10 Topics to Avoid in Your College Essays

It’s late September, and that means college application panic time for high school seniors.

At this point, you’ve already nailed the ACT on the seventh try and received a glowing letter of recommendation from the genome lab where you interned last summer.

All that’s left is that darn essay, arguably the only place on the whole application where you can let your “you” shine through… even if that “you” is conjured up by a college counselor.

No pressure here, but you should know that college admissions reps read thousands of these awkward teen musings. Your job is to make yours stand out — without being so good that it’s obvious you got professional help.

If you’re planning on writing the essay yourself rather than hiring David Sedaris to do it for you, here is a handy list of five topics NOT to write about:

➢ The illness of a pet

➢ The death of a pet

➢ My internship at Prada in Milano

➢ I went to (fill in name of developing country) and learned that everyone there is just the same as the people in my hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut

➢ “Sports are a metaphor for life’s more difficult lessons. Our team, faced with adversity, only triumphed when all the players realized that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

Ah, but you say that a grown-up is assisting you? In that case, here are five topics to stay away from:

➢ Surviving a ponzi scheme

➢ I heart kale

➢ How a pilates Groupon changed my life

➢ How our contractor ripped my family off installing our outdoor firepit

➢ The words “aforementioned” and “heretofore” — in fact, we advise thinking twice about using any compound word other than “snowman.”

Now it’s time to get to work. There’s no point in procrastinating or being nervous just because this is far and away the most important piece of fluff you’ll ever write.

Wanna be on TV?

Here’s your chance to get a free trip to Chicago in early September and appear on an Emmy-winning talk show with your slacker son or daughter:

Know a College Senior Who Can’t Seem To Graduate?!

Are you the parent of a “Super Senior”? Is your son/daughter currently on their 5th, 6th, or even 7th year trying to get a BA? Is he/she constantly changing majors/taking time off? Worse of all, is he/she doing it on your dime? Contact daytime5@deepdish.tv

Should be a fun, life-changing episode. Please let me know if you’re selected.

College Essentials You Won’t Find at Bed, Bath and Beyond

Here’s a summer rerun originally posted on the HuffPo. Readers pointed out some must-brings that I left out. Please see the bottom of the list.

1. A decent mattress.
Forget the memory foam topper, feather bed and bed bug protector. Face it, no matter how many bedding enhancers you invest in, that saggy, smelly dorm cot will just never be comfortable. Instead, just spring for a brand new mattress, which will cost $89 compared to the $400+ needed to alter the yucky one in the dorm. But remember to get Twin XL. Even though kids manage to fit into normal-sized beds at home, the colleges have conspired with BB & B to scare you about the dire consequences of too-short sheets and force you to purchase all new bedding.

2. A pitch pipe
A capella competition is so fierce these days that your son or daughter will want to practice on the way to class.

3. Unlimited text plan
If your child has been sending 10,000 a day, he or she will now send 20,000. If you have a girl, you will be the lucky recipient. If you have a boy, look forward to one-word responses to your cheery questions, such as Yaaa.

4. Parking Permit
Much cheaper than a car. Can be bartered for free rides from all the students who have brought vehicles to campus but have nowhere to park.

5. Settlers of Catan
College students spend so much time playing this board game (a Germanic combination of Monopoly and Risk, but with sheep) that you will wish they would go back to playing video games.

6. “Find my iPhone” App
The most essential possession of them all. Just be sure that your kids know not to harrass the residents if the phone is located in a crack house.

7. Hot Pink Hair Dye
College students like to show their individuality, by going for the ombre-all-over/look… like everybody else.

8. Fake ID
Although highly fraudulent, it’s at the top of most students’ checklist, even above the shower caddy.

9. This phone number
To deal with the consequences of #8, the phone number of a local attorney.

10. A subscription to the Wall Street Journal
So students can keep track of all their high school friends who have dropped out of college after receiving seed money from angel investors.

Practical additions from HuffPo readers:

1. A dress up box – “Have two sons in college and
they always seem to be going to themed parties, so the
equivalent of the dress up box from nursery school would have
been a good thing to take.”

How could I have forgotten this? One of CJ’s first purchases was a Sponge Bob costume.

2. Rackraisers (for the daring) – “They appear to be out of stock everyplace I googled, but they raise the beds up to 25″ off the ground”

3. “Mosquito repellent if your child is heading east (it was a warm winter there). And as part of my new campaign to make the kid pay for more of his own stuff, I’m renting him out (only on weekends) to sleep in your son or daughter’s room — he’s a bit messy, but I can guarantee that his mosquito magnetism is so severe, that the annoying pests will never bite your child because they’ll be so happy biting mine.”

4. Insurance – “My son dropped his new MacPro off his loft bed in December, as he was packing to come home for break.”

Hmm…Maybe the Rackraiser comes with insurance.

Waitlist Donor Bank

As we speak, a senior girl in Virginia lies awake, trying to decide between Bowdoin and Vanderbilt before the deadline at midnight. Which will she choose? And…who will get her place in the school she turns down?

Until I come up with killer new material, here is a rerun of a popular waitlist-related post:


Recently, the Neurotic Parent received the following comments from readers:

I have a niece who got into Middlebury off the waitlist and gave up her slot at Hamilton and her brother got into Emerson off the waitlist, which opens up a slot at Northeastern.  How long do you think it will be before you know who got their spots?


It was actually our Oberlin-bound DGC (Dylan-Ginsberg Clone) who happily gave up his Vassar space for the Santa Barbara girl.

These comments reflect a new trend that is unfolding for students who are admitted to their dream colleges from waitlists.  Mere acceptance was once cause enough for celebration.  But now many waitlist recipients feel a need to know the identity of the anonymous donors who made it possible for them to enroll at their reach schools.

With this in mind, the Neurotic Parent Institute has started a new foundation, Waitlist Donor Trace.  Using cutting-edge research methods, we will locate the girl or boy who gave your child the gift of matriculation.  And for a nominal fee, you can receive periodic updates about how your donor is faring at the better school that let him or her in at the last moment.

We are also starting a Waitlist Donor Bank.  Top students can now be proactive in giving a lucky girl or boy their hand-me-down acceptances.

So, if you are someone like Mr. 2400, CJ’s friend who just achieved a perfect score on the SAT, here’s a simple strategy that could potentially touch the lives of thousands of students all over the world:  Apply to eighteen colleges.  You will probably be accepted at sixteen.  Send in deposits to every college that accepts you.  Then, when you get the call from Harvard or Princeton, you can provide places to sixteen lucky waitlist recipients.  Not only do you get to go to a prestigious school, but you can also help other human beings in limbo, like the Middlebury and Emerson kids mentioned above.

This act of selflessness will take much less effort than going to Namibia to work with the baboons, and will give you the incomparable satisfaction of having made a difference in the life of an eleventh grader who has had to overcome the misfortune of having been born in 1995 or 1996.