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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Essay Topic

If you were a college admission officer at UVa, you'd read about 100 application essays each day. The vast majority would be in response to the question that asks students to write about a challenging or unsettling work, as the majority of students apply to the College of Arts & Sciences (CLAS). Many of the essays written in response to that prompt will contain, roughly, one of the following ideas:

  • Calculus is hard
  • AP _____ (fill in an subject) is hard
  • 1984 is an unsettling book
  • The DaVinci Code is an unsettling book
  • Guernica is an unsettling painting
Those may all be true, but the fact is that they are common topics and no matter how eloquently a student writes about one of them, it's unoriginal and to an admission officer reading 100 essays each day, it's boring.

This is one exercise in which you want to stand apart from the rest of the applicants. So, while Calculus may be challenging, it might be more advantageous to write about something a little more unique. While the work you've been studying in your AP or IB class may be unsettling, keep in mind that students around the country are taking AP and IB classes with a similar syllabus.

I'm not completely certain about how students arrive at these common topics, but "over thinking" might be to blame. After reading the essay topic, something must pop into your head. Don't second guess it and talk yourself into writing about something more "impressive" or academic. Write about what comes naturally...we'll probably get a better sense of your voice and style in that essay than from something that's been contrived and coached into existence.

Sound good? Feel free to use the comments section for asking questions.