Through the years of editing college essays for students throughout Connecticut, I have probably read a few thousand college essays. This puts me in the position of a college admissions reader who similarly has read thousands of college essays and through that process knows what works and what doesn’t. The one big takeaway from this article: the idea itself doesn’t matter as much as you think. The execution of the idea is what really matters in most every college essay.
There certainly are some college essay ideas that are not great: students who want to write their college essays about the problems with applying to college usually come across as whiny and completely clueless that their essay topic is not in the least bit original.
Some college essay ideas are great but usually because they are uniquely related to the student. We have a Tibetan community in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Some of the older students were exiled from Tibet, lived in refugee camps in India, and eventually wound up in Shoreline, Connecticut. It would be difficult to make that college essay trite. It is not the creative “idea”, however, that makes such an essay work but rather the life story of the student.
The general advice I give to students focuses on the execution of the college essay idea, not the idea itself. I use movies to explain the point. Some movie ideas might seem dumb but end up being executed brilliantly – imagine pitching an idea in the 1990s about doing a satire of British spy movies in the 1960s but the Austin Powers franchise grossed over $1 billion – and some might seem pretty good – remaking The Lone Ranger and including Johnny Depp as Tonto – but flop all due to execution.
So it is with college essays.