Your college essay should be open and honest. With that in mind, almost any story can be appropriate to include in your college essay if it helps to explain your motivations.
Maybe a great teacher turned you on to psychology, or a good book made you decide to study English. You may also have been motivated by something less positive. For example, perhaps a death in the family opened your eyes to a career in medicine or counseling. If a certain story helps explain why you want to go to college, then tell it.
However, there are some things that you do NOT want to include in your college essay:
1. Your faults
“Even though I did poorly in math in high school, I will work harder in college because I really want to be a doctor.”
There is value in honesty. You shouldn’t lie in your college essays, but you also want to keep your writing positive. If there is something that you are bad at, then just leave it out.
2. Your grades
“Throughout high school, I kept a 4.0 GPA. I was also on the Honor’s list and received a scholarship for my academic excellence. That’s why I am confident in my decision to be pre-med.”
Making great grades all throughout high school is excellent, but it isn’t a reason to go to college. Going to college should be about wanting to go. It’s about being excited to experience college life, meet other students from around the world, and study topics that interest you.
Of course, the admissions committee will obviously consider your grades. That’s why they ask for your transcripts and test scores! However, your grades are not something you need to include in your college essay, as you risk boring your readers while providing them with little new information.
3. Your parents
“My parents always encouraged me to study law.”
It’s no secret that many high school students go to college less because they want to and more because their parents insist that they attend. Your chosen major may also be a result of your parents’ dreams for you.
There is nothing inherently wrong with following your parents’ advice, as long as you agree with it. If you’re going to college just to please your parents, though, then you may end up doing poorly in classes that don’t interest you. Therefore, admissions is likely to be concerned if you mention your parents’ dreams for you in your college essay. So just leave your parents out of it.
4. Your future salary or prestige
“I want to be a doctor so that I can pay off my student loans easily, help to support my parents, and be a leader in the community.”
Many pre-professional students attend college with the goal of making good money someday. While this strategy may work, no university can assure you that a degree from their school will make you rich later on.
In addition, a desire to make good money or be well-known in your community may not give you enough of a drive to stick through four (or more) years of academic study.
5. The school’s rank or prestige
“I am applying to Harvard because it is number 1 in the rankings.”
The prestige of a school is also not a good reason for applying. It’s not because a school has a good ranking that it will be a good fit for you. So, don’t bother complementing the school on how good its program is. Instead, try to focus on what you can bring to the school and how it can help you to achieve your goals through classes and internship programs.
If you focus on prestige in your college essay, the admissions team will worry that you won’t succeed in your classes because you aren’t interested in their programs for the right reasons.