Can I Talk About Politics on My College Applications?
- Why is Talking About Politics Not Recommended?
- Where Can You Mention Politics in Your Application?
- How NOT to Talk About Politics in Your Application
- How to Effectively Talk About Politics in Your Application
- Where to Get Your Essays Edited
For students interested in politics and government, you are told two conflicting pieces of information when it comes to college applications: talk about your interests and avoid politics. But if you avoid discussing politics, how will you show colleges what you are passionate about?
We are here to make sense of this sticky situation and hopefully release you from the double bind politics can create. This post will explain when you can talk about politics in your application and how you should, and shouldn’t, go about it.
Why is Talking About Politics Not Recommended?
The general advice to avoid politics in college applications stems from the idea that you don’t want to offend anyone with your application. Politics is a charged topic that many people have strict opinions on, and although admission officers are supposed to be unbiased, they are still human and no one wants to feel like their ideals are being challenged.
As a student, you have no idea who will read your application, so you have no way of knowing that person’s political beliefs. You might have liberal-leaning views on topics like gun reform and reproductive rights, but the admissions officer on the other side of your application might feel totally different. Even mentioning touchy subjects without discussing your opinion, like election losses or Supreme Court decisions, might trigger your readers and negatively impact how they perceive you.
It’s also recommended to avoid politics because institutions as a whole can have cultures that align with specific political ideologies. For example, liberal arts colleges are known for being more progressive and left-leaning, while some religious universities are aligned with more conservative values. It’s incredibly important to do your research before starting your application to gauge the culture of the school you are considering.
All that being said, don’t automatically assume you can write about how great the Democratic party is if you are applying to a liberal arts college. Just because a college has a reputation for a certain political affiliation does not mean each individual admissions officer identifies with that view.
With all the traps you can fall into, we normally recommend steering clear of the topic. However, if politics is an essential part of who you are, take these recommendations with a grain of salt and learn how to write about politics in an effective, non-offensive way.
Where Can You Mention Politics in Your Application?
There are two main places in your application where politics will come up: your activities and your essays. You will never be directly asked about your political beliefs or party affiliation, so it would only come up on your application if you write about it in these two sections.
In the activities section, you can include political extracurriculars you are involved with. If you were the president of the Young Democrats/Young Republicans club at your school or the social media manager for a state representative, you should include those activities with pride. Don’t worry about hiding them at the bottom of your application; if they were your most impressive and most important extracurriculars, give them the attention they deserve.
Essays are the other place you can discuss politics because it allows you to expand on your passions. You could use your involvement with politics in a variety of essays, including your personal statement, community involvement topics, and extracurricular topics. However, you might encounter a topic about political and global issues, and in this case, you are welcome to—and expected—to discuss politics.
How NOT to Talk About Politics in Your Application
Stating Your Beliefs Without Providing Context to Your Life
Your political beliefs didn’t just appear out of nowhere—they were shaped and have evolved over years of life experience. Colleges care way more about the life experiences that shaped you and led you to hold your views than what the views are themselves.
If you are talking about politics and just tell us what you believe without explaining why that’s the case, it could alienate your readers who disagree with your position. But, providing perspective on the experiences that shaped your opinion will make it easier for people with different beliefs to empathize and appreciate where you are coming from.
For example, writing about how you hate guns and think they should be banned in your essay might not go over well with your audience who holds a different view on guns. However, if you explain the mental strain of lockdown drills and the constant anxiety you feel because you grew up hearing about school shootings, your readers will be more understanding of why you have that view.
Describing a Politician’s Beliefs in Detail
When you are explaining the work you did on a campaign or as a politician’s assistant, don’t tell us what that politician’s political views are. Your college application is about you, not a politician, so no one needs to hear about their views on immigration, the work they’ve done to expand rights, or the bills they have sponsored and passed. Talk about the work you did, for example writing memos, sitting in on town hall meetings, and answering constituent questions.
The one exception to this is if you chose to work with a specific politician because of a specific issue they fight for that connects to you. If you volunteered with a politician working on expanding Green Card access because you come from a family of immigrants, then it’s okay. Just keep the focus largely on your background and connection to the topic, rather on the work the politician is doing.
Openly Trashing Other Viewpoints
This should be pretty self-explanatory, but don’t outwardly criticize and demonize opposing political beliefs. Going back to the points made before, you never know who will read your application and you don’t want to offend them. It goes back to the saying from kindergarten: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.
Lying About Your Stance
If you really want to attend a school where your political beliefs clash with the general culture of the school, don’t lie just to fit in. Students might be tempted to say their views align with the overall vibe of the school, but no good can come from lying on your application.
Even when a school has a reputation for leaning towards one political ideology or the other, admissions officers want to create a class of diverse perspectives, so you don’t need to conform perfectly to the average student to gain admission.
How to Effectively Talk About Politics in Your Application
Focus on Your Involvement Rather than Your Beliefs
When it comes to describing political extracurriculars, either in the activities section or your essays, the focus should be on your involvement, achievements, and lessons learned.
When writing about your work with the Young Democrats, say how you “Organized annual voter registration drives where over 150 students registered for the upcoming election,” rather than how you were “Part of a club that promoted Democratic perspectives on topics like abortion, immigration, and the economy.”
Treat your political extracurriculars like any other—you wouldn’t describe each soccer drill in depth, instead you would explain how you demonstrate leadership by carefully picking drills based on each player’s weakness. Use your involvement with politics to highlight your character and accomplishments, but don’t dwell on the nitty-gritty details of your beliefs.
Be Open-Minded to Different Perspectives
People tend to be very polarized on certain political topics which makes it difficult to discuss issues rationally. Having an open mind and being willing to hear new perspectives is not only an invaluable skill for future politicians, but any productive citizen. You want to demonstrate in your application that although you might hold certain beliefs, you are always committed to learning and engaging in productive debate to expand your perspective.
Align With the School’s Culture (As Best You Can)
As we mentioned before, each college has its own unique culture that you should take into account when discussing politics. If you are applying to a school like BYU, a Mormon-sponsored institution, you should probably avoid taking a strong pro-LGBTQ stance in your application.
If politics are an important topic to you and you feel like the school you are applying to requires you to censor yourself, you should reconsider whether that school is a good fit for you. If you still want to attend, you can frame your political stances in a way to minimize the gap between your viewpoint and that of the school. You can also consider discussing a political issue that’s more economic than social, as economic issues tend to be less contentious.
Avoid Racism, Sexism, and Bigotism of Any Kind!
Racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other type of bigoted comments on your application are not okay and should never be included under any circumstances. Regardless of your personal views or those of the politician you worked for, avoid anything that could be perceived as offensive. Including anything along these lines is the easiest way for you to get your application immediately rejected.
Where to Get Your Essays Edited
To make sure that you’re talking about politics in a way that is respectful and productive, you will want to get your essays edited by others. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!