When selecting college essay topics, you must remember that a winning theme does not need to be about some big world-shaking incident or a critical world-consuming event. Often, a simple run-of-the-mill topic – such as a family trip Disney World, or a story about the day you took your driver’s license test – could set the stage for great college essay topics. Think of your personal essay as a small window into a slice of your life, where the reader has the chance to discover some interesting aspects of your personality. Remember, any personal experience you’ve had may end up being the fuel you need to fire up your essay. So dig deep enough inside of you and you’ll find your story. We guarantee it!
So How Do I Decide On My College Essay Topics?
First, remember an essay is not the time to be modest and overly humble about your accomplishments. It’s fine to toot your horn a bit when needed. Second, think carefully about what you want the admission committee to know about you that might not have been revealed in the application. Then make sure you work these facts into your essay. The important thing is to not simply duplicate your essay application. Instead, try to recall some unique experience you might have been through. Here are some tips that may help you find a good college essay topic. As you go through the list, jot down any idea or words that come to mind. Don’t go full circle and try to finish the whole story in your head yet, you’re just in the exploratory stage.
List of Ideas for College Essay Topics
- An experience that made you grow or change.
- An interesting relative or family background.
- Loss of someone or something important (it’s o.k. to write about sadness or tragedy in your life, but you need to show how the experience made you grow or change in a POSITIVE way).
- Volunteer work in your community.
- One of the most difficult or hardest thing you’ve ever had to face.
- A memorable work experience.
- A moment of courage or triumph of spirit.
- Your first day at school.
- How would your friends describe you? (Make a list of adjectives that describe you – i.e. friendly, stubborn, etc. – and think of some stories or anecdotes where these characteristics showed up. See adjectives to get some ideas).
- A character-building challenge or fear you overcame.
- A book which had a great impact on your life.
- A family tradition.
- Moving (moving is considered one of the most stressful activities for any family. Can you think of an entertaining anecdote that started out disastrous but ended with a good conclusion)
- What was your happiest moment or greatest thrill?
- A hobby or an interest you spend time on.
- A fun or memorable family vacation.
- A special teacher that truly inspired you.
- The best advice you ever received in high school and how it helped you.
- The best advice you’ve ever given someone.
- A story of when you learned how to drive..
- A day that started out being one of the worst days of your life and ended being one of the best.
- The first time you cooked a meal or baked a cake.
- A foreign country you visited and how you gained from the experience (but be careful, don’t overdramatize about how a trip to a third-world country turned you into a better person unless you are ready to support this claim with real examples. Also, don’t tackle this topic if you are simply going to write about your church or school trip to another country, unless you can focus on a specific experience within the trip)..
Beware of the "danger zone"… when selecting your college essay topic. They are almost guaranteed to single-handedly sink your ship in the harbor (particularly when applying to selective colleges). DO NOT…..
- Don’t choose a scholarly subject matter just to try to portray yourself as some hot-shot intellectual. Remember, the admission officer is not looking for a history lesson in ancient Greece, or a dissertation on Chomsky’s cognitivism. Rather, be yourself; show them you’re a real human being.
- Don’t try to summarize your entire life’s accomplishments. Your essay will end up sounding like a laundry list and will lose its emotional impact. Rather, stick with a more narrow theme or idea and work with it.
- Don’t make the mistake of confusing the admission officer with your local therapist or your closest buddy. You don’t want to embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable. While it’s perfectly fine to write about sadness or trauma, you’ve got to show how the experience made you grow as an individual or changed you in a positive way.
- Don’t choose a specific religion, political doctrine, or controversial subject as your essay topic.
- Don’t ignore the question. If they want to know about your interests make sure you address it.
- Don’t try to come off like the "reformed criminal". You were a bad boy and now suddenly you’re an exemplary citizen, unless you’re prepared to explain convincingly how you’ve "seen the light."
- Don’t do the reverse of the above either: don’t try to come off like a Mother Teresa. If you’ve done some amazing volunteer work in your community that’s great, and you should write about it. But don’t exaggerate or it’ll lose its luster.
- Don’t make your essays for each particular college interchangeable. If you’re going to chronicle the adventure of how you chose this college over the others, take extra care to make it sound real.
- Don’t be negative. Always avoid negativity even if you’re dealing with a sad topic. Remember, your admission officer is interested in happy and productive students. So always be positive.
Phew!! That’s a lot of don’ts. And here’s one more for you: DON’T IGNORE THEM. Let’s move on and begin writing a college essay.