Avoiding the Cliché: Seniors Aim for Unique College Essays


Bridget Nelis

Molly Heaton works on writing her essay

Jolina Spejcher

A brand new school year means new seniors writing college essays. Within the first weeks of school, seniors start sorting through prompts and drafting responses. During the writing process, essays’ topics may turn into cliché college essays, which writers try to avoid.

A cliché is any phrase or topic that becomes overused. As much as seniors try to avoid them, cliché college essays frequently make their way into applications.

Some seniors write their college essays about cliche topics like “the light at the end of the tunnel,” or “my list of high school accomplishments,” or “here’s a hard time I overcame.” The goal, however, is to be much more unique.

“One thing becoming a cliché would be COVID-19,” said Molly Heaton, senior.

Students across the country are submitting their essays to colleges in hopes of being accepted. Through hundreds of essays, North seniors work hard to make theirs stand out. Teachers, who’ve helped students revise their essays, have opinions on what makes a good essay.

“It’s the ones that really think outside the box, make something funny, or make light of something, instead of being something so traumatic. Those are the essays that stand out,” said Lindsey Hawkins, English teacher, who has taught seniors for 15 years.

College admissions officers read a multitude of essays every year, so seniors aim to make their essays shine through all the others.

“If you write about something you feel like nobody else has gone through and how it strengthened you as a person, that will make you stand out,” said Jayden Reierson, senior.

Students write, rewrite and revise more to make their essays represent themselves. 

“[Essays] should be more personal, show more of your personality through your writing,” said Heaton.

Seniors make their essays unique by ensuring the essay is about them.

“There is no bad essay because it is coming from you,” said Heaton.

Often, teachers will encourage students to use their essays to showcase their voice and identity.

“I let the student determine what is important to them to get down on paper,” said Hawkins.

Teachers also encourage students to dig deep and mention a memorable moment in their lives.

“You want to sound like you are having an authentic conversation. Kids need to focus on one moment at a time [and] really explode that moment,” said Hawkins.

College essays are the next step into students’ futures. The emotions of writing essays vary from senior to senior.

“Emotionally, [writing college essays is] very stressful. But it’s invigorating because I’m a senior and I’m finally applying to colleges,” said Heaton. 

Teachers have witnessed students go through this writing process and seen how they’ve been impacted by it. 

“A lot of students actually enjoy writing essays, but it does become a burdening process,” said Hawkins.

  Some students find joy and rediscover memories when creating college essays. Main ideas in their essays start to reflect the themes they’ve learned throughout their lives as they take the next step in their high school career. 

“I was reliving child[hood] experiences and it really helped me put the big picture together,” said Reirson.

The ultimate goal for those looking to go to college is to find their own unique voice.

“Colleges look for diversity and detail. If you can explain something in a way nobody else can, that will make you stand out,” said Reirson.

Many seniors will be submitting their essays by Nov. 1, which is the deadline for early applications and some honors colleges and scholarships.