College Essay Topic Ideas

A statement I have frequently heard from students faced with choosing a topic for their Common Application essay, or any college admissions essay, is some variation of, “I haven’t done anything interesting in my life!” And, although it probably feels good to say this out loud, I can assure you it is never true. That’s because the topic for your college application essay does not have to describe how you singlehandedly wrestled down a rampaging elephant during your last trip to Africa, or how you discovered a new planet on your day off from your breakthrough research on paramecium. Instead, your college application essay topic needs to fulfill one major criterion – it needs to be something only you can write.

To expand, that means your essay should reflect an experience that had a deep impact on shaping your values, your goals, your interests, who you are today, and the way you interact with the world around you. Ideally, it should be presented as a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, and leave readers knowing something about you that they didn’t know when they started to read. It can be a small event that, in retrospect, you recognize was formative; for example, the day you labored until dark helping your uncle build a stone path around the side of his house, and discovered how much you enjoy hard work. It could be that time you and your sister got separated from your parents while on vacation, and you had to stay cool while you figured out how to find them. The possibilities are endless and each blog in this section – “How to Choose a College Essay Topic” – is designed to help you discover the perfect essay topic for you.

The blog, “Ten Questions to Ask Yourself,” for example, gives you a chance to play Oprah by asking yourself probing questions that you might never have thought about in the past. Try adding some questions to the list and see where it takes you. The blog about creating an application essay “Idea List” offers a simple technique for putting all your ideas – good and bad – down in one place, so you can better assess which ones are the strongest. “Finding an UNCommon Essay Topic” will give you some guidelines for going beyond the cliches and finding something truly original.

Choosing a topic for your college admissions essay is one of the most critical aspects of the entire application process. Read some of these blogs and see if they don’t get you a little bit closer to discovering yours.