cliche college essay

6 College Essay Topics To Avoid

In general, we at Livius Prep maintain that it is dramatically more important HOW you write your essay – the stories you select, descriptive imagery you employ, etc – than the specific essay topic you choose. So in this article, we’ll review how to go about approaching the college essay irrespective of the topic you choose, and then list out a few cliché college essay topics that you may want to avoid.

Common Application Essay Prompts

While each college and university to which a student applies can require students to respond to a unique prompt, the majority of colleges either copy the prompts posted by the Common Application organization or allow students to write on the topic of their choice. Either way, it is likely that most students applying to college will only have to write one primary application essay which they can then use in most, if not all, of their applications.

The Common Application organization (Common App), a non-profit founded in the 1970s with the mission to simplify the college application process with the goal of expanding the number of students who apply to college, generally posts seven different prompts when they open their application season each August. While Common App changes a prompt every few years, most years the prompts remain the same as the previous year. The prompts tend to be generic questions which are answerable by as many students as possible.  Recent prompts included questions about overcoming obstacles, challenging your beliefs, solving problems, discussing accomplishments, and explaining one’s own background.


How to Begin Writing your Essay

Rather than beginning with a prompt, the single best strategy for writing a successful college application essay is to begin with yourself. What do you want the college admissions officers to know about you? Most students attempt to answer one of the questions. Instead, tell a focused and meaningful story about yourself, and then find the prompt which most closely aligns with your story.

Once you begin to tell your story, watch out for narrative traps. Avoid mistakes that turn your essay from an asset to a hindrance to your application. Don’t try to tell your entire life story in this essay. The Common App essay has a 650-word limit. Since the Common App is submitted over the internet, the form in which you submit your essay will not let you enter more than 650 words. Even colleges that don’t accept applications through Common App match the 650-word limit.


Topics to Write On

Write about yourself.  An error that many students make is to write about their families, their teachers, their friends, but ignore themselves in the essay.  This is a chance for you to show off who you are and what you have accomplished. Additionally, many students try to downplay their own successes in order to avoid bragging. The college application essay represents your attempt to impress a group of strangers so much that they offer you admission to a college or university. Brag a little.

Most importantly, always tell the truth. Make sure everything you put into your college application essay is true.  This doesn’t mean you have to include all the boring details. As famed film director Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” You can absolutely make use of narrative storytelling techniques such as condensing time, altering the sequence of events, and combining characters, but make sure the story is real and true.


Tell Your Story

So, what story should you tell? Tell a story that is meaningful to you, something that matters. Tell a story that inspired you to grow, change, or achieve something; One that makes you feel good about yourself and that helps others understand your character. Tell a story that makes you look good and engenders a desire in admissions officers to want to meet you and get to know more about you.

Specifically, tell a story that represents a moment in your life. Rather than write about the entire football season, pick a specific 30-second to 5-minute moment in a single game. Rather than write about the entire rehearsal process and concert season, pick a specific moment in one piece of music from one concert. Use that moment to dive into your thoughts, your decisions, your emotions, and allow your readers to get to know you.

Once you have your moment, make it active. Use descriptive language and use active verbs. Grab a thesaurus and upgrade basic vocabulary to something a little more impressive. Use figurative language to enhance your writing and give your reader details. Build a picture in the mind’s eye of your readers with your details. Help them visualize your story. If you can do that, you can make them care.


Cliché College Essays

So now that you know how to approach the college essay, let’s take a look at a few topics you may want to avoid. We want to stress something VERY important: if you want to write about these topics because they have truly impacted your life in a profound and meaningful way, please do so. Although the topic might be cliché, your experience navigating the topic is not and we can use the way you communicate the story to differentiate you from other applicants.


  1. The “death of a pet” essay
  2. The “volunteer trip abroad” essay
  3. The “winning the championship game” essay
  4. The “someone you admire” essay
  5. The “divorce of your parents” essay
  6. The “my identity is” essay


Leave a Comment

Have any comments or questions about this article? Let us know and we'll reply!

Your email address will not be published.