How to Choose the Best College Essay Topics & Ideas: The Ultimate Guide

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When applying to colleges and universities, students often struggle the most with the college application essay.

It’s an important piece of your application:

  • The essay gives admissions officers a chance to get to know you beyond your stats, and it’s sometimes used as the deciding factor between similarly qualified applicants.

Of course, choosing your essay topic isn’t easy. You have about 650 words to craft a stellar essay; showcase your personality, character, and goals; and make a great impression on admissions officers.

Finding strong college essay ideas can be difficult for many students, due to the open-ended nature of the assignment.

So, what should you write about? Choosing the right topic may be tricky, but you can use the tips and ideas below to help you find some inspiration.

How to Choose the Best College Essay ideas & Topics: Part 1

Click above to watch a video on the best college essay ideas.

How to Choose the Best College Essay ideas & Topics: Part 2

Click above to watch a video on the best college essay ideas.

College Essay Topic & Ideas Guidelines

First, many students applying to college want to know if they can write about anytopic of their choice.

Typically, you’ll be provided with some topic options.

However, these options are usually so broad and varied that you can write about almost anything you wish.

For instance, let’s take a look at the Common Application (Common App) essay topics for 2018-2019. Over 700 colleges and universities currently accept the Common App, so chances are that you’ll be writing a Common App essay.

Even if you don’t fill out the Common App, most colleges and other applications offer very similar topics.

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

As you can see, a wide range of topic ideas can fit within these guidelines.

And if you have an idea that doesn’t work well with Options 1-6, you can write “an essay on any topic of your choice” for Option 7.

  • Although you technically can write about almost anything, there are a few topics you should avoid.
  • Don’t write about illicit or immoral behavior, cliché topics that admissions officers have seen hundreds of times, romantic relationships, or hot-button issues like politics and religion.
  • You don’t know who will be reading your essay or what their views are, so you don’t want to risk alienating or upsetting the person who will decide your admissions fate.
  • You also don’t want to write about something that can be found elsewhere in your application, and you want to be sure you’re the “star” of your essay.

The essay is a chance for admissions officers to get to know you on a deeper level, so don’t make the essay all about a hero or role model of yours.

If you do write about another person, make sure the emphasis is on how this person has influenced or shaped you.

Choose three favorite prompts from the provided list

Once you understand each of the provided prompts, the next step is to choose your three favorites.

If your preferred college or university offers only one topic (although this is rare), you can skip this step.

When choosing your favorite prompts, you should consider the following:

  • Do you have something meaningful to say about this topic?
  • Can you write at least 500 words on this topic?
  • Do you have something unique to say about this topic? (You don’t need to try too hard to think of a brand-new, never-before-seen idea, but you should be able to take an approach that isn’t overused or cliché.)
  • Will writing about this topic give admissions officers insight into who you are and what is important to you?

Based on these criteria, choose your top three prompts from the provided list.

What makes a great college essay topic?

great college essay topic should be engaging, memorable, and somewhat unique.

It should capture your personality and ambitions, and it should help admissions officers picture what you could contribute to a college campus.

Ideally, your college essay topic should tell a story.

  • Draw on your experiences to find a story that only you can tell.
  • Choose a story that you think is a good illustration of who you are as an individual and who you will be as a college student.
  • Of course, make sure that it casts you in a positive light. You want to make a good impression!

In addition to telling a story, you should also show off your ability to analyze and think critically about events in your life.

  • What conclusions can you draw from this event?
  • How has this event impacted your life as a whole?
  • How has it shaped you, changed you, or made you a better person?
  • Ask yourself, “So, what will the college admissions officer learn about me?” She should learn about your themes and values.

Try to focus on a particular moment, and then make it come to life.

Use specific, vivid details to give admissions officers a glimpse into this important slice of your life.

Be sure that the story you tell is personal and meaningful to you, and your authentic voice will shine through.

When in doubt, think about your favorite novels, epics, movies, and televisions shows.

  • Almost all have one thing in common: a story with a conflict. Stories worth telling have a conflict that drives the characters and plot.
  • Conflict is what makes the journey worth the time and emotional investment.

If you’re having a tough time determining how to answer an array of college admissions prompts, your safest bet is to choose a few you’re most comfortable with and brainstorm from there.

Now, the key to brainstorming here is to find one story from your life that relates to each prompt — how you failed to stand up to a bully, supported your family when mom got sick, took initiative for an extracurricular activity, or designed an invention that could help your community — any of these work.

As long as there’s conflict, significant or subtle, you can use the story.

If you aren’t sure what story to tell, consider the ideas and brainstorming techniques below to help you find the perfect college essay topic.

Consider your hobbies and interests

What do you like to do?

This doesn’t have to be an extracurricular activity that’s already been heavily mentioned in your application. It can be something else that you like to do in your free time.

Do you have any hobbies or interests that might be surprising to people? What do you do on the weekends? What did you do last summer?

Reflecting back on your experiences and answering questions like these are great ways to find inspiration for the right topic.

You’re looking for any interesting moments, impactful experiences, or great stories to tell.

It doesn’t have to be something hugely impressive.

For instance, you can write an essay about the week you spent building a tree house with your best friend.

Through this essay, you can demonstrate your commitment, creativity, ability to plan and execute, love of the outdoors, etc.

Think about work experience

If you’re a high school junior or senior, you probably haven’t had any major jobs yet. But any type of work experience can provide a wealth of material for an essay topic.

Even if you’ve worked at your local movie theater, had a babysitting gig, or sold retail, think back on your experiences.

  • Is there anything particularly memorable that happened?
  • Any time you were challenged and rose to the occasion?
  • Or do you have unique work experiences that could provide an interesting essay idea?

If you can find a story that resonates with you and can help demonstrate your character, write it!

Look around for inspiration

Look around your bedroom, home, car, and backyard for inspiration.

  • What’s hanging up in your bedroom?
  • What books line your shelves?
  • Do you collect anything interesting — and if you do, why?
  • What memories come to mind as you look around your house?

You can even look around your garage or basement. Any interesting items — a unicycle? A ukulele? Something you built with your dad? A Halloween costume you made yourself?

If you have journals or scrapbooks, browse through them for some ideas.

You can even scroll through your pictures and posts on social media.

These little “treasure hunts” for inspiration can unlock some creative and engaging topics.

The topics that might seem silly or mundane at first glance often lead to far better essays than topics you choose just to seem impressive.

These topics also tend to be more unique, engaging, and personal.

Reflect on your defining qualities

How would you describe yourself?

How would other people describe you? (If you aren’t sure, ask some friends or family members to describe you in a few words.)

  • Come up with some defining characteristics.
  • Are you creative?
  • Passionate?
  • Driven?
  • Curious?
  • Persistent?

Once you can decide on a few characteristics that define you as an individual, think of experiences you’ve had that demonstrate these qualities.

You can also consider experiences that have helped shape or develop this aspect of your personality.

Think about your challenges

Challenges or problems tend to provide excellent stories that also give insight into your character and how you handle adversity.

These challenges can include times you struggled, failed, confronted a fear, made a difficult decision, faced an obstacle, or dealt with a major change.

  • If you choose to take this approach, be sure to focus on the positive.
  • How did you address or deal with the situation?
  • What did you learn?
  • How did you change or grow as a result of this challenge?

For instance, one student who was accepted to Brown, Georgetown, and Tulane wrote an essay about her childhood struggle with shyness and how this struggle ultimately led her to pursue a career in communications.

Find something unique

Have you had any experiences that may set you apart from others? Do you have a unique family background? Has your childhood brought challenges that others may not have endured?

  • You don’t have to focus on finding a never-before-seen essay topic.
  • But if there’s anything about you that sets you apart from others and can help you tell a fascinating story, go for it!
  • This is especially true if you think these unique experiences have played a major role in your life or in shaping your personality and character.

If you can’t think of anything in particular, don’t worry, and definitely don’t make anything up! The best essay will be one that tells your story, not the story you think admissions officers want to hear.

Be authentic.

Avoid overused topics

By now, you’ve probably heard that it’s important to submit a unique, original college essay.

This is true, but you don’t have to try too hard to come up with a zany, completely unheard-of topic.

It’s most important for the essay to be well-written, compelling, and a good reflection of your ability to contribute to a college campus.

However, try to avoid these overused topics:

  • Cliché life lessons learned from sports, like, “Hard work always pays off.” (Any athlete can write an essay like this. What’s a different perspective or experience you can offer?)
  • “Traveling to [insert country here] has broadened my horizons.” (Again, this is a story any traveler can tell. If you want to write about travel experiences, make sure you are the focus of the essay. What did you learn about yourself from the experience? What’s something specific you did in this country for the first time? Did anything unusual or unexpected happen?)
  • “How community service taught me the importance of helping others…” (If community service honestly is an important part of your life, you can talk about a specific experience and how it impacted you. But a general, cliché essay about how community service or participating in a blood drive is life-changing will bore the admissions officer. And it certainly won’t make you stand out.)
  • Exaggerated hardship. (A legitimate, difficult hardship can produce a meaningful essay. But writing about “hardships” that weren’t particularly challenging or are very common isn’t a great idea. For example, college admissions officers claim to read far too many “pet eulogies.” Essays about divorce or death in the family are also very common.)
  • Essays about immigrating to/adjusting to life in another country. (These essays can be interesting IF you take a unique approach. For example, focus on a specific experience related to life as an immigrant, rather than writing in general about the difficulties of living in a new place.)
  • An essay about how a parent or grandparent has been an inspiration. (This is another topic that can be interesting if you have a unique perspective or a specific experience to talk about. If you choose a topic along these lines, make sure 1/3 or less of the essay focuses on the inspiration, while the other 2/3 is about what you have been inspired to do as a result.)

Do not to worry too much about having the most original idea ever.

Avoid overly cliché ideas like the topics listed above, and your topic should be perfectly fine.

If you want to address a topic that’s somewhat common, make sure you can offer a fresh perspective or a unique twist.

Don’t be too controversial

It’s best to avoid overly controversial topics, especially those related to politics and religion.

You never know who will be reading your essay or what they believe, but you do know that they have a say in whether or not you get admitted to this college or university.

Some students write essays about life issues they’ve worked through that are illegal or illicit.

  • These include drinking, drugs, sexual behavior, or arrests. Although it’s possible to address these topics effectively, it’s best to avoid such risky subjects.

Again, you don’t know who will be reading the essay or how they will feel about such topics. You don’t want your judgment, morals, or behavior to be questioned.

The ultimate goal of the college essay is to get you admitted to a college or university, so make sure you don’t take unnecessary risks or go with a topic idea that is too controversial.

Answer analytical questions

Another effective brainstorming exercise is to answer thought-provoking questions about yourself.

As you answer these questions, you might discover an essay topic of which you wouldn’t have thought before.

Here are some questions you can consider:

  • What’s the most important decision you’ve ever made? How did you decide? What happened as a result?
  • When did you first feel like you were no longer a child? What happened? What’s the difference between your childhood self and your more adult self?
  • Of what are you most proud? Is it a personality trait? An accomplishment? A skill? Why?
  • What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? Why was it such good advice? Have you used it in your life?
  • What has been your most challenging class or teacher? Why was it so challenging? How did you respond or rise to the challenge?
  • If you could return to one moment from your life, what moment would it be why? To relive something happy? To change what happened, fix a mistake, or make a different choice?
  • Think about the traditions you’ve grown up with. Which will you pass on? Which will you change?
  • What’s something about yourself that you could never change while still remaining the same person? Is there a central piece of your personality, appearance, or background that defines you or makes you who you are?
  • What do you like about yourself the most? How was this quality shaped? How has it changed or benefited your life?
  • What are you passionate about? What could you do or learn about for hours? Why?
  • What is your most cherished possession? What’s the story behind it? Why is so valuable to you? What does this say about you?
  • Are there any global, national, or community issues that are especially significant to you? What personal experiences or interests have contributed to your feelings about this issue?
  • Have you ever faced an ethical dilemma? How did you handle the situation? What did you learn from it? What does this reveal about your character and beliefs?
  • Are there any books you’ve read independently (not in school) that have been influential in your life? What book? How did it influence you?
  • What are your goals? What do you want to achieve, accomplish, or pursue? What inspired these goals or your interest in these areas?
  • Who has been most influential in your life? Why do you respect or admire them so much? How has their presence in your life changed or influenced you?
  • What have you learned from the family or community you grew up in? What do you particularly value about your family or community?
  • Can you think of any moments or events that have changed your life? How did they change your life or you as a person? What lessons did you learn from these moments or events?

You can complete this brainstorming activity mentally or in writing, but it’s certainly helpful to jot down any particularly interesting ideas or anecdotes that spring to mind.

As you look over your notes, you should find at least one idea that could lead to an excellent essay.

If you’re stuck between a few ideas, you can always try writing an outline or a couple of paragraphs for each to determine which one is most promising.

Get specific. Tell a story. 

You will likely have a 500-750 word limit for your essay.

That’s not a lot of space to work with. For this reason, it’s important to have a specific topic idea.

Specific topic ideas can also help you be more original.

Everyone can write about how traveling broadened their horizons, but perhaps only you can write about that time in Spain when, for the first time, you summoned the courage to get out on a dance floor.

Narrow down your topic ideas.

  • For example, if you want to write about volunteering at a nursing home, what is a specific experience that has impacted you?
  • Is there a specific person you’ve spent significant time with?
  • A story they shared with you that influenced or inspired you?
  • Anything unusual or surprising that occurred?

If you want to write something about your family’s culture, make sure the essay isn’t generic or vague.

  • Can you talk about a specific tradition?
  • A piece of clothing or a food that’s culturally significant and meaningful to you?
  • Something specific about your culture that others have struggled to understand?

Once you have a solid topic idea, push yourself to get as specific as possible. 500-750 words is not enough space to adequately address a broad topic.

The more specific your topic gets, the more meaningful, thought-provoking, and well-written your essay can be.

Going further, a great college essay topic often comes from stories we tell about ourselves.

Creating a narrative that has elements of plot, setting, character, conflict, and resolution will help you decide if you’ve chosen the right topic.

  • For example, maybe you visited a Buddhist temple in Japan last summer, or maybe you were the fastest runner in a cross-country meet.
  • If you aren’t able to dramatize these events, then the topic isn’t right for you.

If, however, you can put your readers inside that temple or in your shoes as you’re running, it will help them to truly understand your experience.

Great storytelling is about details.

Remember that you are an expert at the things you do, but not everyone knows those details as intimately as you.

Draw on your expertise to create a compelling topic.

If you’re still having trouble, focus on a great conflict you’ve faced. Why?

  • Conflict drives all stories.
  • That’s why the best books, movies, TV shows, and redemption stories feature a conflict.
  • Conflict means something important is at stake.

It raises the importance of your story and, thus, the interest level of the reader.

Consider what the topic idea says about you

The true purpose of the essay is to help admissions officers “get to know” you.

The essay should give the admissions committee insight into who you are as a person and how you would contribute to the school.

  • Make sure the topic you choose casts you in a positive light, and make sure it tells the admissions committee something about you, something they wouldn’t know from simply looking at your GPA or SAT score.

Perhaps the essay demonstrates your generosity, kindness, sense of humor, leadership abilities, motivation, persistence, willingness to learn from others, flexibility, resilience, patience, or passion.

No matter what story the essay says about you, it needs to demonstrate positive qualities that would be an asset on any college campus.

As you’re brainstorming college essay topic ideas, remember to ask yourself, “What does this say about you? What will admissions officers learn about you from reading this essay?”

The best stories have a point.

We can all remember hearing stories that don’t seem to go anywhere and not being sure why we heard them in the first place.

In order to choose a great college essay topic, you want your story to make sense to your audience, while reflecting your best qualities.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • Did I change as a person?
  • Would I have made the same choices again?
  • What does the story I’m telling say about me?
  • Does this story define me in any way?

If you can answer these questions, you’re on the right track to finding the perfect topic for you.

Remember, your topic choice must demonstrate who you are. If a family trip or a favorite food doesn’t help you discuss the way you understand yourself, it won’t be right.

On the other hand, if you can explore your idea in depth, and if you really feel a connection to it, take that topic seriously.

Don’t forget the importance of growing from adversity. Throughout your life, you may have faced many challenges you’ve had to overcome.

  • Some of these are small, like the time you had to pass a difficult math class by studying your hardest.
  • Other challenges might be more profound: coping with the death of a family member, or facing a physical injury.

Colleges want to know that you’re a person who can experience something difficult and grow from it.

Those challenging aspects of your life are not represented on anything else in your college application, so consider using the personal statement as your opportunity to discuss it.

When writing about adversity, you need to strike the right tone.

Do not attempt to make someone feel bad for you.

Remember, this is about growth, not heartbreak.

If you can pinpoint something that has made you into a more caring person, a more confident student, or a more reflective thinker, you should write about that.

  • Learning and growing from adversity is, perhaps, one of life’s greatest pleasures.
  • People love a success, but success only comes after learning from failure.

A student who can identify failures and explain what he learned and how he grew is someone who is well-equipped for college and beyond. Growth enables change, adaptation, and success.

Demonstrate to the university how you are equipped for college and professional success.

Tell them about your failure and how you applied the lessons from this failure to better your life.

You should be the focus of the essay.

Along these same lines, it’s important to choose a college essay topic in which you are the focus.

  • For example, you shouldn’t write an entire essay about your grandmother’s wonderful qualities (even if she is a spectacular person).
  • Similarly, an essay about traveling shouldn’t read like a travel journal of all the fun things to do in Ireland. An essay about sports shouldn’t be focused solely on how hard the team worked, or the great pre-game speeches the coach gave.

You must be the center of the essay, so choose a topic accordingly. Regardless of what you write about, the main focus should be how this experience or person has influenced, impacted, and shaped you.

  • What have you learned as a result, and how have you put these lessons into practice in your life?

As you think about your topic ideas, ask yourself to think about the answers to these questions. If you’re not able to answer them in a meaningful, logical way, you may need to choose a different topic.

A college essay topic that really explains who you are will often be based on action.

  • Consider the things you do in your life.
  • An action can be anything from a sport, activity, hobby, or experience.

Maybe you’re an excellent pastry chef, and you’ve decorated cakes for a local bakery. Maybe you’re a fantastic photographer who loves taking pictures of city skylines.

Choosing your topic is also your opportunity to think about what it’s actually like to do those things.

  • You won’t want to emphasize all of the awards you won; that’s what your transcript is for.
  • Colleges can already see your achievements, so this essay should help you describe why doing something is meaningful to you.

Many students will write about service trips they’ve taken or important connections with family members.

While there’s nothing wrong with those topics, they don’t necessarily help you stand out.

The more you can make your topic specific and active, the more effective it will be.

  • For example, maybe your grandfather is the most important person in your life.
  • While you could write a lot about him, it’s best to emphasize action.
  • If going fishing together or attending baseball games were shared pastimes, focus on those specific moments because they will help ground your topic in a way your reader can clearly see.

Focusing on action is pivotal because it demonstrates how you take a proactive approach to your life.

Successful, passionate, and driven people are proactive. They see problems and address them.

The more proactive you are, the greater the amount opportunities you will cultivate. The more opportunities you have, you will create chances to succeed, so long as you work hard.

Think of the importance of this concept from the university’s perspective:

  • They want students who focus on action because these kinds of individuals are bound to do great things after college.
  • These great things include climbing the professional ladder, starting companies, mentoring youth, raising happy families, and inventing valuable devices.

Eventually, these people come back to the university and donate money for buildings, programs, and scholarships.

Be authentic

We mentioned this briefly before, but it’s important for you to pick a topic that truly resonates with you.

It should be something you’re passionate about, interested in, and excited to share with others.

You want your enthusiasm and genuine personality to shine through.

  • If you choose a topic just because you think it will be impressive, admissions officers will notice.
  • The essay is supposed to help the admissions officers get to know you, so you want it to reflect who you truly are.

As you think about your list of topic ideas, make sure they reflect your genuine abilities, interests, and personality.

Avoid topics that are “trying too hard” or don’t authentically represent you as an individual.

Keep in mind that most people write about a topic that makes them look good. There’s nothing wrong with that.

However, you should focus on a topic that also makes you look like you.

Take some time to think about what experiences you’ve had that most people haven’t.

Each person is unique, and it’s a good idea to consider what makes you different.

It could be a job you’ve had, a place you’ve traveled, or a meaningful interaction.

Explore your personal, familial, or cultural traditions.

Remember that your perspective on the world is a result of everything you’ve done in your life, and some of your more meaningful experiences will help you communicate your personality honestly.

Last, don’t fall into the trap of comparing your stories to your classmates’.

  • Why? You will inevitably judge yourself and feel bad about how your topic doesn’t compare to something extravagant your friend is writing about.
  • When self-doubt sets in, your writing will suffer because you’ll be spending valuable mental energy on worrying than on writing.

So, focus on authenticity. Authenticity is unbeatable.

Browse resources: great ideas come from others

Another way to find inspiration is to make use of the many resources available online. You can search for sample essays that were successful, for instance.

Of course, you don’t want to follow these essays too closely, but you may find that reading examples gives you interesting ideas of your own.

You can also look up essay topics for colleges to which you aren’t applying.

  • Many colleges use creative, thought-provoking prompts to learn more about their applicants.
  • You may want to write to these prompts, or they may remind you of an anecdote that would make for the perfect essay.

Other resources can include your family and friends. Is there anything that stands out about you that they think would make for an engaging essay?

Do your parents remember anything from your childhood that’s an interesting and revealing story?

Ultimately, you want to pick a topic that you love, but talking to others can get your ideas flowing.

Think about your values

It all comes back to values. When all else fails, think about the themes and values that make up your personality.

How do you brainstorm your values? Ask yourself these questions, answer the relevant ones, and write down your answers.

Choose at least seven questions to answer. The end result of writing down your values is a thought tree. You can base your essay answers off the values you discover:

  • When did you feel fear the most?
  • Name an experience during which you felt most alive.
  • How do you earn money?
  • What is the most important value you expect from a friend?
  • Name a situation during which you were loyal.
  • When did you become aware of your identity?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
  • What’s the hardest physical feat you’ve accomplished?
  • What’s the hardest mental feat you’ve accomplished?
  • What’s the best piece of advice or feedback you’ve received?
  • How do you feel about your family?
  • Which family member(s) are you closest to?
  • What is your most cherished possession, and why?
  • If you could invent anything, what would it be?
  • Name your best dream and worst nightmare.
  • What makes you lose your self-esteem?
  • What makes you question your dedication or love for your passions?
  • Which figure in history do you look up to, and why?
  • What’s your favorite quote, and why?
  • How do you feel about your mother, and how would life be different without her?
  • How do you feel about your father, and how would life be different without him?
  • What’s the most humiliating experience of your life?
  • What’s an art or hobby you’ve gained respect for, and why?
  • If you could run a successful business, what would it be?
  • What’s your favorite subject, and why?
  • Describe your perfect day.
  • What are your favorite hobbies, and why?
  • What are your most vivid memories?
  • Name an experience that truly changed your life.
  • Where is the best placed you’ve traveled?
  • Where do you most want to travel?
  • If you had a million dollars, what would you do or spend it on?
  • What is your dream career?
  • What makes you angry?
  • What makes you upset?
  • How did you experience the worst injury you’ve ever had?
  • Who have you lost in your life, through death or any other experience?
  • What’s your biggest regret?
  • What do you constantly think about?
  • What are you most curious about?
  • Name an ethical dilemma that you’ve had, and explain what happened?
  • What’s your favorite image, and why?
  • What do you love about your best friends?
  • If you could change anything that would definitely make the world a better place, what would you change?

Know of any other great questions? Ask yourself these questions, and write down your responses.

Still having a tough time?

Here are some values and themes. How do you relate to the ones that are pertinent to you?

Remember, you don’t need to write about all of them when answering your college essay; focus on the ones that play an important role in your daily decision-making, themes, ambitions, and the like:

  • Struggle
  • Humiliation
  • Learning
  • Victory
  • Arduousness
  • Discovery
  • Emotional
  • Grit
  • Exhilaration
  • Money
  • Strength
  • Friendship
  • Humor
  • Sports
  • Fame
  • Music
  • Passion
  • Beauty
  • Diversity
  • Love
  • Pride
  • Culture
  • Identity
  • Perseverance
  • Immigrants
  • Art
  • Opportunity
  • Honesty
  • Patriotism
  • Survival
  • Achievement
  • Dedication
  • Humility
  • Prudence

There are other values you can use. These are great starting points.

To determine which values are the most evocative, ask yourself which characteristic or question…

  • Hit me the hardest?
  • Resonates the most with me?
  • Could I write the most about?
  • Features a noteworthy conflict? This is the most important one

Remember, you’re not trying to write a literary masterpiece; you’re trying to write about yourself.

Be simple. Don’t choose values that are too complex or too broad to explain.

While your essay might not be about these elements per se, they will link to other portions of your life. You have two choices when approaching your elements:

  • You can write about the elements…
  • or you can write about the experiences or thoughts they link to.

Don’t pick a topic that is overly complex. Just focus on self-exposition and writing about yourself in a clear and concise manner.

A Helpful Infographic

When using this infographic, remember to have a pencil and piece of paper by your side. Record your answers.

brainstorming college essay topic

Once you have finished brainstorming, you can choose the right essay idea. Make sure that the idea you select is:

  • Relevant to the selected prompt (can address all parts of the question)
  • A good reflection of you and your interests
  • Engaging, interesting, or thought-provoking
  • Somewhat original (something the admissions officer won’t have to read about dozens or hundreds of times)
  • A topic you are genuinely interested in and want to write about (The essay should come across as sincere, not forced.)

Conclusion: Finding the Best College Essay Topic & Ideas

The possibilities for a college application essay topic are nearly endless. Sometimes, this is exactly what makes settling on one topic so difficult.

Look for a topic that allows you to tell a story and reflect on how this experience has shaped you, what this experience tells admissions officers about you, or how this experience has been significant in your life. Ultimately, the essay should be one that only you could write.

Think about your hobbies and interests, work experience, defining qualities, and challenges. Do those lead to any good stories?

Look around your bedroom, car, and home. Are there any items that provide a spark of inspiration? Ask your family and friends for ideas, answer analytical questions, and browse the resources available online.

In the end, you’re sure to find an engaging story about you that will provide valuable insight to admissions officers. Don’t worry so much about finding the most impressive topic — just tell your own unique story, and you’re certain to write a powerful college application essay!

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