Taboo Essay Topics

Admissions essays, more than any other piece of the college application process, allow applicants to communicate distinctive and personal aspects of their lives. But can essays be too personal? Absolutely! Amy and Mike invited college admissions expert Sally Rubenstone to share both warnings and guidance about taboo essay topics.

What are five things you will learn in this episode?

  1. Are there REALLY essay topics that are “taboo”?
  2. What does the “Jerry Springerization” of college essays refer to?
  3. What do admissions personnel look for when they review an applicant’s essay?
  4. Is writing about a medical or mental health disorder in a college essay ever appropriate?
  5. What are the right–and wrong–ways to package essays about very personal topics?


Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: from the first time the “C” word comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm-room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents’ Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student’s Guide to Changing Colleges; and The International Student’s Guide to Going to College in America and the author of eBook, 25 Tips from the Dean. Sally has appeared on NBC’s Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People, and Seventeen.

Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds, and the author of College Confidential’s “Ask the Dean” column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills, and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens, and Tel Aviv.

As senior counselor and contributing writer for College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents through the college admissions quagmire. In 2008 she co-founded College Karma, an independent college consulting firm, with her CC colleague Dave Berry.

Although Sally has been dispensing advice to anxious families for more than three decades, she only became a mom herself in 1997, at the ripe old age of 45. Now she is the senior-citizen mother of a recent college graduate, delighted that she won’t have to navigate the admissions maze as a parent ever again!

Find Sally at Ask the Dean at College Confidential and add Tests and the Rest in your message.


Which College Essay Topics Are Taboo?
Should I Mention Depression on My College Application?
Sally’s catalog of books


Tests and the Rest is THE college admissions industry podcast. Explore all of our episodes on the show page.


Loved this post! It’s brimming with useful knowledge and presented in an interesting way. Can’t wait for more content like this. Amazing effort!

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