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10 College Admissions Essay Ideas to Inspire You

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This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

With summer upon us, rising high school seniors have to think about college applications and the dreaded essays.

Many colleges require at least one short essay about yourself to showcase your writing abilities and to see your unique, individual personality.

Most essays require a range of 250–650 words, but it varies between each college. Some colleges also have you choose your own topic, while others have you select one (or more) from a list.

Whatever the case, these college application essay topics are based on the Common App essay topics from previous years, so it’s possible you could find one close enough to a selected topic to use for your essay!

#1: Your meaningful background

A classic college essay, this idea gives you a broad prompt where you can choose something from your own life (a background, interest, talent, etc.) that you think your application would be incomplete without.

At first, it may be hard to think of something to write about. Or, you may have a perfect idea; for example, you’re very passionate about something like writing or being part of a sports team. If you have a hobby that you think defines you as a person when you express it, this is the perfect place to put that!

College application overseers aren’t just looking for high marks – they’re often looking for unique personalities or people with passion and drive that they think would be a good addition to their school.

#2: A time you faced a challenge

Another classic college application essay, but sometimes one of the hardest ones to write, this idea is to write about a challenge, obstacle, or failure you’ve faced. This one is a good chance to show what sort of person you are, and how you overcame (or coped) with something bad that happened.

Most people tend to think of specific incidents, like when you had a project due and your group wasn’t doing their work so you had to lead the team or do it yourself. This could work, but like the first idea, you want to make sure whatever you’re writing about shows who you are as a person.

The challenge doesn’t have to be academic-related. You could write about any challenge, obstacle, or failure you’ve experienced in your life. Maybe it was work-related, or it was had to do with something going on at home or with friends.

When I applied for college, I wrote about dealing with discrimination in my workplace at the time. It was something that, although many people unfortunately have to experience and overcome, I could write with my own perspective and show the college what I did about it.

Of course, you don’t have to write that seriously. Sometimes a minor setback is all you need, as long as you can show how you  handled it.

#3: Questioning your beliefs

This topic isn’t quite as common in my experience but is one of the best chances to talk about you as a person. This idea is to write about a time you questioned your belief in something and how you dealt with that. It can be something religious or political, or even a time when your peers were challenging you.

It doesn’t matter whether you ended up changing your views or not; what this topic does is it gives you a chance to show how you thought something through and made a choice accordingly.

One of the most personal struggles there is is to have your beliefs challenged, so how you were able to process that and make a change or stand in your resolve can tell a college a lot about who you are.

College Admissions Essay Topics, Tips, and Tricks

#4: A problem you solved (or would like to solve)

This topic is similar to the second one but differs in that it’s a bit more open-ended. The idea is to write about a problem in your life (or even in the world) that you’ve solved or would like to solve.

The scale on this problem can be as big or small as you would like, so there are lots of opportunities to write about something meaningful to you.

If you’re writing about something in your life, you could focus on an ongoing issue and how you want to solve it. Whether that’s something going on at school or at home, everybody has struggles, and your own voice can shine when you bring your story into it.

Alternatively, you could write about something much larger in scale, like an issue with society or current events. However, something that does relate to you in some way will let your passion for the issue shine through, which is more appealing to colleges.

#5: Describe an accomplishment (and how you grew from it)

This topic is all about describing a time you achieved or won something, preferably something you worked hard for. It may be tricky for some people who don’t consider themselves to have achieved much (I only ever won participation trophies through high school), but the emphasis here is how you grew from the accomplishment.

There are lots of options for what to write here, like winning an award in sports or completing a difficult assignment, but what colleges are looking for is how you grew from that achievement.

For example, a sports award likely entailed a lot of hard work, so you could discuss how you put in that work and how it changed your mindset on perseverance.

#6: Be a nerd about something

This was my personal favorite topic to use when writing my essays. Just be a nerd about something!

Write about what captivates you and what you’re so interested in you just can’t get away from it. If you’re a nerd, this is absolutely your time to shine. (This isn’t just for sci-fi or academic nerds; it could be about sports, animals, or anything you’re truly interested in!)

What colleges are looking for from this is to see a focused passion and drive from you. The important thing here is that while you get to discuss something you love, you want to remain calm and collected enough that the college sees you can rationally discuss it and why it’s so important to you. It’s a great way for your personality to come through your writing!

#7: What moment did you go from child to adult?

This is a much more specific question than the other topics, and it may not relate to you. It’s perfectly okay to not have a specific moment that transitioned you from childhood to adulthood, so it’s best to skip this topic if not.

If you can think of a specific event or moment of your life when you were faced with the real world, this is the place to write about it. It’s similar to topics two and four, but this is specifically for what thing triggered you to mature.

This could be a hard subject for some, but it offers a great perspective into your life and gives you a chance to write about how you grew from the event into who you are now.

#8: Describe a choice made in a book or movie; what did you think about it?

This is more analytical than the other topics as you’re writing about what you thought of a choice made by a character in a book or a movie. But, it offers the perfect opportunity to show your logic and reasoning skills to the college!

For example, The Hunger Games (which is widely chosen for essay topics and I would recommend choosing something else unless you have a unique perspective) has many difficult decisions that the characters must face.

Katniss makes the decision to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games, and that sparks the entire story. If this was your topic, you could write about why you think Katniss made that choice.

The point is to show the college you can think rationally and logically and that you can analyze something for a deeper meaning.

#9: What’s your life goal?

This topic is very open-ended and there is a wide range of things you could write about. You could discuss anything from emotional goals to physical goals including your dream career.

As always, colleges are looking for essays that showcase your personality, and your life goal is one of the most personal things there is.

#10: Choose a past essay

Some colleges let you choose a past essay you’ve written that you believe showcases your writing ability and voice regardless of topic. It’s quite possible your high school had you write practice essays for college applications, and something like that would be perfect here.

If you’ve learned anything from all these topics, it should be that colleges are looking for unique personalities and strong voices that shine past the other applicants!

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