TV Host: So Paul, you call them “deadly” topics to stay away from. What do you mean and can you tell us what those topics are?
Paul: I mean “deadly” because they can kill your child’s chances for admission. Let’s go down the "Notorious List of 8" topics and start with the 4 Ds: Death, Divorce, Disease, and Disorder, and then there are sports injuries, boy friend/girl friend break-ups, trips or cruises, and diversity. If you want colleges to know any of this stuff, have a teacher write about your bad experience in a recommendation letter. That way, it’ll look like you rose above your bad experience and moved on with your life. That would be a big positive.
What makes these topics deadly?
Put yourself in the shoes of someone in a college admissions office who has to read your essay. Does he get up in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to get into the office today so I an read an essay that really depresses me!" Here’s what these admission people are warning you about: “Don’t be pulling at my emotional heart-strings so that I can give you a boat-load of sympathy for the purpose of accepting you. It won’t work. Enough already!”
What about trips and cruises? Why are those bad topics?
Trips and cruises suggest students of privilege. In other words, they come from wealthy families and may have a weak list of extracurricular activities. So to “fix it,” the parents write a check that sends the student to Guatemala for 1 week to replant the rain-forests. College officials see this all the time, have become very cynical about it, and as a result, it works against the student’s admission, not in their favor. One of my videos mentions this mistake, and I use Guatemala as the destination point. A student wrote me asking if Costa Rica would be a better destination point! I suggested he look at the video one more time. ___________________________ Please write a comment below. ___________________________
What about sports injuries?
It’s the “come-back kid” theme that is just so tiring, hackneyed, almost trivial. Don’t tell me you sprained your ankle but you were still able to throw the Hail-Mary pass that won the championship for your school. I’m not buying it.
Changing course...how does a student write a great essay?
I tell my students they are the world’s leading expert on what they experience and what they feel. No one in the world knows more about those feelings and thoughts than you do. Focus on a topic that answers this simple question: “Who are you?” The colleges already know what you know by looking at your grades and test scores, but they want to know who you are, and who you are in life always beats what you know. Which is the whole purpose of the essay.
I have a student right now who discovered how scared she was when she had to dance in front of a group of other students without any warning, but she did it, enjoyed the feeling she got from it, and discovered there is something positive about stepping outside your comfort zone. It was a real life-lesson for her that she felt compelled to write about. Colleges like to read a story about how you experienced personal growth. _________ Copyright 2016 Paul Lloyd Hemphill
My strategy has proven to give the student a far greater advantage in the admissions office because colleges place a premium on who you are, which is not easily recognized on a list of extracurricular activities, test scores, or application essays.
The greatest life-lesson your child will learn from working with me: Who you are will always triumph over what you know. Even in the admissions office.