Appropriate Essay Topic Response Advice Sought

D24 is working on her college essays right now because she doesn’t want to have to write them from scratch while we are on our summer vacation next month. She’s using the '23 essays in the Common App with the hope that they will be similar enough to the '24 questions that she can adapt what she has after the new apps come out Aug 1.

One of schools asked about challenges she’s faced in school and how she learned from them. She chose to write about the three science fair research projects that she has done. These were self-designed with advice from her high school science teachers. They were not guided by Ph.Ds or in higher ed labs. I wasn’t involved except to pay for materials and drive when needed.

Is this an appropriate topic for her essay?

I am staying out of this process except to ask how it’s going and listen to her ideas when her teacher isn’t available. She has a teacher at school that she can ask for editing help, but she is trying not to bother her too much in the summer. She doesn’t want to have to rewrite the essay if her teacher thinks the topic isn’t impressive enough.


IMO, nearly any topic can be appropriate for an essay and it all comes down to how it’s written. I wouldn’t worry about it not being an impressive topic. It’s more how your student uses their essay to show they would be an asset to have on campus.


If she faced challenges in those projects and learned from them, why wouldn’t that be an appropriate response to such a prompt?

1 Like

I think she is worried that it’s not one of those things mentioned in the thread about pay-to-play research. She knows several people who have done those this summer but she hasn’t had time to because she has a summer job.

AOs should value a summer job more than pay-to-play research.
Of course, that assumes they can tell when research is pay-to-play and unfortunately I’m not entirely confident they always can.

Regardless, a summer job is wonderful.

1 Like

I guess we could look at the exact wording, but to me it sounds like this is an opportunity to demonstrate personal characteristics like maturity, humor, determination, and so on.

I would usually think a memorable essay on this topic would not involve bragging about an impressive activity elsewhere in your application. It would involve that time you set your lab coat on fire.

Edit: And how would a summer thing be “in school” anyway?

1 Like

Just to clarify. Are you talking about a school-specific supplemental essay? The topic seems totally fine to me for that purpose.

Depending on her writing skills, it could also be a topic for her personal statement, but there are other things to consider. I often steer kids away from writing about academics for the personal statement, but it depends on her writing ability.

It’s a school specific essay.

She wrote about extracurriculars (2 related ones) in her common app essay and how she learned from them and they helped her become who she is.

I haven’t read it myself- I’m trying to stay out of it since her teacher is helping. Her teacher thought that was a good idea.

Would she want to use the new essay readers thread here on CC?

Topic sounds fine to me but as with any essay, it is all in how it is written. As long as the topic is heartfelt and not contrived, I think it tends to work out!

1 Like

Common App is easy as they’ll have name your own.

For the school essay, if not wanting to wait, I would contact the school to see if the topic will remain unchanged b4 starting. They will likely tell you.

It could be wasted effort if it does.

I would ensure she answers the question #1, has fine grammar/spelling #2, and shares qualities about herself #3 - things that can’t be read in the application.

Not sure of the level of school but a part time job potentially creates so many qualities and experiences that it’s a very impressive EC and I say that whether the job is moving carts at a grocery store, to working retail, to working in a lab.

Good luck.

She doesn’t use this site or post on social media. It’s not her thing.

Thank you all for your thoughts. I will share them with her.

And… was it “pay to play”?

I would look at a regional science fair completely differently, as I would assume that all the work, preparations, execution, writing the paper and creating the poster were all done at home, prior to the actual event?

It should be easy to communicate the above through the essay.

Or was it a week-long paid program that culminated in a “science fair” for the parents? In that case, I would understand the concern.

No, the fair was school-based. It’s a big high school.

Students chose to participate but science teachers did provide some guidance.

It’s not one of the programs mentioned in the articles about Penn. D24 has friends who do programs like those, so that’s where her anxiety about this comes from. She doesn’t want to be seen as less than. HTH

1 Like

So there are no concerns at all with respect to pay-to-play.

Sciene fair participation is not the norm, and is so different than regular high school classes/academics: asking for personal creativity, initiative and out-of-the-box thinking, that I can certainly see this being a unique learning experience!

Everyone in higher education, in particular Admission Officers, will know what High School science fairs are, or even county-sponsored intra-school fairs. Not to worry.

1 Like

Since OP is no longer active, I am closing