Choosing a Topic for College Applications

Carmel Valley San Diego Community | College Application Guide

College Application Guide

Topics for College Applications

The essays are by far the most malleable parts of college applications for any high school student. As such, you should use them to highlight your sparkling personality, maturity and/or goals that the admissions committee wouldn’t otherwise get to see. Why waste valuable application space with something the committee already knows? Avoid redundancy.

Figure out what else you want to show them. Do you just adore words? Is cooking Ethiopian food your greatest passion? Write about it! The writer Joseph Campbell suggested that to find success, you must “follow your bliss.” What is your “bliss”, or passion? If you are excited about your essay topic, it will shine through in your writing through greater originality, creativity and humor.

Colleges, especially the highly selective ones, explain that they don’t want just another bright,well-rounded kid. They want individuals who excel at something. Taken all together, the incoming class will indeed be well rounded. Show them what you excel in.

To be effective, pick something small but revealing. By focusing on something very specific, your writing will be more organized and original. For example: I went to Pomona College, and one of the essay prompts was “What do you do for fun?” Instead of a laundry list of my hobbies, I wrote about one particular sunset surf session, from the golden glow on Del Mar’s beach houses to the dolphins that glided past. I showed that I love the ocean and surfing, and appreciate time spent with family. Aside from a few choice vocab words, it wasn’t academic at all, but it worked! My friend Matt wrote about a memorable night baking lasagna with friends. Pomona wanted to see the applicant as a person, outside of the GPA and community service and saxophone lessons. Don’t be afraid to show them who you really are. But maybe leave out that one time in the Torrey Pines parking lot…

If you are stuck, try this: have a friend interview you about your likes, dislikes, and personality for 20-30 minutes, nonstop. Then have her give you her impressions. An outsider’s perspective can help you spot interesting topics.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what you should write about. I can, however, suggest what not to write about:

  1. Don’t write about sports.  The Carmel Valley San Diego community has great athletics programs, but take pity on the poor admissions officer who has to read 716 versions of “scoring the championship-winning goal finally made me realize the true value of perseverance and teamwork.” It may be true, but it is unoriginal. And unoriginal = reject pile.
  2. Don’t write about travel. Unless you went on a year-long sailing trip around the globe – solo – resist the temptation. The admission committee doesn’t want to hear how privileged you felt to see Machu Picchu in Peru.

Did this article about college applications help you? If so, let us know at

Dana Kittrelle | Community Contributor | The Carmel Valley Life

Dana Kittrelle | College Editor

After graduating from Torrey Pines High School, Dana Kittrelle attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA. After graduating with a major in Economics and a minor in Biology, she joined the financial management firm Payden & Rygel as an economist to get professional experience before graduate school. A life-long Carmel Valley resident, she is currently tutoring and helping local students refine their college applications to get into their top choice school. To contact Dana, please comment below this article or email her at


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2 Responses to Choosing a Topic for College Applications

  1. This was so helpful. Thanks for all the advice! I will be contacting you for tutoring. You sound like a smart and together young lady. Can you help with my daughter’s college admission essay?

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