The Best College Essay Topics
College essays present students with a special opportunity to show the admissions board at their dream school who they are outside of their test scores and academic achievements. For many students, such an important opportunity can feel like a lot of pressure, leaving them fretting over what to cover in their 650 word allotment.
Read on to discover the features that make a college essay stand out, which subjects to avoid, and how to choose the perfect college essay topic for you.
Features of the Best College Essay Topics
So, what do the best college essay topics look like? Let’s go over some noteworthy features that most top-notch college essay topics will have in common so you can select or create the right topic for you.
Be Personal and Specific
It’s important to center yourself in your college essay. The point is to provide the admissions team with a better understanding of who you are, a picture of you that they cannot glean from your application alone.
Write about a topic that is authentic and personal to you. Remember that you aren’t being asked to create a debut novel. Narrow the focus to one small slice of your life, whether it is an event, a person, or an experience, and use the topic to explain your character more deeply.
Keep Your Audience in Mind
Your audience for your college essay is an admissions officer who will be reading hundreds or even thousands of essays just like yours. Be sure to make your writing memorable by including detailed language, emotion, dialogue, sensory descriptions, and more. Make a case for yourself as an interesting person with more than just academic merits to bring to campus.
Admissions officers are looking for students who have the maturity level for genuine self-reflection and personal growth. Your essay should demonstrate your maturity by showing that you have the ability to express yourself and your vulnerabilities, critically evaluate the experiences in your life that have made you who you are, and think creatively to solve problems.
College Essay Topics to Avoid
As you narrow down your list of potential topics, here are a few general essay topics to avoid.
Perhaps the most obvious topics to avoid are those that are controversial in some way. You may be tempted to write about a controversial topic or take a negative stance against the school in question in order to stand out from the crowd, but this endeavor usually doesn’t go over well with the admissions team.
Even if you think you could sway them to your side with your writing skills, you don’t want the fate of your application to rely on whether or not the admissions team agrees with your views on a controversial topic. By all means, you should write about a topic that ignites your passion, but you may want to steer clear of topics that are sensitive or controversial in nature.
Recounting Your Life Story and Achievements
Your application should provide a full list of your achievements both inside and outside of school, so try to avoid making your essay into a recount of those achievements in greater detail. As we’ve mentioned, your college essay should elaborate on an aspect of yourself that doesn’t come across through your application alone. Only speaking about your achievements can also sound like bragging or boasting, and it may hinder your ability to show off your personality through your writing.
Sports and Travel
Topics related to sports and travel are some of the most common choices for college essays. You can choose to write about these topics, but you will probably struggle to stand out from the crowd. It may be best to stray away from essays about sports championships or vacations unless they hold particular significance in showcasing some aspect of your growth or character through a unique event or challenge that occurred.
People and Places
Be careful choosing essay topics that center around important people or places in your life. If you don’t navigate these topics carefully, you may end up focusing too much on them and neglecting to talk about yourself. As difficult as it can be to write about yourself, that is the point of the college essay, and talking only about your role model or your favorite place will not tell the admissions team anything about you. Students who choose these topics should strive to showcase how the people or places have impacted them in a meaningful way.
How to Choose the Perfect College Essay Topic
So, how do you settle on the perfect college essay topic? We recommend following these steps:
- Review examples of essays and essay topics that have previously done well at your dream schools.
- Think about how you can channel the spirit of those topics while making them specific to you and your experience.
- Make a broad list of possible topics covering a range of ideas.
- Leave the list for a period of time, then return to it and cross out topics that don’t speak to you.
- Ask yourself if the remaining topics are important to you and could only be answered by you.
- Expand your top few choices into outlines to see which one feels best and inspires you the most.
The Common App
The Common App is a platform that allows students to apply to multiple schools at once by filling out required information that most college applications require. Over 1,000 colleges accept the Common App, making it easier for students to send out applications to many of their dream schools without spending hours on their applications.
Students who use the Common App to apply to colleges in the 2023-2024 school year will have the opportunity to choose one of the following topics when completing their college essay:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
If one of these topics sounds interesting to you, then you can use it as your essay prompt when applying to colleges outside of the Common App as well. Keep in mind that some schools may ask students to provide a supplemental essay in addition to the Common App essay.
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