Each summer and early fall, Crimson College Consulting works with our rising seniors to begin brainstorming topics and writing a first draft of their college essays. This year, a number of students have expressed an interest in writing about their views on the upcoming presidential election. Too risky? As a general rule of thumb, I advise students to stay away from hot button topics like politics, religion and sex that may subconsciously sway an admissions officer. However, there are always exceptions so here are some guidelines.
Answer the Essay Prompt
First and foremost, make sure your essay is responding to one of the prompts stated in the application. Many students forget that the essay must actually answer a specific question. Besides getting to know you and assessing your writing abilities, one of the reasons that colleges request essays is to evaluate how well a student can follow directions.
Discuss Your Political Involvement
The topic of your college application essay is YOU, not Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, not Gary Johnson! Your writing should not be a diatribe about a particular candidate nor should it be a marketing piece for them. Therefore, if you want to talk about politics in your essay, you must describe YOUR involvement in the political process. Did you work on a campaign, raise funds or attend a political convention? Are you the President of your high school’s Young Republican Club or Teen Age Democrats? Your essay is not the forum for simply stating your political views.
Choose a Particular Cause
Rather than discussing your preferred candidate or political party, perhaps you might write about your commitment to a particular cause. However, be sure that you have actually committed your time and talents to that cause. It’s one thing to say that you are pro-life or anti-gun control, but what have you done to demonstrate your dedication to those opinioins? In addition, if you are making an argument for or against a particular cause, make sure that your facts are accurate!
Be Open to Opposing Views
It’s possible to believe strongly in something but still respect other points of view. In your essay, explain that you understand why other people feel differently about the subject and that you appreciate their right to hold such an opinion. Most colleges would be willing to admit a politically passionate individual as long as they feel confident that the student will promote political discourse on campus that is civil and respectful of others.
Writing about how much you hate something makes a terrible first impression on the reader. If you really insist on writing your essay with a political slant (and I still generally advise against this!), then be sure to explain the reasons that have propelled you toward your personal position. What individual experiences informed your views? What did you do to learn more about the topic? Colleges respect students who are so curious that they spend time outside of class studying the complexities of an issue and debating the best way to make a positive impact on the world.