HomeBlogsThe college essay: Revamping two common topics for API students

The college essay: Revamping two common topics for API students

Collegeby Patrick Lorenzo

Guest Blogger

On August 1, the Common Application (online based college application platform for almost 500 colleges and universities) will be open for business. For those ahead of the curve this will be your chance to post the college essay you’ve been working on diligently through the summer (if you haven’t started this is your gentle reminder to do so). Before you submit, please take some time to reconsider what you’re posting on the Common Application. It’s been my experience that API students tend to drift toward two particular subject matters. Below are my recommendations on how you can rethink these two particular topics:


1) Most influential person aka parent or respected extended family member:

Yes, writing about your family member is a common theme in general, but from my experience, by far the most common subject matter chosen by API students. Whether it is the hard working inspirational father, the selfless, loving mother or ultra wise grandparent; the essay is safe, but not a standout, bold piece of work. It gets the job done, but it lacks impact.  Instead, it reads like a predictable biography with a familiar “I’m going to honor” my family ending.


What I recommend: Highlight one significant moment to illustrate your point. Tell one great story and you have me hooked. If you want to emphasize courage, tell me the one life altering moment when it happened. If its passion, point out the occurrence when you realized it. If it’s determination that you want to illustrate, paint a powerful picture to show us how you’re applying it. Your story will have a memorable impact now.


2) Overcoming adversity

This topic typically coincides with school performance. Again, it’s another common theme chosen by many students. This is a relative topic, but I recommend not using it if you’re going to share your slight drop in GPA, difficulty in picking classes, struggles with finding your major or your fear of disappointing your parents. Seriously, adversity should be saved for real difficult situations, not just something that’s just really a small “ouch” or something that causes a little discomfort on your journey. If you need some perspective read the news. Your facebook timeline and IG feed has no idea of the real adversity we have in the world today.


If you cannot follow my recommendations or write accordingly I suggest you follow my general advice for the college essay: Take a risk. The essay is not the time to play it safe or to make something sound worse than it really is. Share your story. Make your voice heard. It’s your time to shine and stand out.


About the blogger: Patrick Lorenzo is an Associate Director of Admissions at Saint Mary’s College of California. He’s worked in higher education for nearly ten years dedicated to access for APA’s. Feel free to contact him at [email protected].

If you’d like to submit a guest blog, contact the editor at [email protected]



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