Every year, countless college counselors and writing tutors tell high school seniors not to write about their teen travel tours and summer service trips...
But this advice is shortsighted and wrong.
As I wrote in a recent Paved With Verbs blog post, There are no bad essay topics. Only bad essays.
Like, sure. Lots of kids who have had any kind of abroad experience want to write an essay about it. The topic is "cliche" for a reason:
Our early travel experiences change and define us.
We want to write about our experience because it's one of the coolest, craziest, most educational things we've ever done. Because magic happens when we travel. Because the relationships we form with fellow campers and counselors when we're alone, possibly for the first time, overseas, also possibly for the first time...
Students cry when they say goodbye, even if it's only been a week -- because, in the words of one woman whose sources may or may not be scholarly (we started talking after she admitted to eavesdropping on me in a coffee shop), "A week of travel produces a year's worth of memories."
Not to mention -- this probably is the first time you've "seen real poverty." This probably is the first time you've realized just how much you have.
Jaded old adults will scoff at you for feeling this way... almost as though they can't remember their first abroad experience.
So how do you write an essay about a topic countless other students also write about -- and still manage to stand out?
You have to write a study abroad/teen travel/service trip essay that only you could write. You do that by connecting the trip to larger themes, projects, goals, and relationships in your life.
Here's an example I wrote in How to Write EPIC, UNFORGETTABLE Teen Travel and Service Trip Essays. The hypothetical student recently took the AP Economics exam, is a member of Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), and intends to major in Econ in college.
Common Application, Prompt 4: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
See how the service trip connects to her goals? See how she's going to get amazing recommendations from her teachers that show she is curious and creative, and that she creates opportunities and queries everywhere she goes? How she didn't just take what was placed in front of her, but looked deeper for additional meaning, inspiration, and ideas?
She's the student I would want on my campus -- even though she wrote her essay on a "taboo" topic.
For more advice on writing college essays, check out the full post on Paved With Verbs. And have an epic summer!
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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