The 4 Most Common Admissions Essay Topics (and How to Approach Them)


Are you getting your college applications ready? In most cases, you’ll need a copy of your transcript, letters of recommendation, and the often-dreaded admissions essay. To make the process a little easier, read on as Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R. shares some of the most common admissions essay topics you might run into…


College admissions essays act as the human element in the otherwise statistic-driven admissions process. Where test scores and GPAs could easily be evaluated by an algorithm, someone has to actually sit down and read your essay. The goal of the college admissions essay is simple: getting to know the person behind the statistics. If you do a good job, the admissions officer gets a little glimpse of your personality that tips the scales in your favor.

Colleges tend to use the same types of essay topics and prompts each year. Knowing what to expect, and remembering to focus on yourself – not your nervous college applicant self, but your real, quirky, interesting self – gives you a good shot at writing an essay worth remembering.

1. A Defining Experience

“Describe an experience that changed your life.” “Tell us about an experience that defines who you are.” This is probably the most common essay topic. While some students have a truly life-changing experience that they want to write about, many others are left wondering whether they should write about winning softball regionals or going to Disney World.

If you are one of the many students without a crazy story to tell, spend some time brainstorming about who you are and what it is you want the admissions committee to know. Small-scale stories can be just as effective as large-scale ones. My own college admissions essay was about a haircut, but I used it to show how I had grown as a person and overcome adversity. It got me into a great school.

2. A Hobby or Interest

When faced with the “Write about your favorite hobby” prompt, many students’ first inclination is to write about an extracurricular already displayed prominently on their application. The admissions officer already know that you are captain of the football team if it says so on your extracurriculars list. That doesn’t mean that you can’t write about the football team (or debate team or drama club), but it does mean you should take a second look first.

Make a list of all of the hobbies and activities you enjoy. Remember, the admissions officer is going to read hundreds of essays about sports, but how many essays will be about baking artisan bread or collecting preserved beetles? Those are the essays admissions officers are more likely to remember.

3. The Role Model Essay

Don’t write about how Albert Einstein is your role model just to impress the admissions officer. Since the goal is getting to know you better, picking a famous historical figure for the wrong reasons could backfire. If Albert Einstein is genuinely your role model and you’ve read dozens of books on him, it will show. If he isn’t, that will show as well.

Make a list of people who have inspired you or made a difference in your life. Your role model could turn out to be your grandmother, a grocery store clerk, or even a fictional character.

4. Why Our University?

Even this question is about you. Admissions officers do not want you to rattle off statistics about their university. They work in the admissions office and probably know all of the statistics already. They know that the school is great; what they want to know is what you would do if you got in.

Do some research on your specific areas of interest within the school. That includes academic departments, professors who have worked in your field, and classes that sound interesting. Look into activities as well – a cappella groups, intramural sports, charitable organizations, and so on. Tell the admissions officer exactly what your life at their school would look like.

No matter what the essay topic is, when writing a college admissions essay, always focus on you. The college admissions committee wants to know who you are and what you have to say. Be honest, be creative, and above all, be yourself.

ElainaElaina R. is a writer, editor, singer, and voice teacher based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her book Slaying Your Admissions Essay Dragon shows how to write application essays that are actually fun to read. Elaina has served as an editor for several notable books as well, including NFL great Adrian Peterson’s autobiography Don’t Dis My Abilities. Learn more about Elaina here!


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