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Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Is an Application Theme and Why Is It Important?


Completing a college application is no small task. Along with composing responses to short-answer and essay questions, students have to curate extracurricular activities lists, gather financial information, and request letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. Additionally, many students are now opting to choose a theme to unify the various elements of their application profile. 


Known as an application theme, this idea provides a narrative thrust to the application by bringing together different aspects of the student’s academic and personal life. A good theme incorporates all the major parts of your application, including: 


  • Academic Interests
  • Extracurricular Profile
  • Essays 
  • Recommendation Letters


So, how do students go about selecting a theme for their application? Keep reading to discover why application themes are important and to learn tips for unifying the various parts of your college application.

Why Are Application Themes Important?

As college application rates skyrocket, an increasing number of students are looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. A strong application theme can immediately set applicants apart while offering a clear and compelling story to college admissions readers. Curating memorable applicant profiles is especially important when targeting highly selective schools, which accept only a small percentage of the students who apply each year. 


Students should begin thinking about potential application themes early on in their high school careers. Having a theme in mind can be particularly helpful when choosing what classes to take and which extracurriculars to pursue. The goal is to create an encompassing narrative about a student’s life, strengths, and plans for the future. 

Examples of Application Themes

Choosing a theme for your application theme is no easy feat. However, without a clear theme, it’s difficult to tell your story in a way that’s coherent and powerful. While many students make their academic major or future career goals the focus of their application, you can still choose a unifying theme if you’re applying to college undecided. The goal is to provide admissions departments with a framework that helps them understand the personal details you’re sharing. 


Here are some possible themes to consider when crafting your college application:


Relationships. This application themes showcases a student’s fascination with how relationships work and the ways in which people influence one another in life. For example, a student might share how their experience coaching youth soccer led them to develop a passion for teaching.


Family. This theme focuses on how families keep people together despite differences and struggles. An application with this theme might include an essay on the student’s relationship with a beloved grandparent.


Effort. Sometimes hard work can be its own reward. An application theme centered on effort might include a student’s experience working with an organization like Habitat for Humanity.


Leadership. Many colleges are passionate about identifying and recruiting students who are leaders in their schools and communities. An application focused on leadership might showcase a student’s passion for social justice and their desire to help underprivileged people.

How Can You Use an Application Theme?

The best application themes create a powerful narrative that applies to multiple elements of a student’s school and personal life. Below are tips for incorporating your application theme into the various aspects of your college application:


Academic Interests. A strong application theme incorporates a student’s academic talents, interests, and goals for the future. To that end, your theme may reflect the contents of your high school transcript. If you took several math and science classes, then your theme might have something to do with your passion for technology or desire to pursue a career in engineering.


Extracurricular Profile. Most students participate in a number of unrelated extracurriculars. For example, you might be in the video game design club, serve on student council, and participate in soccer. While it’s fine to include all of these activities on your college application, you can strengthen your overall theme by ordering the activities so that those most relevant to your theme are listed first. Additionally, underclassmen can consider signing up for (or even founding) clubs related to their chosen fields.


Essays. Your college essay is a great place to elaborate on your application theme. Many essay questions invite students to talk about one of their extracurriculars activities and how it affects their lives or plans for the future. If you’re committed to a career as an engineer, for example, you could talk about how you created a coding club to develop your skills. 


Recommendation Letters

It’s only logical for aspiring math and science majors to seek out recommendations from teachers in those fields. Be sure your teachers know about your application theme and general goals so they can write the most persuasive letters possible. Additionally, you should provide recommenders with a copy of your transcript, a resume if you have one, and any information about relevant hobbies and extracurriculars. You might even want to include a paragraph with your objectives, including the type of college you want to attend and what you plan to do there. The goal is to make it easy for your teacher to craft a recommendation letter that supports and strengthens your overall application theme. 

For more information, check out our video:



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Short Bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.