5 Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays
Finding a great college essay topic is one of the most stressful parts of the essay writing process. How is it possible to accurately represent your life and personality in one essay? How can you tell if a topic will do your story justice, or if it’ll end up hurting your application?
While a good essay topic varies from one person to another, there are some general guidelines you should follow when picking a topic. In this post, we’ll go over the commonalities of a good college essay topic, and we’ll share five original topics and sample essays to inspire your writing.
What Makes a Good College Essay Topic?
College essays are meant to provide admissions officers with a better idea of who you are beyond your quantitative achievements. It’s your chance to share your voice, personality, and story.
A good essay topic will do the following:
Answers the 4 core questions. These questions are:
- “Who Am I?”
- “Why Am I Here?”
- “What is Unique About Me?”
- “What Matters to Me?”
At its core, your essay should show who you are, how you got there, and where you’re going.
Is deeply personal. The best essay topics allow you to be raw and vulnerable. You don’t need to bare your soul and tell your deepest secrets, but you should share your thoughts and emotions in your essay. A good essay should make the reader feel something—whether that’s your joy, embarrassment, panic, defeat, confidence, or determination.
Is original, or approaches a common topic in an original way. Admissions officers read a lot of essays about the same old topics. Some of those cliches include: a sports injury, person you admire, tragedy, or working hard in a challenging class. While it’s possible to write a good essay on a common topic, it’s much harder to do so, and you may lose the admissions officer’s attention early on.
Try to find a topic that goes beyond traditional archetypes to make yourself truly stand out. You could also take a cliche topic but develop it in a different way. For example, the standard storyline of the sports injury essay is that you got hurt, were upset you couldn’t participate, but then worked hard and overcame that injury. Instead, you could write about how you got injured, and used that time off to develop a new interest, such as coding.
Awesome College Essay Topics + Sample Essays
The truth is that a “good” college essay topic varies by individual, as it really depends on your life experiences. That being said, there are some topics that should work well for most people, and they are:
1. A unique extracurricular activity or passion
Writing about an extracurricular activity is not a unique essay topic, and it’s actually a common supplemental essay prompt. If you have an unconventional activity, however, the essay is the perfect opportunity to showcase and elaborate upon that interest. Less common activities are less familiar to admissions officers, so some extra context can be helpful in understanding how that activity worked, and how much it meant to you.
For example, here’s a sample essay about a student who played competitive bridge, and what the activity taught them:
2. An activity or interest that contrasts heavily with your profile
The essays are also a great way to highlight different aspects of who you are, and also explain any aspects of your profile that might not “make sense.” For instance, if your extracurriculars are heavily STEM-focused, but you have one theatre-related activity you care a lot about, you might want to write an essay on theatre to add an extra dimension to your application. Admissions officers actually love when students have a “contrast profile,” or well-developed interests in two disparate fields. This is because they see a lot of well-rounded and specialized students, so students with contrast profiles offer something refreshingly unique.
Here’s a sample essay written by an athlete who is also an accomplished poet. The piece focuses upon the student’s contrasting identities, and how they eventually come to feel proud of both identities.
3. A seemingly insignificant moment that speaks to larger themes within your life
Writing an essay on a seemingly mundane moment is unexpected, so that should grab the attention of the reader in almost a backwards way. You’ll make them wonder where the essay is going, and why you chose to write about that moment. From there, you can use that moment as an avenue to discuss important elements of your identity.
In this sample essay, a student details her experience failing to make a fire from sticks, and how it leads her to reflect on how her former passion (or “fire”) for the outdoors is now reflected in her current interests.
4. Using an everyday experience or object as a metaphor to explore your life and personality
Using an everyday experience as a vehicle to explore your identity is also intriguing in an unexpected way. You’d be surprised at how many everyday routines and objects naturally lend themselves to a unique glance into your life. Some of those things might be: a familiar drive, your running shoes, a recipe from your grandmother, walking to your guitar lesson.
This topic also is a strong choice if you have a descriptive, artful writing style. It allows you to get creative with the transitions from the everyday experience to larger reflections on your life.
Here’s an example of a student who chose to write about showers, all while showcasing their personality and unique aspects of their life.
5. An in the moment narrative that tells the story of a important moment in your life
In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you. Students assume that your chosen moment needs to be extremely dramatic or life-altering, but the truth is that you can use this method to write about all kinds of events, from the everyday to the unexpected to the monumental. It doesn’t matter, as long as that moment was important to your development.
For example, this student wrote about a Model UN conference where they were asked to switch stances last minute. This might not seem like a huge moment, but this experience was meaningful to them because it showed them the importance of adaptability.
We hope this gives you a better idea of what good essay topic looks like, and that you’re feeling inspired to write your own essay—maybe one of these topics can even apply to your own life!
For more guidance on your essays, see these posts:
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