Your College Application Essay “Idea List”


One of the best, and easiest, ways to start preparing to apply to college is to create a college application essay “Idea List.”

Whether you do it on your phone, computer, or in a dedicated composition notebook, this will be an evolving catalogue of potential essay ideas that might occur to you over the next few months. Once compiled, it will provide an easy way to compare your ideas and decide on the ones that will be the most effective, and that you are most eager to write.

Starting the Essay Idea List is not difficult but, in order to get the most out of it, here are some guidelines.

1. Become familiar with the Common Application prompts. Read them carefully, several times, so that you fully absorb what they are asking you to write. In creating your Essay Idea List, copy and paste the prompts at the top. They are easily found at

2. If you know for sure that you are applying to a certain school – for example, your flagship state school, or the University of California system ( – become familiar with and write down those essay prompts as well.

3. Reflect on your past – both the obvious, significant events (surviving a serious car crash, helping a lady on the bus give birth/whatever) and the less obvious (making Thanksgiving dinner when everyone in your family came down with the flu/whatever) – to see if they might work for one of the prompts.

4. Stay alert for more recent events or experiences in your life that can lead to essay topics.

5. Remember to “stay small.” The Common Application essay can be a maximum of 650 words. Most other college application essays are shorter. It’s important, therefore, to choose a topic that you can set up and explore fully within the word count restrictions.

6. Think about possible essay topics during quiet times, for example, early morning or just before you fall asleep at night. The brain is less stimulated at these moments, more open for brainstorming. Learn more at

7. Write everything down. Don’t merely “think” of essay ideas, commit them to paper, screen, whatever. This is important for two reasons. While it’s easy to convince yourself, “I’ll remember this one, no need to write it down,” it often doesn’t work out that way. The other reason is to avoid prematurely discarding a concept that might ultimately be “the one.” When it comes to application essay ideas, first impressions aren’t always accurate.

8. Read and review your application essay “Idea List” frequently, to get a feel for what might be effective, and for consistent themes in your life. This will make deciding on your ultimate topic a lot easier, and can even lead to prompting new ideas, as you review your list.

9. Don’t get discouraged if the ideas aren’t flowing yet;

keep at it and they will be soon. You are going to write an outstanding essay!

10. I know this last one is easier said than accomplished, but try to enjoy the process. Writing your college application essays is not the same as a weekend at Coachella (, but it can still be pleasurable, and rewarding. Honest!


Writing an outstanding application essay starts with a strong concept. So be sure to give yourself every opportunity to develop one.

For more personalized help with the college application essay, please contact Craig Heller at 818-445-4697 or [email protected].

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