college essay topic ideas

Topic Ideas and Tips for Your College Essay

Most colleges want their applicants to write an essay to get to know them better. This adds dimension and depth to the application and to their understanding of you as a person. Through your essay, you can communicate what you care about as well as important aspects of your character. You can convey humor, compassion, curiosity, along with many other qualities. Note, this is NOT like a typical essay you would write during English class.

Think of the essay as a way to bring greater personalization to your application in order to help the admission officers get to know you better. Your goal is to be positively memorable. As admissions officers review applications, they seek to find students who will add to their college community and enrich the experience for all. The essay (along with the interview) is your vehicle. Your #1 goal is to write a narrative in such a way that an admissions officer feels like you are reading the essay out loud to them in the room. They MUST feel moved by your essay, especially for competitive schools, otherwise you risk being just one of several unexciting essays that they ignore.


College Essay Topic Ideas

  1. Don’t tackle too broad a topic; drill down on a narrow angle of the story; it will allow you to create a more compelling essay. Pick out a specific moment that reflects your wider story.
  2. The essay should help the admission committee to know YOU, not others who may be a part of your story. In fact, in this case study notice how while she does mention lots of other people, the focus remains on her and her interactions with other people.
  3. Let the words flow freely creating a draft at first that you will edit later. This will hopefully result in a response that is too long. That is actually a good thing. It is easier to edit something down to the word limit than trying to fill out a response that is too short.
  4. Be engaging in your writing and avoid cliches. Details matter, and the more specific they are to your unique, individual experience, the more engaging they will be, and the less likely you are to fall into cliche.
  5. Allow enough time so that you may create a draft, set it aside for several days, then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Be sure to respond to the prompt in your essay and draw your reader in from the outset. If you start with your story first, you will likely be able to connect to a prompt at the end of your writing process by editing your essay slightly.

When it comes to competitive universities, it’s hard to ignore the massive significance of writing an effective college essay. It can be THE difference between “congratulations” and “we regret to inform you.” Let’s take a look at three tips to write a stellar essay.


Tip #1: Answer THIS Question


What is the ONE thing you want the admissions’ officers to know about you? Many students make the mistake of trying to talk about too many things, which leads to a confusing and unclear essay. Instead, choose a single character trait or quality you want them to know about you and be focused on that. Don’t try to tell your entire life story. The Common App essay has a 650-word limit.


Tip #2: Avoid THIS Mistake


A big mistake students make is focusing on someone or something else. If you’re writing about a football game, for example, focus on your role on the team. If you’re writing about a club you’re a part of, focus on what you did to help that club thrive. This is your chance to demonstrate who you are and what you’ve accomplished, so don’t waste space describing other people or situations.


Tip #3: Use Descriptive Imagery


Use descriptive language and use active verbs. Grab a thesaurus and upgrade basic vocabulary to something a little more impressive. Use figurative language to enhance your writing and give your reader details.  Build a picture in the mind’s eye of your readers with your details.  Help them visualize your story. If you can do that, you can make them care.



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