Love Harry Potter? So do we. It’s hard not to get caught up in the adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione in the magical Wizarding world thanks to JK Rowling’s amazing talent and imagination.
But while it’s perfectly fine to be a Potterhead, you should try your level best to stay away from writing about the wonderful world of Harry Potter in your college admissions essay.
Andrew Eisen, a WGA Award-nominated screenwriter who has coached students on college essays and basic composition for more than a decade, wrote on Forbes recently about the dangers of writing about Harry Potter when it comes to applying for college.
It’s not because admissions officers don’t like Harry Potter; as Eisen explains, “One of the most glaring problems with writing about Harry Potter in your personal statement is this: if you love Harry Potter, you’re not alone.”
And here I am, a senior in college, still writing essays on how Harry Potter changed my life
— Drew McClellan (@D_McClellan12) August 12, 2016
While the popularity of the books and consequent movies is not a bad thing, and we can actually learn a lot about the characters in Harry Potter, writing about them in your personal statement doesn’t make you stand out because it’s been done to death.
Eisen said that students should evaluate whether or not the topic of Harry Potter meets the criteria of a “good” college essay topic.
Ideally, a good topic should do two things: capture the essence of “you”, and make you stand out “amongst a sea of other painstakingly crafted writing samples”.
According to Eisen, Harry Potter essays accomplish none of the above.
If you’ve planned to write a personal statement or essay about a personal interest, you may be tempted to write about Harry Potter because it is indeed your interest.
But Eisen warns that an interest essay needs to be, ironically, interesting, which means it has to be unique.
He wrote, “a good interest essay shows a reader what makes you tick – why you are different (and ultimately, a better candidate) than Joe, or Sue, or Kate, or Chris. And, if you’re writing about a piece of literary pop culture that was a childhood touchstone for the vast majority of your peers – Joe and Sue… and Kate and Chris – you may be stacking the deck against yourself before you’ve written a single word.”
Eisen also said that sometimes students are tempted to use a character or arc from Harry Potter to “draw a parallel to real-life experience or expose a moral than can be applied to non-fictional circumstances”, which is also not advisable.
The rule of thumb is that if you’re writing about an informative experience, avoid linking it to Harry Potter and instead focus on the experience itself as the star of the essay.
He advises students to ask themselves, “Without the Harry Potter component, is this experience-story engaging or revealing enough to stand on its own? If ‘yes,’ great – you’re on the right track. If not, that’s okay too – with a little retooling, you may be able to rejigger the story you’ve chosen to check those boxes.
“And if not, you still have time to go back to the drawing board, having saved yourself the misstep of submitting an essay about a topic so familiar, it’s hard not to glaze over if you’re a bleary-eyed admissions officer reading hundreds of applications.”
Elizabeth Benedict, who coaches college and grad school applicants at Don’t Sweat the Essay, had similar advice for students in need of a ‘standout’ college essay.
She wrote on the Huffington Post, “Everyone knows how important these essays can be. The conventional wisdom is that they can move a candidate from the ‘Maybe’ pile to the ‘Yes’ pile. With many top schools admitting fewer than 10 percent of the highly qualified applicants, this can give you a huge advantage.”
In her list of Do’s and Don’ts, she wrote that writing on Harry Potter is a firm Don’t, as “Instead of standing out, mentioning HP will make you indistinguishable from millions of other fans.”
She advised that students should keep in mind that when it comes to essay-writing, you should speak plainly and personally.
“Tell a story about an experience, and then reflect on how the experience influenced you, including your academic or career plans.”
She said that “schools want to know that you are interested in academics, that you’re a serious student, and that you’ll bring energy and enthusiasm to that part of college. It’s fine that the essay is about something other than academics but it must reflect your abilities and interests as a student”.
So remember, if you’re struggling to write your college essay – keep it simple, avoid Harry Potter, and keep in mind that the admissions officers want to know what makes you unique and how you stand out.