My son wrote the “Grandparent” essay. Well make that the great-grandparent essay. It started with a humorous scene related to the funeral and went on to demonstrate the life-lessons learned from the great-grandparent with a couple of real examples of where my son used those lessons. It was engaging, funny and poignant and a real insight into my son and what he values. It (together with his accomplishments) earned him a likely letter to Harvard and a spot at his first-choice, where he chose to attend. It is not the topic but the delivery.
Many college applicants are required to provide one or more letters of recommendation along with their college application. This is a tool you can leverage to make your college application more powerful. Letters of recommendation can come from a favorite teacher, a counselor, a coach or even a boss. These letters are designed to emphasize your positive attributes, outline your scholastic accomplishments and demonstrate your extracurricular passions. A successful letter of recommendation explains why you are a prime candidate for a particular college or university.
Orthodoxy runs deep. Last year I was traveling with a colleague from Yale. He had recently spent a week on a reservation helping Native American students navigate the college process, and he had been shocked by the degree to which the cliches and tropes of college essays had penetrated into their world. As he told me, the essays his students - who had lived vastly different lives than most mainstream applicants - were writing were indistinguishable from those written by applicants in southeastern Connecticut. They were composed of billowing clouds of "my global perspective" and "future potential as a leader" and "desire to leverage my education" to bllllllaurhfhasklafsafdghfalkasf.