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35 College Essay Prompts and Topics
The college application process can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming. A great way to stand out from the crowd and boost an application for a “reach” school is with a strong essay. We’ve put together a list of common prompts and advice for how to answer them.
- Describe a facet of your identity, background or story that is essential to who you are.
For this essay, try finding a part of your identity that will set you apart and highlight the unique perspective you will bring to the university. Try to avoid writing an essay that a school will most likely get a million different times — for example, an essay about your talent playing a sport or your early love of learning. Think about an aspect of your personality, family or upbringing that is truly special.
- Write about a time that you failed at something. How did that failure affect you?
Don’t be afraid to dig deep and talk about something that may feel vulnerable. Try to conclude with an example of how the failure improved the way you deal with similar situations now. It can be uncomfortable for anyone to admit they’re less-than-great at something, but that honesty can be refreshing, especially if you tell your story in an authentic, relatable way.
- Tell us about a time where you challenged your pre-existing worldview. Why? Would you do this again?
In this essay, choose a time that you were able to listen to experiences and perspectives contrary to yours with respect and maturity. Demonstrate that you are able to zoom out from your personal worldview and learn from those you may disagree with. This can not only give colleges an idea of your ability to engage in difficult ideological debates, but also your character and humility.
- Write about a problem that you have or want to solve. It can be as big or as small as you can think of!
For this question, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. It is easy to say a typical world issue — like hunger — but a creative problem can showcase your specific passions and interests and set you apart. An admissions officer is much more likely to remember an applicant who has a very specific essay written in a unique and quirky way.
- Write about a moment that illustrated your shift from child to adult within your community or family.
If you can’t immediately think of a pivotal event for this essay, you may want to skip it and try a different one. Essays like this are best answered with significant and unique moments rather than less important ones.
- Describe a favorite book or movie where the main character has to decide something difficult. What did you think about their choice?
The defining factor for this essay is what book or movie you choose. Stay away from pop culture novels that many people may use (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.) and try to pick a book you have read in school or something unique you read for fun that stayed with you. However, don’t use a book you didn’t enjoy! Inauthenticity will always come through in your writing.
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- Write your top 10 list.
With this prompt, get creative. Don’t simply put 10 things you enjoy — get specific! Pick something you love and give your top 10 — maybe top 10 memories of your life, top 10 favorite books, top 10 quotes, etc. Make sure you give clear explanations of the items on your list as well. The more specific your list is, the better.
- Tell us a topic that you have changed your mind on in the past three years.
For this essay, don’t hesitate to get silly or serious — but make sure you go all the way whichever side you choose! Pick an issue that doesn’t come immediately to mind. Try to pinpoint a specific “a-ha” moment your opinion changed, and make sure to give an example of how your changed perspective has influenced your behavior.
- Write about your life goals.
To answer this prompt, go beyond the generic career and family goals. Try to answer things with a personal spin — maybe talk about goals you have for yourself as a person (e.g., to be more kind) or something unique you want to check off your bucket list!
- Pick a quote that describes a lot about you, and explain why you connect with it.
For this essay, choose a quotation that the admissions officers won’t see over and over. Stay away from individuals who are constantly quoted — like Dr. Seuss — and make 100 percent certain your quote is correctly attributed! Genius Tip: Check out these 25 inspiring volunteer quotes.
- Write about your most embarrassing moment and how you learned from it.
This is a great opportunity to get creative and share a funny experience! Try transitioning the experience into a more serious explanation of how it changed you — for example, maybe it encouraged you to be more considerate toward others’ feelings.
- Tell us about a time where you had to either take a risk or stay safe. What did you do? What happened? Would you do it again?
For this situation, if you made a poor decision, focus on the way you would change it. On the other hand, if you made a good decision, focus on what influenced you to make that decision and how it has changed you. You might think you have to pick an example where you took a risk, but your essay could be more memorable if you choose a candid example of when you chose to play it safe.
- Describe something you’re passionate about. How do you learn more about it? What makes it so appealing?
This is the perfect essay to set yourself apart from other applicants. Talk about that thing you love, that obscure topic you’re an expert about — anything, as long as your passion shines through in your writing!
- Pick your own topic for this essay.
This is a great instance to use an essay you’ve already written for another college. (Make sure to include modifications as needed.) This way, you can limit the number of essays you write and focus on quality of writing over quantity of essays.
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- Tell us the best advice you’ve ever gotten, who told you it and whether or not you followed the advice.
Don’t write a generic essay — find an example of advice that was specific and personal to you. Explain why it was so important, and connect it to a specific example in which you did or did not follow it.
- Write about the role that a certain activity (sports, theater, band, etc.) has had on your life.
This prompt gives you the opportunity to talk about your passions and show off your extracurricular activities. Make sure to connect the importance of the activity to a certain experience or story to give the essay direction.
- If you could meet with any person, living or dead, for an hour, who would it be and what would you say to them?
For this prompt, stay away from figures that are likely to be written about by hundreds of potential students (presidents, Mother Teresa, etc.), and pick a figure you are actually passionate about and interested in, rather than what you think sounds most academic. If you want to go personal and choose a family member, make sure you have a memorable and unique reason.
- If you were to give a very important speech or a TED talk, what would it be about?
When writing this essay, pick a topic of interest. Additionally, make sure whatever you write about has a clear, one sentence takeaway that you can stress throughout the essay to give it direction. To prep, watch a few TED talks online to help give your essay voice.
- If you were to teach a class, what would your class be on?
This essay topic is a great opportunity for humor. Choose a unique topic that others might not think of, and whatever you choose, make sure you know a lot about it!
- Tell us a “Eureka” moment that you had and what sparked it.
For this essay, make sure you think of a turning point that’s also an interesting story. This can be an opportunity to talk about an experience from one of your jobs or extracurricular activities. Tie it in to what you learned and how you’ve taken that lesson and incorporated it into your life.
- Write an essay about a time that you had to be brave or stand up for what you believed in.
This can be a great opportunity to talk about what’s important to you and what beliefs you hold most central to who you are. Center the essay around one experience or time in your life. Don’t play this one down the middle — take a stance and defend it.
- What makes you angry? What are you doing or what have you done about it?
Take this essay as big or as small as you want, but commit to it! Whether you write a funny essay about pet peeves or write one about large social problems, go all the way.
- If you could change one day of your life, what would you change? Why?
If you can’t immediately think of a significant day, you probably don’t have a lot of material for this essay. Save this essay for an unusual experience!
- Talk about a personal accomplishment that is unrelated to academics, but that means a lot to you.
For this essay, focus on a unique accomplishment that illustrates the diversity that you can bring to your university and really tells a lot about who you are. It can be a big or small accomplishment as long as it means a lot to you.
- If you could time travel to any time and place, where would you go?
When writing this essay, either pick a historical, personally significant or futuristic moment, but make sure you are passionate about whichever moment you choose. Begin with explaining the moment’s significance and your desire to experience it, then describe your personal connection to it.
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- If you could give any advice to an incoming high school student, what would it be?
In this essay, try to stay positive. Give advice about helpful things the student could do to benefit their high school career, rather than pointing out and seemingly complaining about the negative parts of high school (unless you are really funny) and then giving advice about how to deal with it. Be honest about your high school experiences while also displaying the perspective you have gained.
- If you could stop one invention from being invented, what would it be?
Try to be unique for this prompt. Make sure to outline not only your reasons for choosing the invention, but also the impact that the invention not being created would have on the world.
- Why do you want to attend this college/university?
For this essay: BE SPECIFIC! Colleges can tell when your essay is just a form essay. Make sure your essay mentions specific and unique aspects of the college/university you’re applying to so it’s clear that your essay is not just generic. There’s so much information out there on the Internet that there’s really no excuse for a poorly researched response.
- Pick a law and explain why it is so important to you.
There are many ways to interpret this kind of prompt. Whether you talk about a political law, religious law, physical law or something else, make sure to connect it your personal experiences. The more unique you are, the more likely an admissions officer will remember your essay.
- What do you want people to know about you but are afraid to tell them?
In this essay, don’t be afraid to get vulnerable and be specific. Whether you pick a trait or simply a specific memory, connect it to what it means to you personally and why you don’t generally tell people about it.
- If you could add an amendment to the Constitution, what would you add?
Silly or serious, this essay can be fun. Just make sure the amendment is NOT already part of the Constitution, and be sure to outline the impact your new amendment would have. Go a step further by explaining your strategy for getting the amendment passed.
- Talk about a person in your life who has helped you understand yourself better.
For this essay, give a few examples of how this person has impacted you. Then, conclude the essay with how you have understood yourself better because of these experiences.
- What book would you recommend to everyone?
Stay away from books that are likely to appear many times. This might go without saying, but make sure it’s a book you’ve already read! Rather than just summarizing the book, explain why you’re recommending it.
- Who is someone you have spoken up for because he/she cannot speak for him/herself?
If you don’t have a good example for this essay, don’t massage a story to make it fit. You’ll risk sounding privileged. This essay can be good, but it needs to be about a significant moment where you spoke up for someone who couldn’t speak for him/herself.
- What is one thing you want to accomplish in college?
In this essay, focus on the interests/activities that you’re passionate about. Make sure to focus your essay around one or two focused and achievable goals. This is also a great opportunity to mention specifics about the college you’re applying to.
With these prompts and ideas, you’ll be off to a great start on your college applications. One last piece of advice: Give yourself plenty of time to outline ideas and review — don’t wait until the last minute!
Kayla Rutledge is a college student who spends most of her time writing, singing for her church and eating quesadillas.
Posted by Kayla Rutledge
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I like DDLC and Monika is my Waifu 4 weeks ago
I like this
aidan 8 weeks ago
can you add topics about pitching
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Ryan--I'll add some! Good idea! My students are mostly between 18-22, but many students writing argument essays are older.
Ryan 4 months ago
I love your articles, they are really helpful to me.
Virginia, Could you help me think of an argumentative topic about retirement age? I do not know how to write about it!
bill 4 months ago
wow thanks virginia, this really helped me out!!!!
Virginia Kearney 4 months agofrom United States
Hi Stephen-I have several articles that tell you all of the steps you need to know for writing your argument paper. Just look at my profile or look at the articles linked to the side.
Stephen 4 months ago
Ammmm can u tell me how or what to do after I chose a topic like getting info.
I LOVE RESEARCH 4 months ago
wow, quite impressive. keep up the good work!! :)))))))))))
marisol 4 months ago
this really helped me
aziza 4 months ago
I would like to thank you so so much for these great topics.
Shaleeta 6 months ago
This is a great resource. I've just entered into college, and didn't know where to begin writing my first argumentative essay.
Thanks so much - voted up :)
Kennedy 6 months ago
Do you know or have you written of anything to do with the argumentative essay of "should smoking be banned" because I have to do essays with research and I need some reliable sites
Virginia Kearney 6 months agofrom United States
Hi Aashi! I'm glad that younger students are finding my work too. Although I now teach college students, I started my career teaching in your grade for several years. I will have to put together some topics for primary grade students. Until then, you might want to look at my High School Topics, which have many ideas which are good for your age too.
Aashi 6 months ago
I am in primary school in grade 6 and I want some good topics for primary students
Badass 8 months ago
Good job making this page
Thea 8 months ago
I don't know what to do at first. I was clueless and was browsing for answers but none of them made sense except for this. Thank you very much!
love 9 months ago
I think the ideas are wonderful and are very helpful!
Beth 9 months ago
I am a Junior in high school and I have to write an argumentative paper. Your insight on how to do so has been extremely helpful. I wanted to thank you for your intelligence on how to write an argumentative paper.
Ocean 11 months ago
Thanks! This website was very useful for picking out a topic for my essay. Again, thank you for helping me out!
King of Stuff 13 months ago
I find this website very interesting and helpful. Thank you for making it! Your tips on writing essays is really helping me out.
Mr. fluffypants 13 months ago
I love this article. You have helped me with my school essay. Thank you!
letter pile 13 months ago
I LOVE this website!!!! Thank you so much for writing it! It has helped me so much!
Virginia Kearney 14 months agofrom United States
Hi Nataly! You are welcome to shift the focus of the questions to whether governments should take action. My questions and topic ideas are just a starting point. I teach my students that there are a variety of ways to solve problems and one of those is by having governments or larger groups take action. However, I want my students to focus more on how they and their audience can personally take responsibility and action, so often my questions are more locally written. In my class, I focus on having my students address a very particular audience in their persuasive essays because effective arguments come from really thinking carefully about the viewpoint of the other person and developing points that would persuade that person. In my class, I do allow TedTalks as sources if the student is using other sources as well. However, I don't think all professors do accept that type of source. Most people who do TedTalks have written out their arguments in papers or books, so I'd suggest you research to see if there is an online paper you can cite as well.
Nataly 14 months ago
I find your lists great and really appreciate the idea of providing useful links. Still, I would rather shift the focus of some questions so that they ask students to think more globally, from the point of view of the state and the society. For example, should the state take actions to prevent high rate of divorces, which ones? Are people in developed states responsible for providing water and food to the starving people around the globe?, etc. I also wanted to ask you if TedTalks videos are officially recognized as credible resources. Have you ever heard of any cases when professors forbid to use it? Thank you for a good work!
Hulya Gulyurt 15 months ago
This helped me so much with my homework, thank you!
Abdul 15 months ago
Great Efforts ...Well done
kk 15 months ago
i am a kid
vashan 17 months ago
should guns be allowed on school campus
Virginia Kearney 19 months agofrom United States
This is an interesting topic idea bojoi--and definitely one that would be controversial. I'd love to hear how you would develop your thesis.
preetyradd 20 months ago
i think this is cool i got a good grade on my essay thanks
Kanwal asif 20 months ago
Thank u so much God bless u
Virginia Kearney 23 months agofrom United States
Glad this will help you three keys!
Threekeys 23 months agofrom Australia
Im about to try out your suggestions in this great article. Im excited to see what the outcome will be in how I take a more pointed or comprehensive approach in a "written debate" so to speak. Thanks so much!
djazira k 2 years ago
Thank you it is really helpful.
kamila 2 years ago
Thank you so much for the topics
Trisha Roberts 3 years agofrom Rensselaer, New York
Love the great ideas! Absolutely love the list you shared with us. Thank you so much for this Article!
Kalai 3 years agofrom Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Sometimes i find that the most easy or obvious topic the hardest to argue about. The less the words the greater the headache. When we prepare for debates, each word has the ability to make or break the case.
Rae Saylor 4 years agofrom Australia
What an interesting range of ideas and tips! Massive thanks for writing this, pal! Voted up :)
Eiddwen 4 years agofrom Wales
A great hub Victoria ;thanks for sharing and I vote up.
Dianna Mendez 4 years ago
This is very useful to those who must teach essay writing (and to those who must write them). I know I will be using this next time I teach English Comp. Voted up++
ExpectGreatThings 4 years agofrom Illinois
Wow! This is a very impressive list and great instructions. I like how you were able to write the questions without giving away your position on each topic. - Ginger
Eric Dierker 4 years agofrom Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.
Very interesting. Fun ideas and great food for thought.