What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

7 Questions to Help You Start Writing Your College Essays

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Pascale Bradley in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.



Writing your college essays can seem like a daunting task, especially given how important essays can be in college admissions decisions. This is why the hardest part of the process is often just the act of getting started. In this article, we discuss a variety of brainstorming exercises that you might find useful when working on your college admission essays. 


You should experiment with various types of brainstorming exercises and determine which ones work best for you. These include free writing, creating lists, making outlines, and having brainstorming conversations with someone you trust, like a CollegeVine expert. To help you get started with brainstorming, however, check out these prompts and questions.


1. What is the most recent news story you read and found interesting?


This is a great question to reflect on because it can help you identify social or political issues and causes that you care about deeply. This does not mean you have to talk about politics or social justice issues in your essays, but starting your brainstorming process by thinking about the issues that resonate with you can help you reflect on your values, which are what you want to highlight in your essays. Writing about social or political issues can actually be quite difficult due to the human factor in college admissions, but writing about yourself and your values will always interest admissions officers. 


2. What are you most proud of having accomplished, and why?


When brainstorming using this question, it can help to try to keep an open mind when considering your accomplishments. You want to focus specifically on what you are most proud of—not your friends, your parents, or your teachers. How you respond to this question could demonstrate to college admissions officers what you consider most important about yourself and what you want others to know about you. 


3. What are you looking for in your college experience?


Reflecting on this question is extremely important throughout the entire college process, but this is especially true when writing your supplemental essays. One of the main purposes of your college-specific essays is to emphasize your fit with a school, and understanding your goals for going to college can help you better articulate the ways in which a particular college will suit you. It is also crucial for college admissions officers to understand your motivations for going to college and whether attending college is a deliberate decision that you are making, given your goals and aspirations.


4. Describe a time when you were anxious or nervous. Why did you feel this way and how did you navigate the situation?


It can be valuable to reflect on this topic to help unlock a sense of vulnerability in your essays. Admissions officers rarely get to see the real you within your college applications, and gaining an understanding of how you overcome challenges can help you stand out as a candidate. Your essays should demonstrate that you have the ability to handle difficult emotions and situations, so admissions officers understand how you would react to and cope with the pressures of being in a rigorous academic environment.


5. What is a topic or question that you recently googled for your own edification? 


Brainstorming for this prompt reveals the topics and questions that you are naturally fascinated by. It is essential to have a good understanding of your interests as you are forming your college applications, but it is particularly valuable when you are writing any version of the “why this major” essay. Admissions officers generally want to know that you are self-driven and intellectually curious, and your essays are the best opportunity you have to convey your interests outside of the classroom.


6. What have you learned from the community in which you grew up? What do you value about it?


Our communities often significantly impact the people we become and our values. It is important to convey these things through your essays, and reflecting on these questions can provide you with examples and anecdotes that you can pull from when discussing your background. In all of your essays, you want to help admissions officers better understand the type of person you would be within their college community.


7. What have you most recently changed your mind about? When, how, and why did this happen?


Admissions officers are interested in learning about your own personal growth and intellectual development. Colleges and universities want students who will continue to push themselves and grow in a new environment. By reflecting on this question, you can better express how open you are to different ideas and the circumstances under which you are willing to change your mind.


For more information about how to write strong college admission essays, review our comprehensive article, “How to Write the Common Application Essays,” and read “19 Stellar Common App Essay Examples” to get inspired.