What Does “Unique” Really Mean for College Admissions Essays?


“Tell your unique story!”

If you are applying to colleges, you probably see this statement a lot. But what exactly does “unique” mean for college admissions officers? You may be surprised to learn that unique isn’t necessarily about finding the most creative or original story from your life experiences (although, that never hurts).

Instead, “unique” means that you honestly respond to the prompts and do so with the most pertinent details. And oftentimes that means reflecting on what the events in your life mean to you. In the abstract, this sounds easy, but what I’ve come to see time and again is that seniors still have much work to do when it comes to thinking about their lives. And that’s okay! The bridge from high school to college is often built on how you express yourself in these essays--in other words, in how you reveal maturity.

There are, of course, stories that you should probably avoid when it comes to writing a college admissions essay--but even in those stories, you may have ideas that are unique. So it would be wrong to cut you off from a major part of your upbringing all because the general topic is considered cliché.

Yes, what’s cliché can actually be made quite moving. Maybe you have a sports story, or a tale of immigration, or an account of a relative suffering from a debilitating illness, and to many, these would be common topics for college admissions essays, but sometimes these are your best stories. Consequently, sometimes you have to embrace what is cliché so that you can reveal the unique elements of your personality.

Brainstorming is important. Don’t get me wrong. But if you are stretching an experience so that it checks the “unique” box, you should reconsider your strategy. Really, just keep these crucial things in mind when determining a college admissions essay topic:

  • You DON’T need to reinvent the wheel (don’t tell the quirky, oddball story for the sake of it).

  • You DON’T need to get too creative (don’t write poems).

  • You DO need to find an honest voice (does this essay sound like you?).

  • You DO need to include details about how you felt (are you revealing something about yourself?).

  • You DO need to understand that “specifics” are what make you unique (1,000 “immigrant” stories could yield 1,000 unique moments, if told based on the specifics).

Need more help brainstorming or editing your college admissions essays? No worries! Check out B2A’s College Admissions Services (CAS)! Our professional, qualified admissions counselors and essay specialists can help you refine and focus your responses, giving you a better chance at finding and telling your “unique” story!

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