College essays have two main purposes: to help your admission counselor evaluate your writing skills, and to communicate something about you as a person.

The admission staff at St. Edward’s looks forward to reading your essay because it’s usually the most personal part of the application. It’s the one place where we really hear your voice and get a glimpse of your personality.

These four tips may help you choose an essay topic.

Pick a topic that will reveal a truth about you.

Tell a story, but make sure the story illustrates how you developed a passion, changed your mind about something, re-evaluated a relationship, or grew in some other way. For example, if you write about repairing cars with your dad, your essay can reflect on how you realized you are mechanically minded, or how you and your father developed a bond you didn’t have before.

Choose something distinctive.

This doesn’t mean a once-in-a-lifetime event like winning the National Spelling Bee or skydiving – most students haven’t had that kind of experience. In fact, sometimes high-quality essays emerge from a student writing about a very ordinary experience in a personal way. For example, a student could write about her daily commute to school if she talked about a significant conversation she had with her mom in the car, or how she learned to love a new genre of music from listening to the radio, or imagining who lived down a long, mysterious driveway she passed every day. You can turn what might seem like a humdrum topic into an interesting essay when you focus on the details and what the experience reveals about you.

If you choose a popular topic, look for a distinctive angle.

Many students write about what they’ve learned from playing sports. If you choose this topic, try to come up with a fresh take: how did you get into playing your sport? Was there a particular skill you struggled with and finally mastered? Did you figure out how to work with a challenging teammate?

Narrow it down.

Focus on one event, person or activity. If you write about a trip that influenced you, consider describing one particular scene from the trip and then “zooming out” to explain the greater context. Don’t try to cover multiple years of your life in 500 words. If you have to leave out important events, that’s ok. Think of your college essay as a snapshot, not your autobiography.