The Six Worst College Application Essay Topics

For most students the most difficult part of the already fraught college application process is coming up with topics for the Common Application essay and the supplemental college application essays.

The Common App essay and the supplemental application essays give students an opportunity show college admissions officers who they are behind the numbers and how they are unique and different from all of their competitors. As such, it’s not an opportunity you want to blow.

You want to take risks with your application essay, but not be risqué

To avoid being inundated by rejections, do not write about any of the topics below:

1.  Love or sexual experiences

Your personal love life may be special to you, but no one else wants to hear about it, especially a college admissions officer. Besides, even the best writers and poets have difficulty writing well about romantic affairs, and—at the risk of hurting your feelings– you are not likely to be any different.

2.  Recreational drug or alcohol use

Even if you’ve learned something as a result of your illegal or illicit behavior, you don’t want an admissions officer questioning your judgment. And if you write about your drug or alcohol use, your judgment will be questioned.

3.  Your resume

The admissions officer reading your application has already reviewed your extra-curricular list and/or resume by the time she gets to your essays. She knows what you do after school and on weekends. She doesn’t like to be bored. (Do you?) She reads your resume in prose and thinks maybe you didn’t care enough about possibly attending the college to write a well-considered essay? She thinks perhaps you imagined that your accomplishments were so outstanding that you didn’t need to write anything else? Get the point? If you write your resume or extra-curricular list in prose, at the very least, the college admissions officer is going see a person who is a braggart who doesn’t play by the rules of the game.

4.  Sports

This has been a forbidden topic for over a decade. Why? Because every college applicant has a sport. In other words, writing about your athletic activities in no way distinguishes you from anyone else applying to college. Furthermore, sports essays tend to be painfully predictable and cliched, no matter whether your sports experience resulted in triumph (“throbbed to the thrill of victory”) or failure (“suffered the agony of defeat”).  See what I mean?

5.  Health issues

See sports above re predictability. But in addition to being predictable, no one really wants to read paragraphs about your pain except perhaps the people who care deeply about you and maybe your doctors.

6.  The mission trip

An application essay about the service trip you went on for a week or two that relates how you were exposed to life-threatening poverty for the first time and were never the same after only reveals your privilege. Besides, as with sports, (almost) everyone has one, and college admissions officers know that many students go on such trips simply to embellish their resumes.

However, if you write about one specific moment that you remember from the trip, a moment that reveals something about how you problem solve or innovate, that’s okay.

Need help finding a topic that will make you outstanding? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.