Monday, November 17, 2008

Essays - Choosing a Topic

Quite possibly the most important part in writing a college essay is picking the topic. When applying, you will compose a plethora of essays on only on a handful of topics. I used a modified version of my Common Application essay for most of my other application and scholarships essays, because I spent the most time editing my common app essay.

When picking what you will write about, make sure your essay is relevant to the prompt. While this guideline seems like common sense, we have an innate and detrimental tendency to stray off topic. Therefore, it's a good idea to pre-write and outline your essay, just as you would for any other writing assignment.

The best advice I have is this: make sure your topic is unique and personal, not cliche or trite. This is naturally the hardest part about selecting a topic. Let's see an example. The archetypal essay topic (which I'm sure you've all encountered) is: "Evaluate a significant experience . . . " To brainstorm, write down critical experiences in your life, such as milestones, turns of events, or just strange happenings. You don't have to attach any personal significance to them yet. Next, try to write down more specific, if less significant, experiences. This could include the first time you played an instrument, a personal victory, etc. Next, include anyone who has influenced on your life, and try to associate an event with them, such as an important conversation. Now that you have an array of topics, select a few that do not seem commonplace, but rather unique. For example, eliminate the family vacation, the band camp trip, etc.

In your revised collection of topics, associate a value or characteristic, such as maturity, independence, clarity, etc. that you gained from the experience. This is a pivotal part in choosing your topic. Every applicant will undoubtedly have some sort of interesting experience; what sets your essay apart from others is what you've personally gained from the experience. In short, do not merely sum up how this event influenced other events that happened in your life, but rather clarify how it has helped you grow as an individual.

However, you may feel that none of these events have impacted you in some profound, barely effable way. You need to really analyze the event and construe a personal significance, even if it not apparent at first. In another blog, we will go into writing and editing your essays.

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