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Articles / Applying to College / Can All of My Essays Be About the Same Topic?

Sept. 19, 2019

Can All of My Essays Be About the Same Topic?

Can All of My Essays Be About the Same Topic?

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I am an aspiring music major and I wrote my Common App essay about a music-related subject (how performing in band helped me break out of my shell). Now I'm coming across all these supplemental essays asking things like why I was drawn to my major or why I want to go to a certain school (and the answer is that I like their music program). Now it's looking like ALL of my essays are about music. My teacher said that this won't give colleges a well-rounded view of me. Is that true? Should I change my Common App topic to something that doesn't involve music since all the supplemental ones sort of have to be about music?


Your teacher's advice to change your main Common App essay topic to one that doesn't focus on music is reasonable — but not imperative. So ... do you play along or tune it out? Here are some options:

1. Perhaps when you wrote your primary essay, there was a runner-up idea that sung out to you at the time, and it didn't involve music. If so, take a stab at it now and see if you like the results. You can always keep your initial essay in reserve in case it will satisfy a supplement question for one of the colleges on your list that you haven't applied to yet.

2. If you love your current Common App essay and worry that any other attempt will just be second fiddle, you should stick with it. Then use the "Additional Information" section of your application (plus a touch of humor) to explain that, although your application may make you sound like a cross between Beethoven and Beyoncé, you actually have plenty of passions that fall under different rubrics but somehow didn't make the final cut when you were brainstorming your essay topics. Mention some of your other interests and accomplishments, ranging from organized undertakings like volunteer work at a local library and your prowess as Spanish Club secretary to more informal ones such as cooking every Thursday dinner for your family or distracting your baby sister each time she flushes yet another deceased goldfish down the toilet. Keep this brief. You don't want to turn it into an entire essay, but have some fun alerting the admission folks to your myriad talents outside of the band room.

Alternatively, just let your application activities list or résumé speak for itself. If it's clear that you've put considerable time into non-music endeavors (class leadership? community service? sports? paid work? etc.), the admission officials will understand that music is an important aspect of your life but not the only one, and you don't have to spell this out for them.

3. Keep your original Common App essay but allow the supplemental ones to show different sides of you as a musician and aspiring music major. For instance, your primary essay talks about how band brought you out of your shell. So now make sure that the remaining essays talk about the compositions that most challenged you or about the ways in which your love of music connects to other subjects that interest you or about how you plan to incorporate music in your post-college life. The result will be a snapshot of you the musician from multiple angles (think "perfect harmony!"), and admission committees often like to see applicants who are "angular" rather than the traditional "well-rounded."

Bottom line: There are both pros and cons to rewriting your main essay, so you shouldn't feel you have to do it. It's impossible to know for sure what will strike a chord with your admissions evaluators, so submitting a personal statement that works for you is truly key.

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Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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