Should Athletes Avoid Writing About Sports in a College Essay?

After a recent College Essay Pro Chat, I received this email from a colleague:

What do you think about a student athlete/performer choosing to write about their sport/performing in their main essay, if they are pursuing this in their college experience (e.g. recruited/varsity athletics, a talent-based major), since it is already strongly represented in their application?

As a veteran school counselor who has transitioned into independent practice it’s been my usual advice to recommend students write about a different topic given what is so heavily represented in their application, however I’d be curious for your feedback as these days students struggle more with topic development.

I answered her the same way we answer trainees in our College Essay Experience program:

Topic matters much less than theme.

By theme I mean this: 1) What happened? (the anchor story) and 2) Why does it matter (characteristics/what do we learn about the student from this anchor story).

Recruited athletes spend most of their time on athletics. Talented singers, chess wizards and star debaters spend most of their time on those activities. That’s where their most meaningful experiences occur. So, while I agree with you that the application is already full of their accomplishments in those areas, that doesn’t mean they can’t illustrate positive characteristics that come through while they are engaged in those activities.

No, a tennis player should not use the essay to brag about winning a tournament, but they can use the essay to demonstrate their creativity while helping a less skilled player improve their backhand. When the student understands the prompt and understands why they are writing about a particular topic (it shows how resilient I am; it illustrates my creativity; etc.) any topic can work.

Theme is a core element of our college essay process, and it’s the core of what we teach to pros during our training. We emphasize it throughout the coaching process for both students and pros.

How do you keep your students focused on theme? We’d love to hear more about your process, and how you approach the college essay with your students.

About the Author:
Focused, incisive, and creative, Wow CEO Susan Knoppow can turn the most daunting writing challenge into a series of simple steps; she conceptualized and developed the Wow Method for teaching writing.

Wow provides students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. We’re transforming the college essay experience from daunting and frightening to calm and empowering.

A former executive speechwriter and copywriter, Susan is also a published poet and essayist. She holds a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan and an MFA in Writing from Vermont College. Go to WowWritingWorkshop for more info.