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 college admissions 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.
Picking a topic for your admissions essay can feel like staring into the abyss. But don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve put together a list of the 15 most common college admissions essay topics – and some tips on how to avoid them.
So, whether you’re struggling to find an idea or just want to make sure you cover all your bases, read on for guidance on how to write the perfect admissions essay. Just remember: be original, be yourself, and above all else, have fun!
What Are 3 Good Topics for an Essay?
Here are three excellent topics for college admission essay writing:
- A defining experience
- A hobby or interest
- The “role model essay”
Don’t be afraid to showcase just who you are as a student (and as a person) in your college admissions essay through your choice of college admissions essay topics. Consider working with a tutor to help you find the best pick – and be sure to watch the video below to see everything that writing tutors have to offer you:
College Application Essay Examples
Applying to college can seem like a daunting task. But don’t worry, we’re here to help with our list of essay topics for college admissions!
Whether you’re just starting the process or you’re already in the thick of it, keep reading for helpful advice and guidance. Good luck!
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.
5. Describe a Favorite Book or Movie Where the Main Character Has a Difficult Choice
Decisions, decisions. We all face choices every day, big and small. And sometimes, the stakes can feel sky-high. What if we make the wrong choice? What if we miss out on something great?
This is the dilemma that many characters face in literature and film. Often, the most difficult choices are the ones that force us to confront our deepest fears or desires. Consider choosing this college admissions essay topic if you have a movie or book that fits the bill.
6. Write About a Problem You Want to Solve
“Write About a Problem You Want to Solve” is a great college admissions essay prompt for several reasons. First, it allows you to show that you are proactive and engaged in the world around you.
Admissions committees want to see that you are the type of person who is aware of problems and is motivated to find solutions. In addition, this prompt gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your analytical and critical thinking skills.
To write a successful essay, you will need to identify a problem, research potential solutions, and evaluate the pros and cons of each option. This prompt therefore provides an excellent opportunity for you to showcase your ability to think deeply about complex issues.
Finally, “Write About a Problem You Want to Solve” is a great way to share your passion with admissions committees.
By writing about something that you care about, you can give admissions committees insights into your values and what motivates you. For all these reasons, “Write About a Problem You Want to Solve” is a great college admissions essay prompt.
7. Talk About a Time Where You Changed Your Pre-Existing Worldview – Why? And Would You Do This Again?
The college admissions process is designed to give applicants the opportunity to share their unique experiences and perspectives with admissions committees. One of the essay prompts that can help applicants do this is “Talk about a time where you changed your pre-existing worldview – why? And would you do this again?”
This prompt allows applicants to share a personal story about a time when they challenged their own beliefs and assumptions, and how that experience helped them to grow. Additionally, it gives applicants the opportunity to reflect on what they learned from the experience and whether they would do it again.
This prompt can help admissions committees understand an applicant’s ability to think critically and reflect on their own beliefs, which are essential qualities for success in college and beyond.
8. Write About a Time You Failed At Something
There are many reasons why “Write About a Time You Failed At Something” is a great college admissions essay prompt.
For one, it allows you to demonstrate your ability to reflect on your experiences and learn from them. This is an important quality for any college student, as it shows that you are capable of taking responsibility for your own learning. In addition, discussing a time when you failed can also give you the opportunity to showcase your resilience and perseverance.
Colleges are looking for students who are able to overcome adversity, and this prompt gives you an opportunity to demonstrate that quality. Finally, writing about a failure can also help you stand out from the rest of the applicants. Most students focus on their successes in their college essays, so writing about a time when you failed can help you stand out from the crowd.
Ultimately, there are many reasons why “Write About a Time You Failed At Something” is a great college admissions essay prompt. It allows you to showcase important qualities that colleges are looking for, and it can help you stand out from the rest of the applicants. If you’re stuck on what to write about in your college admissions essay, consider giving this prompt a try.
9. Share Your Cause
The college admissions essay is your opportunity to share your unique story and perspectives with the admissions committee. When considering topics for your essay, it can be helpful to think about what you are passionate about and how your experiences have shaped your views. The “share your cause” prompt is a great option for those who want to write about something they care deeply about.
This prompt allows you to discuss the issue that you are passionate about and how it has affected your life. In addition, it gives you the chance to demonstrate your commitment and dedication to the cause. The admissions committee will be impressed by your commitment to making a difference in the world, and this can be a major factor in their decision-making process.
If you are struggling to choose a topic for your college admission essay, consider discussing the cause that you are most passionate about. This prompt offers an excellent opportunity to share your unique story and perspectives with the admissions committee.
10. How Have You Grown?
“How have you grown?” is a great college admissions essay prompt for several reasons. First, it allows you to reflect on your own personal growth and development over time. This can be a very powerful and revealing exercise, and it can give you a lot of insight into who you are and how you’ve changed.
Second, “How have you grown?” is a very broad prompt, which gives you a lot of latitude in terms of what you can write about. You can choose to focus on your intellectual growth, your emotional growth, your physical growth, or any other area that you feel has been important to your development.
Third, “How have you grown?” is a great prompt for demonstrating your maturity and self-awareness.
Admissions committees want to see that you’re able to look back on your life with insight and perspective, and this prompt will give you a chance to show that you’re able to do just that. Finally, “How have you grown?” is a great way to end your essay on a positive note. Rather than ending with a sad or tragic story, this prompt gives you the opportunity to leave the reader with a positive image of who you are and how far you’ve come.
11. What Isn’t Reflected in Your College Application?
The essay prompt “What Isn’t Reflected in Your College Application” allows you to explore another side of yourself that may not be apparent in your application. This can be a great opportunity to showcase your personality and demonstrate why you would be a valuable addition to the campus community.
By exploring topics such as your favorite hobby or a time when you faced adversity, you can give admissions officers a well-rounded view of who you are as a person.
In addition, this prompt can also help you stand out from the other applicants. With so much competition for admission to top colleges, anything you can do to make your application unique is worth considering.
12. What’s a Book You Love?
There are a lot of different college admission essay topics out there. But one prompt that always stands out to me is “What’s a book you love?” As someone who loves to read, this prompt immediately piques my interest.
It’s a great opportunity to showcase your literary interests and discuss how a particular book has affected you. Whether you’re talking about a classic like To Kill a Mockingbird or a more modern work like Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, this prompt can lead to some really insightful and personal essays.
And that’s what colleges are looking for! They want to get to know you as a person, and this prompt is a great way to start that conversation. So if you’re stumped on what to write about, consider picking up your favorite book and discussing why it means so much to you. I guarantee it’ll make for a great essay.
13. What is an Extracurricular Activity That Has Been Meaningful to You?
“What is an Extracurricular Activity That Has Been Meaningful to You?” is a great prompt for college essays because it allows students to write about something that is both personal and significant.
Extracurricular activities are a great way for students to explore their interests and passions. They can also provide valuable experiences and skills that can help shape one’s future. By writing about an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to them, applicants can demonstrate their character and what they are passionate about.
This type of information can be incredibly useful to admissions committees as they make their decisions. In addition, this prompt gives applicants the chance to stand out from the crowd by sharing something that is truly unique to them.
What Topics Should You Avoid in College Essays?
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are outside of your grades and test scores. However, there are certain topics that should be avoided in order to make sure that your essay stands out for the right reasons.
Here are some bad essay topics for college admissions:
1. A Sports-Related Obstacle
One topic to avoid is a sports-related obstacle. Admissions officers have likely read dozens of essays about students overcoming injuries or obstacles on their way to becoming champion athletes. Instead of focusing on a sports-related topic, use your essay to tell a unique story that highlights your personality and passions.
2. An Immigration Story
Another topic to avoid is an immigration story. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of students sharing their stories of coming to America. While these stories can be inspiring, they can also be difficult to relate to if the reader isn’t familiar with the experience. Instead, focus on a unique aspect of your background that will add depth and dimension to your application.
3. A Tragedy You’ve Experienced
Another potentially controversial topic is a tragedy you’ve experienced. While it’s understandable that you may want to write about a personal struggle, it’s important to avoid coming across as self-pitying or Negative Nancy. Instead, focus on how you’ve overcome challenges rather than the tragedy itself.
4. How You’ve Overcome a Challenging Course
Steer clear of writing about how you’ve overcome a challenging course. Admission committees will be looking for evidence of your academic resilience, so save this story for another time.
5. A Volunteer Experience
Secondly, don’t write about a volunteer experience. For most colleges, service is an important part of the admissions process, so they don’t need to see it reflected in your essay as well.
6. A Move to a New Home
Finally, don’t write about a move to a new home. This topic can be seen as disingenuous, as if you’re trying to make yourself look more well-rounded than you are. Instead, focus on topics that will give the admissions committee a sense of who you are as a person and student.
How Do I Find a Topic for My College Essay?
The college essay is a unique opportunity to tell your own story and show the admissions committee who you are beyond your grades and test scores. However, finding a topic that is both personal and meaningful can be a challenge.
One approach is to think about an experience that has had a profound impact on your life. It could be a moment of failure or success, an encounter with someone who changed your perspective, or a moment when you realized you were capable of more than you had previously thought.
Once you have identified a significant experience, reflect on what you learned from it and how it has shaped who you are today.
This reflection will help you to pinpoint the key elements of your story that you want to share with the admissions committee. Another approach is to think about an issue or problem that is important to you.
What are your thoughts on the matter? What solutions would you propose? Why is this issue important to you? Taking the time to brainstorm and reflect on potential topics for your college essay will help ensure that you write an essay that is both personal and engaging.
Ways to Make Your College Essay Stand Out
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are outside of your grades and test scores. It can be difficult to know what to write about, but there are some tips that can help you make your essay stand out.
First, choose a topic that is meaningful to you. Hopefully, the college admissions essay topics examples above have helped.
Admissions officers will be able to tell if you’re passionate about your essay topic, and that can make a big difference.
Second, don’t be afraid to be personal. Your essay should give admissions officers a glimpse into your life and personality, so don’t be afraid to share something meaningful about yourself. Third, use specific examples to illustrate your points.
Admissions officers want to see that you can support your claims with concrete evidence, so including specific examples can be very helpful. Finally, edit carefully before submitting your essay.
A well-written and well-edited essay will make a much better impression than an essay that is full of mistakes. By following these tips, you can ensure that your college essay will make a great impression on admissions officers.
College Admission Essay Topic Ideas – They’re Everywhere!
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.
How can you approach these common admissions essay topics? Well, it depends on which one you’re given or which one you choose. But in general, make sure that your essay has a clear structure, introduction, body and conclusion.
Introduce yourself and your story without going into too much detail – after all, the admissions committee will want to read your entire application before they make a decision. The body of your essay should focus on one specific topic (or two if you’re really ambitious) and explain why it matters to you.
Finally, end with a strong conclusion that ties everything together and leaves the reader thinking about you in a positive light. If you have any questions about how to approach these questions, be sure to ask your writing tutor for guidance!
Elaina 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!
Photo by LOLitsLloyd