an application. My thought is that ok yes, normally this should be a red flag. But now that you understand where I am from, the experiences I've lived through, now it should begin to make more sense. I had hoped that would come across to colleges as well. I'm now one of the top students in my school. I see this as a huge accomplishment, the girl who started off getting laughed at in math class for counting on her fingers being given an award given out to the top students, at a top high school.

    Anyways, that's sorta where I was coming from with that potential topic.
    I understand that you did not mean to come off the way you did, and truly I'm not as angry as I sound (I hope I don't sound angry). I also recognize that I come off as super defensive, and I didn't mean that either. I realize you are not insulting me, although frankly I am a little defensive

    I'm honestly just completely tired of this college admissions process already, and it hasn't even started
    edited June 25
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  • intparentintparent 36291 replies644 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Trying to explain your app weakness in the essay is a mistake. If you feel a need to explain, you could put a few concise, factual sentences in the Additional Info section (not another essay), or see if your GC could talk about it. Do not waste the prime real estate of the essay on making excuses for weaknesses in your app. Use it to show some interesting aspect of yourself that makes them want you on campus. ‘

    You are competing for admissions against thousands of students who didn’t have to count on their fingers in HS - you’ve maybe gotten yourself up to the level of their average applicant, but that isn’t going to impress admissions. What have you got that the other applicants don’t have?
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  • moilamortmoilamort 16 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited June 25
    Ok noted point about not talking about application weaknesses.
    Question: if a GC is already writing a letter of special circumstance (related to something else, but I'll tell him to add the math stuff as well. Not sure how he'd frame that, but he already knew what happened in math) should it be talked about in the additional information section as well?
    edited June 25
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34188 replies378 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    If it's a top hs, the GC should know just how to frame this. And it gives him a little chance to rave about how far you've come.

    We understand the challenges. But the app is still the vehicle by which you make your best self presentation.

    And it's common on CC for us to check for info not in a post by looking for other posts. That's where, a week ago, we saw the T20 hopes. If this has changed, we don't know. If your targets are different now, our advice might even shift.

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  • moilamortmoilamort 16 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Ok. I'll allow him to handle that stuff.
    I'm going with topic #3. I might work in some additional elements of 1 as well, since language is my main passion and I'm majoring in linguistics

    All I wanted was an idea as to what topic to expand upon, and now I have one. I have enough time over the summer to work with some ideas.Thanks you guys!
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  • EmpireappleEmpireapple 1728 replies26 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I like all three of your topics and I think each one could work. With that being said, I like your first topic the best. To me, not only travel, but living as an exchange student gives someone life lessons and skills that stay with them forever. This is something I'd be happy to add to my college community if I were an AO.


    I also found it interesting in another post when you mentioned that you are from the south side of Chicago living in a bad neighborhood with gun violence, drugs, and poverty. I wonder if somehow you could write the essay from the angle of leaving that world to temporarily live in another? As a reader, there might be something here that would set you apart from others.

    Good luck!
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  • moilamortmoilamort 16 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Huh. That's honestly a really interesting idea. I never considered writing about where I'm from, but I honestly like that idea a lot. I'll think about something like that as well. Thanks!
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  • LynnskiLynnski 245 replies12 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Context is so important! If your background was culturally or financially entitled, topic 1 might be a yawner. If your background was hard-scrabble, topic 3 might be predictable. But reverse the circumstances and the insights and juxtapositions can be quite compelling. Agreed that topic 2 is the bailiwick of your counselor (or an Additional Note if necessary).
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  • TheSATTeacherTheSATTeacher 236 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    Any of the three could good if done right. It's more about execution than topic. All your essays could be done in a way that would be cliche, but they could also be done in a way that is original and unique. I am sure the class you are in will discuss this.

    I also have to disagree with the idea that #2 is bad because it shows you were once not as strong as some other people you will be competing against (lookingforward's comments on this--aside from being unnecessarily harsh--show little understanding of what colleges are looking for applicant-wise). Colleges are not looking for robots who have been perfect throughout. Writing an essay about overcoming difficulties is not problematic if you clearly overcame those difficulties. However, such essays tend to be cliche, so you might want to steer clear of them. It is genuinely difficult to make such an essay and sound original and unique.

    I would lean towards #3 if I were you. It sounds like the one that will lead to the most creative, reflective, essay.
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  • houndmomhoundmom 319 replies11 threadsRegistered User Member
    I like #3. Your home is so personal and it sounds as if this house is a really positive thing for you and your family. It's interesting that you are learning to grout, renovate, wire electrical, etc.

    Seems like a great topic to highlight your values and how you are open to learning diverse things outside the classroom. You can focus on how this house represents overcoming setbacks in a very proactive and real way.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34188 replies378 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 26
    Lol @TheSATTeacher. I'm one who does have inside experience. And I find all the advice that something just needs to sound "interesting" or be unique, etc, misleads kids.

    First task: understand what adcoms want to learn. 2nd, find a relevant topic that facilitates this. Etc.

    This is not writing for your hs English teacher, some journal, or contest. I suggested she look at the CA prompts.

    We dont know her target colleges, SAT/ACT or ECs. Or any AP scores. Or major. We have next to zero context.

    Her record and writing still need to show she triumphed over home life challenges, not just recount them. That includes the right impact around her, not just that grades came up. The home repair would need to be carefully tied to college relevant attributes. Etc. Right now, I think she has some important research yet to do.
    edited June 26
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  • moilamortmoilamort 16 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    edited June 26
    Here's the thing: I have done research. I've talked to admissions officers, I have read the prompts (multiple times), I've read essays that worked/didn't. Main point is: I'm not nearly as ignorant as you seem to believe I am. This whole thread you've repeated that 'OP hasn't done any research' or 'OP doesn't even know what admissions people are looking for'.

    You recognize that you're making these claims based off of a singular, and very specific post, correct? I came here with an incredibly fixated goal in mind -- to see which topic struck people as interesting. Of course I'm not writing my personal statement just to entertain AOs, and I know that is not the point of this essay. I'm not stupid. Wanting to select an interesting essay topic is different than writing your essay with the ultimate goal of seeming interesting. I have been told (by an AO at a T20 btw, so it's legit stuff) that the essay is designed to make you human. To see who you are, what you're like, and if you're a good fit for the campus.

    I liked all of the topics equally, so I thought, 'ok, why not see what topics other people like?' Many parts of this tread has helped me, and I have a better idea as to what to do now.

    If someone wrote an essay saying 'oh I learned how to grout and demo a room, I am so interesting, lemme into your college' of course they wouldn't be accepted. I can't write out the full essay, yet somehow you've taken what was written at face value and have assumed that the summary is the whole piece. If I (or anyone who's posted here) fully wrote out all ideas and angles for a topic, it'd be way too much to read.

    Not only have you been condescending and unnecessarily harsh, but a lot of what you've said here hasn't been very helpful. I question whether you think you're really helping. Even your first comment came off as rude. Most high schoolers (especially ones on this forum) have at least looked at the prompts, come on. I know that you have experience on these things and on these forums, but jeez.
    edited June 26
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34188 replies378 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    No, I don't think you're ignorant.
    And I tell everyone to research what the colleges are looking for. Because I've seen plenty of mistakes and misunderstandings that do impact admit chances.
    Your choice whose advice to take.

    But think whether an open mind gets you further, in the end.
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  • TheSATTeacherTheSATTeacher 236 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    @lookingforward

    You never addressed what I said. I said that top colleges don't only look for perfect robots who never got a B. You seemed to suggest that colleges will look more negatively upon someone who had to play catch-up in 9th grade and as a result did get a few B's. I don't think that is right.

    As for advice to be interesting or unique, those pieces of advice aren't wrong; it is just that admissions officers have very different ideas as to what counts as interesting or unique than applicants do, and this is why this is generally bad advice. This advice generally leads students either (1) to write essays that are superficially unique (e.g. unique in format or about a 'unique' experience), or (2) to write essays where the supposed interest derives from the interestingness of the experience discussed instead of from something deeper.

    In my response earlier, I pushed against prompts that I thought could descend into cliches. You did too I believe. We don't like cliches precisely because they are unoriginal--they are neither unique nor interesting.

    The advice I most often give on this forum for essays is to be thoughtful and self-aware. It is not perfect advice, but I think it is helpful and points the way forward to a genuinely unique and interesting essay.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 34188 replies378 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited June 27
    As I work for one, I can tell you that this is not the idealistic idea that "improvement" is all it takes. That may be "real world," but *top* college admissions is a different, fierce competition. It doesn't matter whether we think it's "right."

    4.0 kids are not robots. Not in the least. They have friends, lives, interests, impact- and they can show that. But top colleges can cherry pick. The impressions left by C grades is that the learning in that course was/is incomplete. OP made it to AP calc, great, but what grade in that? Adcoms will look at the transcript, see courses, rigor, and grades.

    I do say, all the time, that the essay is not about "unique." There are only so many topics kids can write about. What matters is: is this essay showing the attributes that matter to this college, that "show" this kid will fit and thrive, gets what this college and community are about. I.e., is it what the adcoms need to learn, relevant to their decisions? Not just nice, not just interesting, not just about challenges.

    No kid should be writing about the "interestingness of the experience." Nor something expository or opinions. It's not a hs paper. Self-aware is good- but about what?

    OP said adcom want kids to be human. Unfortunately, for a hs kid, that's vague. Bottom line is that it needs to be relevant.

    Some feel the home repair is interesting. Yes, it could show, eg, persistence. But the challenge is then how to make it relevant.

    And we don't know what colleges. That makes a difference.
    edited June 27
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  • tgl2023tgl2023 105 replies2 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    I like all three of your topics, perhaps they can even be used together to paint a coherent picture of you, highlighting your positive and expansive global perspective on life, empathy and resourcefulness. Do not be concerned at all about a C grade; there is no need to explain it, as it should be self-evident in other parts of your application or school transcript, that you have overcome that 'fear' of math. You write well and will go far; I think that you have a good chance at HYPSM, if they interest you.
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  • yucca10yucca10 1262 replies37 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Starting high school counting on your fingers - this really caught my attention. I think this could be a great essay if you make it more about overcoming and perseverance than the negative things. I know you've already chosen #3 which is also a great topic, but some colleges require additional essays, so you can use both.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 9243 replies497 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I help kids with essays for my job. The only one I like is 3. Definitely no to 2. They are going to know about 1 from the rest of your app.

    If you are a good writer, you have the potential to reveal some interesting background about yourself, maybe connect it with your current family relationships, and, most importantly, show a side of you that probably won’t be easily seen from the rest of your essay.
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  • joecollege44joecollege44 116 replies8 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    #3 is the way to go and could be really good. there are not a lot of kids applying who know how to grout (or even what grout is) or rewire. that's what I would focus on. everything else you wanted to come out in your essays (about your urban upbringing, financial hardships...) can all easily be referenced in subtle, matter-of-fact ways without sounding like you are making excuses or taking advantage of adversity to make yourself sound better on paper.
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  • lolo2020lolo2020 1 replies0 threadsRegistered User New Member
    Moliamort- would you be able to share info on the program you are with or the professor name from UChicago ? Thank you
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