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Wait, wait, put it back in your pants. I wasn’t serious. Stanford does not want your Snapchats.

But forealz, in one of my previous articles, I warned you all to be careful about writing essays on controversial topics. It’s pretty difficult–impossible, if you’re not a good BS-er–to stand out from the crowd without writing about something personal to you. The problem here is that sometimes “personal” and “controversial” overlap, so how do you know if you’re going too far? I’m not an admissions counselor, so I can’t give you guaranteed advice, but here’s my take.

Sex/Relationships

Stay away from talking about how you lost the big ol’ V-Card to your ex, and how said ex proceeded to mutilate your heart with an axe. Not only does this sound like a violent T. Swizzle song, but it also doesn’t differentiate you much from other applicants. The majority of students had a heartbreak or two in high school, so try to think of something more unique to write about rather than how you conquered teenage angst (Plus, some adults tend to trivialize high school relationships. You don’t want them to belittle your application because of that, too.).

LGBT*Q+

Don’t write your essay about how much you disapprove of gay marriage, homosexuality, or anyone who doesn’t conform to the gender binary. At the same time, don’t write about how you absolutely adore gay people and you’re such a great ally to the LGBT*Q+ community etc. This could indeed be a passion of yours, but don’t write an entire essay about it unless you actually identify within the community. You don’t know who’s reading your application, so don’t be accidentally offensive to the people who have your fate in their hands: the College Gods, if you will.

Weed/Drugs/Alcohol

Weed is rarely permitted medically, and alcohol’s illegal for another ~4 years for you. Don’t write your essays on your weekend tokes with friends or that one time you snuck some vodka from your parents’ liquor cabinet. Admissions counselors won’t want you on their campus, because (1) you just admitted to illegal activity, and (2) that means that although you might have the scores and transcripts and recommendations for acceptance, your essays tell them that you may be lacking street smarts. Don’t be the kid that they write about on Admissions Problems; I promise you it won’t be worth it.

Don’t Write About These Topics Except Do

There are exceptions. If a close family member or you yourself have been a victim, or have suffered the negative consequences of these topics (perhaps you’ve been in a sexually/emotionally/physically/other kind of abusive relationship, are a member of the LGBT*Q+ community and have to face criticism every day because of it, or have had a substance abuse issue you’re trying to overcome), then I advise you to consider writing about it. Not only could writing about one of these topics be therapeutic for you, it also sets a good platform for you to explain how you were affected by this situation, and what you did to conquer it. This means that although you may have had a rough way in life, you have a ready-to-go topic for the college admissions process.

There’s no possible way I can tell you all of the essay topics that are appropriate and which probably aren’t, so I’ll give you some general tips for when you are writing a perhaps problematic essay.

  • Share, but don’t over-share. The people who read your application don’t want to know about the nasty mole you found on your foot last night, your sex life, or anything you wouldn’t tell your best friend’s grandmother. They want to know personal things about you, but only the important ones, the ones that have caused you to grow as a person. They want to know what makes you tick, why you do what you do, and where you want to go from where you are now. Keep it clean, guys. Remember: your best friend’s friendly grandmother.

  • Don’t be a Negative Nancy (or as I like to say, a Pissy Pam). The point of writing these essays is to show them how awesome you are, what obstacles you’ve overcome, and how you have a lust for learning. It’s not an excuse to complain. Don’t sound bitter about anything. Even if you truly are bitter, convey a positive attitude.

  • Political opinions are a no-no. See above: don’t be offensive. Political issues tend to be polarizing, which means opposition is easy to come by. You want to be friends with your admissions counselor. They’re going to be the ones to fight for your acceptance. Don’t get on their bad side, aka don’t go around spouting your beliefs and how you hate everyone who doesn’t share them.

  • Religion is ehhh. You can talk about your religion and what it means to you, but beware. Religion also tends to be polarizing.

  • Have humility. You do not know everything. You are not the ruler of the planet. You are probably only 17 years old, and you have much of your life left to live, which means many, many more lessons to learn. Be humble. Admissions counselors have wisdom, and the number one thing they look for in an applicant is a quality personality. That’s why they make you schedule those pesky interviews.

Good luck, keep your chin up, and rock those essays! Deadlines always arrive earlier than you’re ready for them.



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the author

Jasmine is a Computer Science major at Scripps College in sunny Claremont, California. Besides writing and editing for The Prospect, Jasmine works as a copy editor for [in]Visible Magazine, a writer for Persephone Magazine, and a communications intern for Whirlpool Corp. When she's not binge watching Grey's Anatomy, she enjoys not wearing shoes (no matter the weather), petting strangers' dogs, and jamming on her ukulele. She can be reached by email at russej13@gmail.com.

1 Readers Commented

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  1. Jasmine A. on August 20, 2013

    Really helpful! I definitely saved this for later.

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