Writing the college essay can often be the most agonizing part of the college admission process.

This all-important essay is supposed to convince admission officers, whom teenagers have probably never met, that the writer represents the right match for a school. Teens’ chief job is to reveal something about themselves in a well-composed piece of writing. What an applicant writes about isn’t nearly as important as how it’s presented. The son of a friend of mine, for instance, wrote about his love of pickles in his essay, and he ended up at Yale.

10 essay topics to avoid

I recently ran across some smart advice from Smith College for teen who are struggling with their their essays. Here are 10 topics that the admission office at the women’s college suggests should be avoided:

Winning or losing the big game
Death of a pet
Friendship problems
Religious or philosophical epiphanies
Telling troubles to a journal
Anything that suggests that you don’t see the world beyond high school
Simple solutions to world problems
Essays in poor taste
Cynicism almost never plays well
Additional college essay advice

Here are 11 more tips from Smith’s admission office:

1. Eliminate the first sentence (or two), with a goal of allowing the essay to “start fast.” A good opening sentence will hook the reader. If the writer is bored, the reader is likely to be, too. (Check out my CBS MoneyWatch post on grabber intros: 10 Great Opening Lines from Stanford Admissions Essays.)

2. Add details to make it richer and more interesting.

3. Be revealing — let us know things about you, but don’t be confessional.

4. Be careful with sentimentality; use it sparingly.

5. Beware of trying to impress us with what you think we want to hear.

6. Don’t try to “prove” your intelligence by choosing a topic you think makes you sound smart.

7. Avoid sophisticated words when simpler ones will suffice.

8. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination and to be unconventional. But don’t be weird just for the sake of being weird.

9. Be concise. Ask yourself: “Have I avoided repetitiveness? Did I make my points directly and without a lot of unnecessary padding?”

10. Show; don’t tell. Don’t just list what you have done — detail it with action words. Make your writing come alive to the reader. Use quotations wisely to move the story along or prove a point.

11. Start early!