Expert’s Take: College Essay Themes

  • venkat
  • 10 Oct, 2019

Based on a conversation with Shveta Bagade, College Counselor in San Francisco Bay Area, California.


As you brainstorm ideas and work on your College essays, Shveta Bagade, shares her Dos and Don'ts based her experience.

1. “Self-Pity”. Many college essays today seem to be competing to stress the "Woe is me" theme, wallowing in faux self-pity as a way to tug at the hearts of the college admissions officers. For example, many applicants live in affluent areas or grew up sheltered from real world problems and in their essays applicants try to use this fact as a reason why they are naive and now their eyes are “wide-opened” from an experience. Focus on the experience not your background. The readers want to hear what you gained from it and NOT what you didn’t for many years.

2. Stay Positive. Uplifting, feel good stories work. A student loved babysitting and she showed all the ways she loved it and what she learned from it to apply into other parts of her life.

3. Relevant to the Prompt. Stay focused, answer the question. If you digress from the prompt, take detours, you will lose the admission officers' interest. An applicant started to write about how they loved playing board games with his family. But then their essay started describing how they wanted to create new board games. They started to talk about how they got lost in time playing board games with their family and got sidetracked into talking about creating games.

4. Underdog Stories. How did you turn a bad situation into something good? Coming from behind, turning adversity into advocacy showcase aspects of your character, spirit that the rest of the College application cannot. A student lived in India for a few years and struggled with adjusting to all the different expectations compared to living in the US. He used his struggles to find a new way to make new friends and be comfortable in his new home for the next 3 years.

5. Out of the Ordinary. For example a student of Indian origin, born and brought up in the Silicon Valley was teaching Sanskrit to other kids in high school. Another student volunteered with disabled kids in a special-needs little-league for baseball and he did this for 6 years.

One more thing. As you work through various drafts of your essay, Read your Essay out aloud! This may sound strange, but Shveta believes that by reading the essay aloud, you experience the flow of your writing, helps clean up the grammar and you feel the tone your essay conveys to the reader.

Hope these pointers are helpful. Tell your story honestly, reveal who you really are, and I am sure the essay will work.


Good luck with your essays. If you want to comment or if you have questions about Essays, please go ahead and Ask on the Forum.

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