Myth: Your College App Essay Has to be About a Big / Impressive / Life-Changing Thing

Your college app essay has to be about something life-changing, right?

Flickr user Justin Berman

The college app essay can be one of the more frustrating elements of building an application—especially because there’s a pervading myth that the essay has to be about a monumental life event. Luckily, this isn’t really the case.

Big Stories Aren’t Always Best

Some students stress out over picking the subject of their essay. Many bang their heads against the wall trying to think of some life story that will really impress an admissions counselor. But it’s nearly impossible to pick something that is unique, life-changing, impressive, never-before-seen, etc.

Here’s the thing: “big” stories aren’t necessarily going to get you special kudos. And sometimes, bigger grandiose stories are actually detracting from the point of the essay: you.

The point of these essays is to show the admissions team who you are. Sure, big moments can reveal yourself, but so can small everyday moments.

Big Things in Small Packages

It doesn’t always take a giant event to change your life, mind, or teach you a moral lesson. Sometimes the biggest changes come from the smallest starts (Ok, enough fortune cookie talk).

An essay about seeing an elderly neighbor shoveling their snowy driveway inspired you to clear it for them can be just as powerful (if not more) as a story about visiting the Amazon and discovering a new species of frog. One story is about you and your actions, the other is about an event and discovery—both might have their merit, but one is more centered around you as a person.

Alternate Topic Ideas to the “Big Moment”

So what do you write about if not a Big / Impressive / Life-Changing Moment?

  • A small moment that leads you to change/inspired you to do something
  • A task/activity that means a lot to you
  • An everyday moment that taught you a lesson
  • Personal failure and how you overcame it / learned from it

There are countless essay topics out there, so don’t stress over “having nothing to talk about,” because you most certainly do. Remember: the most important thing about the college app essay is YOU, the topic itself comes second.

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