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Your college essay offers an opportunity to make the right impression on the schools you want to attend, something that can help boost your chances of being accepted when you apply. But before plunging into the writing process, you’ll need to decide what topic to explore in your essay. This might not seem difficult, but it’s important to know which college essay topics to avoid. Certain topics could end up giving schools a bad first impression of you, while other topics might cause you to blend right in with other applicants instead of standing out from the competition.

College Essay Topics to Avoid

When you’re brainstorming ideas, you can narrow down your options right away by knowing what not to write in college essays. The following topics should go in your pile of discarded ideas for your college essay. Staying away from these 12 topics can give you a better chance at having your application considered instead of tossed aside.

1. Controversial Topics

Controversial topics, such as current political hot buttons, should be avoided at all costs. These topics might provide you with a subject you feel strongly about, but your college essay isn’t the time to focus on something that’s highly sensitive or polarizing. Keep in mind that you have no way to know whether or not the person who ends up reading your essay agrees with your views. Instead of impressing them with your writing skills and knowledge, you could alienate them and hurt your chance of being accepted. If you’re going to choose a topic that you’re passionate about, make sure it isn’t considered controversial or sensitive.

2. Highly Personal Topics

College essay topics to avoid also include anything that’s highly personal or a delicate subject. For example, avoid doing an essay that provides too much detail on an illness, disability, or injury, especially a severe one. You might want to write about this kind of experience in order to emphasize how you were able to deal with it or overcome challenges related to it. While you can still consider choosing a personal challenge as a topic, it’s better to avoid writing about anything graphic or too personal, such as going into detail about a serious injury.

3. Personal Achievements and Accomplishments

Your college application should have a list of your achievements and accomplishments, such as any honors or awards you’ve received. There’s no need to make these the focus of your college essay. Writing about what you’ve achieved might seem like a great way to impress the school you’re applying to, but it can have the opposite effect. The person who reads your essay might not find it engaging or informative enough. You might also come across as bragging or boasting about your achievements. Your college essay gives schools a chance to assess you based on your writing. Handing in what amounts to a list of your accomplishments doesn’t allow you to let your own voice and personality shine through your writing.

4. Most Important Place or a Role Model

If you’re thinking of writing about a place or person who has inspired you, this probably won’t work well as a college essay topic. When you choose to write about this kind of topic, you might end up focusing too much on that person or place and not enough on yourself. Schools use college essays to learn more about those who want to become students. Submitting an essay that mainly talks about a place you find inspiring or someone you consider a role model doesn’t tell the school enough about you as a person. If you do choose the inspirational route for your college essay, make sure you focus more on how this place or person had an impact on you.

5. Creative Writing

Creative writing is one of the most common examples of what not to write in college essays. Writing your essay in a stream of consciousness style or as a poem or play isn’t likely to win you any points for creativity with the school. While it’s understandable that you want your essay to stand out from the rest, adopting a creative style rather than sticking to straightforward prose isn’t the best way to do this. You can work on impressing the school by making sure you provide engaging content in a thoughtful and well-written essay.

6. Athletic Topics

Athletic topics, such as winning a championship game as the underdog team or training hard for a competition, shouldn’t be used as a college essay topic. Student athletes especially might be tempted to choose sports as the topic of their essay, since it’s something they know well. Sports is a common topic, though, which can make it much harder for you to stand apart from the competition. Even if this is your strongest area of interest, it’s better to choose a different topic.

7. Humorous Topics or Jokes

Topics to avoid in college essays also include jokes or humor. Writing your entire college essay in a humorous tone or including a few jokes might seem like a way to make sure it’s entertaining to read, but keep in mind that humor and jokes are highly subjective. The person reading your essay might not get your humor, or they might find attempts at jokes or humor inappropriate or unprofessional. Leave this kind of content out of your essay altogether and avoid trying to achieve a humorous or sarcastic tone. Doing so doesn’t mean your essay will automatically be boring or dry. The challenge is to create an essay that’s enjoyable and informative to read without relying on humor.

8. Tragic Events

Tragic events can provide an opportunity to explore personal growth, but they’re usually very hard to write about. This depends on your own comfort level in handling this type of topic, such as losing a loved one. If you do want to write about a tragic event in your life, make sure that you keep it focused mainly on yourself. For example, use the essay to explore how the event affected you or what your thoughts were when it occurred. Handling a tragic topic in this way helps the school learn more about you rather than just reading about the details of the event.

9. Travel Experience

If you’re a well-traveled person, you might want to write all about a vacation or even a volunteer trip you took. However, travel-related college essays are another common type that might not give you a good chance to be noticed. To make a travel topic really stand out, you would need to focus on a particular part of that vacation or trip, such as meeting someone who affected your life in some way or an unexpected event or challenge that occurred. Avoid focusing on writing about a trip in general terms, since this won’t make your essay a memorable read.

10. Privilege or Luck

If you’ve had a lot of luck or privilege in life, such as growing up in a wealthy community, avoid using this as a college essay topic. Writing about how much you’ve had the privilege of experiencing in life can easily create the impression that you’re boasting. This kind of essay topic also doesn’t tell schools enough about who you are as a person or what you’re capable of accomplishing through your own skills and talents.

11. Negative Aspects of the School

This might seem obvious, but it’s best to avoid writing about anything that portrays the school you’re applying to in a negative way. Some students might consider doing a negative topic as a way to stand out or get credit for taking a risk on their essay. However, the school isn’t likely to see it this way. Spending your college essay criticizing the school you’re applying to or focusing on negative aspects of it is a surefire way to make a bad impression. This could cost you the chance to have your application taken into serious consideration.

No matter what you end up choosing for your college essay, make sure you take your time writing it. Double-check when it’s due. Give yourself plenty of time to come up with a well-written essay that reflects who you are. Creating a high-quality college essay helps put you above the competition and improves your chance of getting noticed among a sea of essays.


Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly! 

Disclaimer:  Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a complete list of our programs on our website or reach out directly!