There are many parts that go into the holistic admissions process. Your test scores, extracurriculars, and GPA all play a crucial role, but perhaps one of the most important parts of your college application is your application essay. 

Your application essay is your opportunity to demonstrate who you are, what drives you, and what is important to you. It’s a chance to go beyond numbers and draw a picture of the person behind the application. 

That said, admissions officers read thousands of these essays every year. Since it’s highly likely that they’ll come across a lot of the same topics and themes, you’ll want to avoid clichés that will keep you from standing out.

Here’s a list of common topics to avoid in your application essays:

The autobiography

Avoid retelling your entire life story in your essay. Remember, each admissions officer has hundreds of essays to read through and you have limited space to make an impression. It’s better to focus on one meaningful experience that has impacted you.

Bragging about accomplishments

Similarly, you don’t want to use your essay to give a long list of your accomplishments. For one, a laundry list of achievements will likely come off as arrogant and may not sit well with an admissions committee. There are also other areas of your application where you can list these such as your résumé and additional information section. You’re better off using your essay to give a better sense of who you are, not just what you’ve done. 



Unfortunately, writing about a big move is one of the many college essay topics that have been done countless times. Admissions officers have likely already read about plenty of students having to switch schools and adapt to a new place. Instead, try and focus on a specific part of your life or identity that changed when you moved. 



Similarly, divorces are another common topic that affects many students which means admissions officers have likely read many essays on the subject. Again, this is an instance where it’s better to focus on the specific impact it had on your life and what you took away from the experience, rather than on the event itself.

Immigration story

While immigrating to a new country is certainly impactful, there are many common clichés used in telling these stories that you want to avoid such as feeling ostracized, language barriers, feeling homesick, etc. Focus instead on what this experience has brought to your life and how it’s shaped the person you’ve become. 

Romantic relationships

Just like applying for a job, you want to keep your college application as professional as possible. Romantic relationships or breakups are likely too personal of a topic for a college admissions essay. The important thing to remember is that you want your essay to shine a light on your identity which is admittedly harder to do when the topic revolves around another person in your life. The same can be said for writing about a beloved pet or someone you admire, so you’ll likely want to avoid those, too. 

Illegal/bad judgment

Again, it’s important to keep your application professional and make a good first impression for admissions officers. Avoid telling a story that may demonstrate poor judgment on your behalf, especially if it deals with anything illegal. Instead, focus on highlighting your best traits and the best version of yourself.

Sports clichés

While sports are a great way to learn life lessons, they’ve likely all been heard by admissions officers before. Sports stories are often predictable and forgettable (think of every inspiring sports movie you’ve watched) so you’ll probably want to avoid these if possible and instead, focus on a specific instance where you might have applied some of the lessons you learned through sports. 

Remember, there’s no hard and fast rule to what makes the perfect college admissions essay. Avoiding these topics will probably make it easier for your essay to stand out, but there are exceptions to every rule. Your main focus should be telling a specific narrative that is unique to you and gives a sense of your personality to the admissions officer. 

For more guidance, be sure to check out some examples of strong admissions essays from top schools and this list of common mistakes to avoid in your essays.