Writing the personal statement for your college applications is a daunting task, but choosing a topic is even more challenging. It can be tricky to determine where you want to focus, especially if you don’t know what your readers might be looking for. You’re a complex, unique human being — How on Earth are you supposed to smash your entire being into a few hundred words? Unfortunately, we can’t write your personal statement for you, but we *can* help you avoid some mistakes that students make when deciding their topic!  

 

1. Spending too much time on various achievements. Remember: This is an essay, not just a second resume. I’m sure you’ve got a lot of impressive achievements, but this is not the place to talk through them all. Your best bet is to choose one topic and dive deep.

2. Choosing a topic that’s too big. All told, you really don’t have that much space. Make sure the story you’re telling is the right size, and not too big (or too small) to adequately cover in the space allotted. Get to the point quickly and stay on topic!

3. Telling a generic story. Stay away from topics that are too common and not unique to you. At worst, it’s plagiarism, and at best, it’s boring. Ask yourself questions like, “What experiences have I had that speak to who I am?” “What essay can I write that no one else could write?” “If I don’t feel strongly about this, why should my reader?”

4. Crossing a line. If you’re choosing a controversial topic, think critically about the subject at hand. Standing out is great, but make sure you don’t cross the line from edgy to offensive, rude, or indignant. Be smart when discussing issues such as race, religion, class, politics, etc.

5. Not being a particularly likable character in your story. Beware of complaining or coming off overly negative, or, on the opposite side, too arrogant. Your reader needs to be impressed by your writing, but they also need to like you. There’s a happy medium in there that will serve you well.

6. Making your reader uncomfortable. Some vulnerability can be powerful, but try to avoid oversharing. We understand the temptation to pour your heart out, but you need to be sure that all of the emotion you’re using is justified. You don’t know the people who will read this and you don’t want to make them uncomfortable for any reason. 

7. Silly mistakes. This shouldn’t even be here on this list, but please please make sure everything is thoroughly edited. Please.

 

Hopefully, these tips can help you zero in on your perfect topic!

One last piece of advice: If nothing else, think about what makes you, you! Good luck!

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