What If I Don’t Have Anything Interesting To Write About In My College Essay?
- What Makes for a Good College Essay?
- How to Write a Dazzling College Essay
- Will Your Essay Make or Break Your College Application?
College applicants are constantly told that in order to be attractive to admissions committees they need to stand out—but how can you stand out when you live a pretty ordinary life? Lots of students worry that the events of their everyday life are too boring or clichéd to be the topic of a really good essay.
That being said, there’s no need to worry! Your college essay doesn’t need to be about an extraordinary experience you’ve had. Rather, it should depict you as extraordinary. “Uninteresting” topics actually make great college essays because the topic itself doesn’t carry the essay—the student’s individuality does.
Read on for tips on how to write a college essay about an “uninteresting” topic that still shows off your personality, values, interests, and writing skills.
What Makes for a Good College Essay?
The purpose of your college essay is to humanize yourself to admissions officers so that they can see the ‘real you’ behind the grades and test scores you’ve submitted.
Our article about awesome essay topics gives five structures for a good college essay (though there are many more!):
- A unique extracurricular activity or passion
- An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile
- A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life
- Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality
- An in-the-moment narrative that tells the story of an important moment in your life
As you might notice, only one of these essay topics references anything exciting, extraordinary, or unique. Set aside the idea that you need to write about something dramatic and unusual. Unusual experiences are not what is most important to admissions officers—rather, it’s important to position yourself as someone that an admissions officer would like to see at their university.
Some things that make for a bad college essay include:
- Not answering the prompt
- Stretching a prompt so that your answer doesn’t make sense
- Writing about a controversial issue, particularly in an irreverent way
- Showing prejudice
- Writing about a clichéd topic
- Writing about anything that advocates disrespect for authority—this can be anything from insulting a teacher to doing an illegal activity
- Assuming the opinions of your reader
Beyond these boundaries, you can pick any topic you want. It’s how you write about the topic that matters!
Read on for our advice on writing a compelling essay that offers a window into your personality and life experiences.
How to Write a Dazzling College Essay
Our guidance for writing a dazzling essay about an “uninteresting” topic involves:
- Picking a value or fundamental truth about yourself that will humanize you to admissions officers and tell them something important about yourself
- Identifying an experience that exemplifies that value or fundamental truth
- Writing a thoughtful essay that uses your “uninteresting” experience to say something interesting about yourself
1. Get the Ball Rolling
There are many different practices you might find useful as you start brainstorming your college essay. These include freewriting, listing, outlines, and more. That said, don’t feel restricted by brainstorming exercises. Remember that they’re meant to start the process and get the juices flowing. Write down anything and everything that springs to mind—who knows what it could turn into?
Sometimes simple questions can open students up and reveal what is important to them. Here are some questions that might help you brainstorm:
- What’s the last news story you read and found interesting? This question can help you identify an issue that you are passionate about or a cause that matters a lot to you.
- What is your proudest accomplishment so far? What about it makes you feel proud? This question can reveal what you consider most important about yourself, which is likely something you find important in life.
- When have you been the most nervous, and why were you nervous? What was the outcome of the situation? This could be anything from an important performance to standing up for an issue you care about. People’s fears can be an indicator of what they value.
- What’s the most recent topic you researched on your own just for fun or self-improvement? Have you found yourself going down a rabbit hole of Wikipedia articles recently? Your interests are important to you and say a lot about you.
- What have you learned from the community you grew up in? What do you value about that community? Your individual history and family history are very important factors in who you are as a person.
- When have you most recently changed your mind about something important? If growth is important to you, admissions officers want to hear about it.
2. Pick Your Value
If you aren’t going to have a flashy topic, you need to make sure that you use your “uninteresting” topic to say something interesting about yourself. When the admissions officer finishes reading your essay, they should feel like they know you better than when they started reading. So what are you going to tell them about yourself?
Your value or fundamental truth about yourself doesn’t necessarily need to be positive, but neutral/negative values will probably need to be accompanied by self-aware reflection throughout your essay.
Values and fundamental truths can be things like:
- I have a growth mindset
- Family loyalty is very important to me
- Giving gifts that people will treasure is important to me
- I don’t like to be like everyone else
- Embarrassment is a major fear of mine
- I don’t like seeing others in pain
- I am super curious
- I always like to be busy
- I don’t like making mistakes
- Having fun is important to me
- I’m a people pleaser
- Self-care is important to me
3. Pick Your Experience
You will want to pick an anecdote, experience, or example that can serve as a channel through which you can communicate your value. Finding significance in a small incident can be incredibly compelling for your readers. On the other hand, you could explore the meaning of something that you do every day or every week. You can even simply muse on one relationship in your life that speaks to your value. Once you have chosen an experience, you have your topic!
Some “uninteresting” essay topics with interesting implications could be:
- Making dinner with my mom on Fridays allows me to see how matriarchal strength has been passed down in my family
- Volunteering at my local community center is how I take care of the natural caretaker in me
- Going to the mall with my best friend is important to me because choosing which stores to go into is structured spontaneity, and I need structured spontaneity
- Making cards for my friends’ birthdays started as a way to save money, but I really enjoy how it fuses technical and artistic abilities in a unique way
- Singing Disney show tunes in the car is when I feel most relaxed because people around me put a lot of pressure on me to grow up fast and sometimes I miss being a kid
- Going to the hospital to visit my uncle after his surgery was uncomfortable for me because I love others so strongly that it truly hurts me to see them in pain
- Sleeping with my same stuffed animal every night makes me feel safe, which is important to me because my sister’s health issues cause me anxiety and it’s nice to have something stable to rely on
Some final notes on choosing your essay topic:
- The topic you initially like the most may not be the one that allows you to write the best possible essay. Be open to trying something different.
- You don’t need to commit to a topic right away. If it becomes clear after you start outlining or writing that your initial plan isn’t going to work as well as you would like, there’s nothing wrong with altering your topic or starting over with a new topic.
If you still feel stuck, we recommend you take a look at the school-specific supplemental essay questions presented by the colleges to which you’re not applying. One of these prompts might spark an idea in your mind that would also be appropriate for the colleges to which you are applying. Check out the Essay Breakdown posts on the CollegeVine blog for a convenient way to look at this year’s essay questions from many different competitive schools.
4. Make Your Experience Shine
Once you’ve selected a topic, you’ll need to figure out how to develop an essay from it that is technically skillful, compelling to the reader, and true to the vision of yourself that you’re working to portray in your application. Remember, the value of your essay is much more in how you write about your experiences than it is in what experiences you write about.
To write a truly effective college essay, you’ll need to focus not just on depicting your chosen experience, but also on expressing your personal experience in an interesting manner. The experience is simply your scaffolding. The focus of your essay should be what that experience says about you—or what you make it say about you.
When writing about an “uninteresting” experience, you will want to be reflective, be self-aware, and show maturity in your view of your experience. Focus on communicating your thoughts and emotions in a way that evokes emotion in your reader and makes them feel connected to you.
Details are also important to pay attention to while writing your essay, as they’ll bring life and context to your story. Vivid and evocative details can turn your “uninteresting” experience into a relatable and interesting scene in your reader’s imagination.
With skillful writing, powerful word choice, and a good sense of how to develop a fragment of an idea into a longer piece of writing, you can make any topic—no matter how “uninteresting” it may seem—into a mature exploration of your values and a showcase of your skills as a communicator.
Will Your Essay Make or Break Your College Application?
If you’re “on the bubble” for admissions, an essay that makes an admissions officer feel like they know you could give them a reason to accept your application. On the other hand, an essay that’s carelessly written, inappropriate, or full of technical errors will hurt your chances of admission, even if you have great qualifications.
If you finish your first draft of your essay and are still worried that your “uninteresting” topic will break your college application, we recommend that you get feedback. Sometimes it can really help to have someone else determine whether or not your voice is shining through in your work. Feedback is ultimately any writer’s best source of improvement!
To get your college essay edited for free and improve your chances of acceptance at your dream schools, use our Peer Review Essay Tool. With this tool, other students will tell you if your essay effectively humanizes you.