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Instagram Already Knows Your Topic

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what if I told you that you could get it down to 650—the required length of the common application essay?

College-bound seniors are…wait for it…teenagers. Whether you (if you are a student reading this email) or your teen (if you’re a parent) like to chat away or stow away alone, teens talking about themselves in order to make an impression is rarely a forte. And let’s be honest, there are very few of us who are good at it at all. I suppose it’s not exclusively a teenage problem but more of a human dilemma.

How do we show the best of who we are without wreaking of self-absorption? How do we get attention without sounding like a sycophant? And, how can the thoughtful and quiet among us open up and join the spotlight, when small talk already feels like swimming against the current? 

Today, I want to give you or your teen a topic hack. In this blessed time of photographing everything from friends to food (not to mention ourselves), there’s a really good chance that a standout topic exists inside your phone. Go ahead, give it a scroll and see what you find. Here are three ways college-bound seniors can know they’ve discovered a strong topic in a photograph:

  1. The shot captures an emotional experience. It’s not just the visual; it’s the feeling of that moment. The best photo-topics will inspire a story about you. 
  2. When you look at the collection of pictures, there’s a trend. You like to photograph the same types of things. From food to children to landscapes, there’s something about this subject that intrigues you. Can you choose one and explore its significance? 
  3. The photograph is of a person who’s affected your life. One way you can overcome the awkwardness of talking about yourself is to—initially—talk about someone else. When you look at this photo, can you think of 3 lessons this person has taught you? In fact, are they lessons you could teach someone else? If so, you might be writing your essay simply through this exploration. 

While the skeptics question our obsession with filters and photography in the 21st century, it’s possible that we’ve all discovered an outlet where we can express ourselves without needing to write a novel or create a painting. Just think, hundreds and hundreds of your own stories and masterpieces (great topics!) waiting to be explored in your photo gallery. What are you waiting for?

Happy Writing!

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