Possible Common App Essay Topic

I wanted to hear feedback on a Common App essay topic that my daughter is considering. I am aware that the typical advice is to not write about something mentioned in your list of achievements. However, my daughter really wants to write about founding and growing the chapter of Mu Alpha Theta at her school. She wants to write about this experience because it best exemplifies her - seeing a need, coming up with and implementing a solution, sharing her love of learning with others, and ultimately using this to create a very successful free tutoring program at her school (outreach). She plans to use her essay to showcase her love of learning and helping others, and those two traits are really her defining characteristics. Also, showing how tutoring brings those traits together would actually make the rest of her application seem much more cohesive… rather than a laundry list of activities. For the record, she doesn’t plan to retell her story of founding Mu Alpha Theta… she wants use that event as the basis of a narrative. If she decides to use this topic, she is still figuring out how to best present it. I would appreciate any thoughts.

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It is all in the execution, but I can see this as a viable topic and approach.

Thank you. My daughter has started brainstorming how she wants to present and execute this topic. She’s finished with AP exams and is chomping at the bit to get started on college essays. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her with a rough draft by this evening. If the idea of talking about something presented in another area of the application is not entirely off the table, I feel confident she will attempt to write about this topic. I think that the finished product will speak for itself about whether it’s actually the right topic. I do agree that that the execution is especially important for this topic.

I would have to see it. She is certainly getting started early! There is a new group of essay readers on CC if that helps.

Normally orgs like Mu Alpha Theta or any other Honor Society are seen as activity fillers - I don’t think schools look at them seriously.

So this gives a way to show in your daughter’s case - this isn’t true - so I think if she is able to convey her leadership attributes, her desire to help the community - through creating a tutoring program showing the results of the kids she impacted, etc. Show how she sought (I’m assuming) faculty support, those the organizational and leadership skills developed in forging down this path.

Also, a LOR from a math teacher - if the same admissions person is reading - might support it.

For the record, depending on the schools applying, the essay is of varying importance. The reality is most schools are admitting based on GPA, Rigor, and test score. And sometimes not even rigor.


This is our thought, and this is exactly what my daughter wants to convey.

The sponsoring Mu Alpha Theta teacher will be the person writing her math recommendation, and I am confident that her teacher recommendation will echo what my daughter says. The teacher will obviously relay my daughter’s attributes in her own voice.

The tutoring program went from idea to implementation in two weeks (during COVID). In that time period, they had signed up 90 tutors and had 30+ tutees. The implementation of this really exemplifies all of my daughter’s passions. I am aware of the pitfalls that she needs to avoid in choosing this topic, but I think that she is going to attempt it. If it ends up reading like a resume, she will pick something else.

ETA - She’s working on it now.

If she decides not to write her main essay on this topic, she can always write about it in the supplementary essay that asks what else the school needs to know about you that isn’t covered in the rest of the application.

But again, noone can judge her using it for the main essay without seeing what she actually writes.

There is nothing wrong with writing an essay about a topic covered in another part of the application. Just make sure the focus is not “the activity” but what her actions show/tell us about her as a person.


100% true but of course it adds a little challenge to it: while staying on the topic, she’ll have to write something not covered elsewhere in her application. I’m all for it, when executed well, it creates a compelling, cohesive story. Our D did exactly that, and it worked very well for her.

I had never heard of Mu Alpha Theta, so I looked it up. Writing about her primary activity, that she’s enthusiastic about, especially when it comes to showing that she saw a need (for math tutoring in her school) and used the math honor society organization as a template in order to provide the needed service, does sound interesting. I hope that she can use this as part of an essay that shows the drive and determination that she has, that she will bring to her future studies and career.

When my kid was stuck (after two totally different essay attempts), my husband, who has taught writing, got him inspired for a third by asking him, “What do you love? What do you really enjoy doing?” This got my kid going again, and he came up with a pretty good essay about the intersection between work and play, using three things he loved doing. The essay conveyed a lot about who he was, as a person.

I think that if your daughter writes an, “I saw that people needed help with math, so I founded my school’s chapter, and started a math tutoring organization”, it’s not going to be very effective. But if she is able to somehow frame it in a broader context, and bring in other things about herself, referring to this achievement more tangentially, it might work very well.

Thank you for the encouragement.

DD finished her rough draft yesterday, and we are all in agreement that it does not work as currently written. It succumbed to all of the pitfalls of writing about this type of activity. She’s back to the drawing board, but I think her next attempt is going to be be from the angle of choosing STEM in a sports driven school. And it will highlight her drive (and relative success) to build a STEM community at her school. Math Club, the corollary of Mu Alpha Theta, has grown from 5 students to 37 students. Mu Alpha Theta is currently the largest club on campus.

Maybe she should write about her interest and/or activity in the supplementary essay section and something else entirely in the main essay. One idea: I suggested to all three of my kids that they look at photos of childhood. This seemed to work well to prompt interesting essays. Maybe you can think of other ways to inspire her. I PM’ed you.

College app essay writing is so different from school essays that it is rare to get it even mostly right on the first go. We have also found that they get better at them as they go. So, have her work on this essay for as long as she feels she is making progress- then put it aside and work on a different one. It is fine for her to have a folder full of different essays in different stages of evolution.

You -and she- should be aware that she is going to be doing a bunch of growing and evolving herself over the 6 months between now and submission deadlines. The difference between a 2nd semester Junior and a 1st semester Senior is often startling- a rate of change more like what you remember from very small children, where that “half” in their age is actually meaningful!

No matter what, she should re-review any essays that she has written a couple of weeks before the deadline. I have yet to meet a student who doesn’t want to at least edit, if not re-write, essays written over the summer.

ps, in our experience the essays written about 3/4 of the way through the essay writing process are typically the strongest- the last ones start to run out of steam, and the early ones are still evolving. I suggest writing some of the supplemental essays for Safety/Likely schools first, to get started, then more consequential essays (main Common App, ED, Reach schools).


I agree with this. This is exactly what my son did. He used the supplementals to show his passion for things in school and used his main common app essay to show a personal part of him and in his case his connections to his culture. He wrote his main essay at 1 in the morning and only did minor edits after. I believe his essay is what helped him get into some top schools. One of them made reference to his essay in his acceptance letter.

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While the topic is fine, the timing is not. As pointed out by @collegemom3717, your daughter should grow and mature substantially over the next 6 to 12 months which may render any current writings obsolete with respect to what is revealed in your daughter’s communications.

She’s hoping to submit her applications in August. That’s less than 3 months from now, and she will be at a residential honors program over the summer. She’s motivated and wants to start now.

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Whatever works for the student!

Sorry if odd person out, but I think spring junior year can be an ideal time to write. I look forward to reading it soon.

I agree with this as our experience corresponds to this poster.

My D spent the summer writing a few potential Common App essays. While all had a creative component, some were more whimsical and others more cerebral/academic in nature. She selected the whimsical essay for the CA as it showed an important part of her personality and used the others (with modifications as needed) for various supplemental essays and merit scholarship essays. The essays were refined as the process went along and she received more “feedback” from EA schools and various proofreaders (in our case, that was parents, English teachers, college counselor and family friends with experience in college admissions).

ETA: I think it is great she is starting sooner than later, especially with her summer schedule. She can always refine as she matures and learns more about what college admissions is looking for. I know my D’s essays were revised multiple times, but it helped tremendously to have several good options sooner rather than later.

No idea of where your daughter plans to apply, but be aware that many colleges will ask for a supplemental essay about an extracurricular activity or “community” that is very important to the student. If she sticks with the topic you’ve mentioned, which is fine, make sure she doesn’t rehash the same thing in a supplemental essay, or vice versa.

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