Is my summer vacation to Italy a good topic for my college essay? (I have pictures, too.)

Hmm. Sounds like you're thinking about sharing a travel blog with some college admissions folks. A word of advice: Don't. They won't be amused, and you might be equally unimpressed with their lack of interest in you as a candidate.

You can, however, base your essay on a remarkable event or experience that you enjoyed — and that has somehow shaped you as an individual. Did a certain work of art inspire you to enroll and excel in weekend sculpture classes? Was the language so lyrical that you decided to seek out a beginning Italian class? Do you now want to study European history or geology because you couldn't get enough of Pompeii and you wonder about Herculaneum?

Throughout the college application process, admissions officers give themselves a couple of minutes to look into the window of what an essay reveals about each applicant. Clear, authentic writing from the start grabs attention. If you're lucky, you'll get a longer read on who you are, what you care about, and what you intend to do and achieve. Your experience — and expectations — can paint a vivid picture (without pixels)!