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How to Write the Political and Global Issues College Essay
Essays are one of the best parts of the college application process. With your grades in, your test scores decided, and your extracurriculars developed over your years in high school, your essays are the last piece of your college application that you have immediate control over. With them, you get to add a voice to your other stats, a “face” to the name, so to speak. They’re an opportunity to reveal what’s important to you and what sets you apart from other applicants and tell the admissions committee why you’d be an excellent addition to their incoming student class.
Throughout your college applications process, there are many different types of essays you’ll be asked to write. Some of the most popular essay questions you’ll see might include writing about an extracurricular, why you want to matriculate at a school, and what you want to study.
Increasingly, you might also see a supplemental college essay asking you to discuss a political or global issue that you’re passionate about. Asking this type of question helps colleges understand what you care about outside of your personal life and how you will be an active global citizen.
Some examples from the 2019-2020 cycle include:
Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
Yeshiva University Honors Programs: What is one issue about which you are passionate?
Pitzer College: Pitzer College is known for our students’ intellectual and creative activism. If you could work on a cause that is meaningful to you through a project, artistic, academic, or otherwise, what would you do?
Tips for Writing the Political and Global Issues College Essay
Pick an issue close to your life
When you first see a political and global issues prompt, your gut reaction might be to go with a big-picture topic that’s all over the news, like poverty or racism. The problem with these topics is that you usually have a page or less to talk about the issue and why it matters to you. Students also might not have a direct personal connection to such a broad topic. The goal of this essay is to reveal your critical thinking skills, but the higher-level goal of every college essay is to learn more about who you are.
Rather than go with a broad issue that you’re not personally connected to, see if there’s just one facet of it that you can contend with. This is especially important if the prompt simply asks for “an issue,” and not necessarily a “global issue.” While some essay prompts will specifically ask that you address a global issue (like Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service), there are still ways to approach it from a more focused perspective.
For example, if you were to talk about world hunger, you could start with the hunger you see in your community, which is a food dessert. For your solution, you can discuss your plan to build a community garden, so the town is able to access fresh produce. Food desserts, of course, aren’t the only reason world hunger exists; so, you should also explore some other reasons, and other solutions. Maybe there is a better way to prevent and recuperate produce currently being wasted, for instance. If the prompt doesn’t specifically ask for a global issue, however, you could simply focus on food desserts.
For another example, maybe you want to talk about climate change. A more personal and focused approach would deal with happenings in your community, or a community you’ve had contact with. For instance, perhaps your local river was polluted because of textile industry waste; in this case, it would be fitting to address fast fashion specifically (which is still a global issue).
Remember your audience
As you’re approaching this essay, take care to understand the political ramifications of what you’re suggesting and how the school you’re addressing might react to it. Make sure you understand the school’s political viewpoints, and keep in mind that schools are hoping to see how you might fit on their campus based on your response.
So, if you’re applying to a school known for being progressive, like Oberlin or Amherst, you might not want to write an essay arguing that religious freedom is under threat in America. Or, if you’re applying to Liberty University, you should probably avoid writing an essay with a strong pro-LGBTQ stance. You don’t have to take the opposite position, but try picking a different issue that won’t raise the same concerns.
If you have no political alignment, choose economics
If you find yourself applying to a school with which you share no political viewpoints, you might want to consider if the school would even be a good fit for you. Why do you really want to go there? Are those reasons worth it? If you think so, consider writing about an economic issue, which tend to be less contentious than social issues.
For instance, you could write about the impact of monopolies because your parents own an independent bookstore that has been affected by Amazon. Or you could discuss tax breaks for companies that keep or move their production domestically, after seeing how your town changed when factories were moved abroad. Maybe tax filing is a cause you’re really passionate about, and you think the government should institute a free electronic system for all. No matter what you write about here, the key is to keep it close to home however you can.
Pick the best possible framing
When you’re writing an essay that doesn’t fully align with the political views of the school you’re applying to, you’ll want to minimize the gap between your viewpoint and that of the school. While they still might disagree with your views, this will give your essay (and therefore you) the best possible chance. Let’s say you’re applying to a school with progressive economic views, while you firmly believe in free markets. Consider these two essay options:
Option 1: You believe in free markets because they have pulled billions out of terrible poverty in the developing world.
Option 2: “Greed is good,” baby! Nothing wrong with the rich getting richer.
Even if you believe equally in the two reasons above personally, essay option 1 would be more likely to resonate with an admissions committee at a progressive school.
Let’s look at another, more subtle example:
Option 1: Adding 500 police officers to the New York City public transit system to catch fare evaders allows officers to unfairly and systematically profile individuals based on their race.
Option 2: The cost of hiring 500 additional police officers in the New York City public transit system is higher than the money that would be recouped by fare evasion.
While you might believe both of these things, a school that places a lower priority on race issues may respond better to the second option’s focus on the fallible economics of the issue.
Structuring the Essay
Depending on how long the essay prompt is, you’ll want to use your time and word count slightly differently. For shorter essays (under 250 words), focus on your personal connection rather than the issue itself. You don’t have much space and you need to make it count. For standard essays (250-500 words), you can spend about half the time on the issue and half the time on your personal connection. This should allow you to get more into the nuance. For longer essays, you can write more on the issue itself. But remember, no matter how long the essay is, they ultimately want to learn about you–don’t spend so much time on the issue that you don’t bring it back to yourself.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
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