5 Tips for a College Admissions Essay on an Important Issue

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Prior to 2013, the Common Application had an essay prompt that read, "Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you."

While this question is no longer part of the Common Application, it is still relevant. Many of the current Common Application essay prompts readily lend themselves to discussing an important issue. This is true for option #3 on challenging an idea, option #4 on solving a problem, and, of course, option #7, the topic of your choice.

.Before writing an application essay about an important issue, be sure to consider the five tips below. Doing so will help you avoid some of the pitfalls that admissions officers encounter all too frequently.

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Be Sure to "Discuss"

The best application essays are always analytical, and they present your critical thinking skills as you discuss an issue. Your ability to analyze will be essential for college success, so you want to make sure your essay does more than "describe" or "summarize" an issue. So, if the bulk of your essay is describing human rights issues around the globe, you are not answering the question effectively. You need to analyze the problem—what are the causes of the problem, and what are possible solutions?

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Focusing Close to Home is Often Better

The admissions office gets lots of essays on big, newsworthy issues like U.S. involvement in the Middle East, global warming, and nuclear proliferation. In truth, however, these giant and complex issues often don't impact our immediate lives as much as more local and personal issues. Since colleges want to get to know you through your essay, be sure to focus on an issue that will actually teach them something about you.

Colleges certainly do want applicants who are good global citizens who are concerned about big issues, but they also want to see what issues you have addressed in high school and what type of engaged campus citizen you are likely to be. An essay on your local effort to start an after-school program is likely to be more effective than a more abstracted piece about women's rights.

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Don't Lecture Your Audience

The admissions officers don't want to be lectured on the evils on global warming or the abuses inherent in outsourcing manufacturing to developing nations. Save that writing for a paper in your college Political Science class. The heart of an admissions essay on an important issue needs to be about your interests and achievements, so make sure your writing is as much personal as it is political.

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Give Emphasis to "The Importance to You"

The original Common Application prompt ended by asking you to discuss the issue's "importance to you," and the current version of the Common Application similarly wants you to connect the issue you have chosen to your own interests and motivations. Remember that colleges have an application essay requirement because they have holistic admissions—they want to get to know you as a person, not just as GPA and SAT data points. Don't shortchange this essential part of the question. Whatever issue you discuss, you want to make sure that it truly is important to you and that your essay reveals something about you that isn't evident elsewhere in your application. A good essay on an important issue will always reveal the person behind the writing.

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Show Why You'd Be a Good Choice for the College

A college or university is asking for an application essay because they want to learn about world issues. Colleges want to learn about you, and they want to see evidence that you will add value to the campus community. The essay is really the only place in the application where you can highlight your convictions and personality. As you discuss an issue, make sure you reveal yourself to be the type of thoughtful, introspective, passionate and generous person who will make an ideal campus citizen.

No matter what you choose as the focus of your essay, you want the folks in the admissions office to conclude the reading experience by thinking, "What a thoughtful an interesting person. This applicant clearly has a lot to contribute to our learning community."