How to Choose a College Essay Topic

The right essay topic sets you up to write a unique, memorable college application essay. Learn how to choose the right college essay topic. There are several unique topics you can pick as your essay for your college application. You could write about your grandfather, a pleasure-road trip turning into a nightmare, or even driving a carriage.  

All are of different kinds and cannot be compared. Yet these subjects can be the most memorable college essays that can leave a mark on the mind of admission officers. Selecting a topic for your college application essay can be one of the most difficult tasks, and finding the right topic takes creativity and soul-searching. The difficult t ask is how and where to begin.

Getting Started with College Essays

Your college essay is not like what you wrote in high school. You are free from the five-paragraph format and need not follow textual evidence to support your claims. Here comes the challenge of identifying a topic that best captures you and your personality.

However, writing a college application essay is a tough job. You need to be charming, personal, memorable, and insightful – all in one package. A personal essay is a great topic idea. Be passionate about what you’re writing. If that is something meaningful and serious about yourself and your life, then that passion and meaning will come alive on the page and remain everlasting on the mind of the reader. You can come up with an essay idea by brainstorming an event from your life that reveals a deep truth about you.

Why the Essay Topic is so Important?

Your application tells admissions officers about your numbers and facts, your name, your high school, your grades, and your SAT scores. These statistics alone will not suffice; they need to see a real slice of you as their intention is not to build an army for their college!

They need to get a feel for the personality, character, and feelings that make you the person you are and that you can show through your college essay. This essay is an introduction of yourself to colleges that displays your maturity. This is important because admissions officers want to make sure that you will flourish in the independence of college life and work.

Therefore finding a great college essay topic is so greatly important because it allows you to reveal the maturity level admissions teams are looking for. This is possible only through the ability to have insight into what has made you into you, through the ability to share some vulnerabilities or defining experiences, and through the ability to be a creative thinker and problem solver.  

A great topic is an event from your past that you can narrate, draw conclusions from and explain the effect of. Most importantly, you should be able to describe how it has changed you from the kind of person you were to the better person you are now.

If you can do all that, you are well ahead of the essay game. Your college essay topic is a great one if the topic is important to you and if you are the only person who could have written this essay.

Tips on Choosing the Right College Essay Topic

Keep Your Readers in Mind

Here your reader is your admission officer who is studying hundreds of college essays. Hence neither bore nor offend the person. Rather make your essay likable and memorable. Take your reader through your experience making the event of your life feel alive. Your writing needs to be full of specific details, sensory descriptions, and words that describe emotions, with maybe even dialog.

That is why it is very important that you make your essay topic personal and deeply felt. Deep emotion shows through your writing. And a reader can easily judge when you are actually connected to whatever you are writing or the reverse. 

Brainstorm Ideas

Work a little to come up with the perfect idea by first doing some brainstorming. The idea here is to scan your memory about the important life events that have not only shaped you but affected you deeply. In this way, you will come up with many events that are worth putting down in black and white. From this point, make a list of experiences and thoughts to narrow your choices down to the one topic idea that you will use for your college essay.

Think About Defining Moments in Your Life

  • Your happiest memory. Why was it good and what was good about it? A particular person or what was around you then? How it affected you or mean to you?
  • Your saddest memory – any way you would change the thing that happened or learn from the crucial experience?
  • The most important decision you’ve had to make and what was hard/easy about the choice? The outcome of the decision. Was it to your expectation or a sheer instinct game? Whether things would have been different had you taken a different?
  • The most dangerous or scary thing that you’ve lived through? How did you survive/overcome it? How did you cope emotionally with the fallout?
  • What are you most proud of about yourself? Is it a talent or skill? A personality trait or quality? An accomplishment? Why it makes you proud?

Supper Essay Approach – Essay that can Answer more than one Essay Topic

Watch the following video. Here, Michael Wharton talks about how to pick a topic that can answer more than one essay prompt. He also speaks about the concept of Super-Essay, which ideally would address three essay prompts.

Remember Influential People

  • Here you could discuss your parents or parental/maternal grandparents and whom you resemble most in personality and character; whose traits you see in yourself. Which do you not?
  • You can write about who has had the most influence on your life. If this had a positive influence on you. If you would like to follow in their footsteps in some way?
  • You may speak of a negative influence or about the world they come from and how different is it from your world.  Challenges from your teacher and your response.
  • Something that someone once said to you that has stuck with you? When and where did they say it? Why do you think it’s lodged in your memory?
  • A friend you would trade places with for a day and the reason.
  • Of the people you know personally, whose life is harder than yours, and the reason behind this. Whether you would help them if you could. The people you know personally, whose life is easier than yours, and if you are jealous of them. Why or why not?

Factors to Consider While Choosing the College Essay Topic

  • Your topic is focused on you, not on someone else.
  • The topic shares something different from the rest of my application.
  • The essay topic is specific and original (not many students could write a similar essay).
  • Your topic reflects positively on my character and behavior.
  • If you chose to write about a traumatic or challenging experience, the essay will focus on how you overcame it or gained insight.
  • If you chose a common topic, the essay will have a surprising story arc, interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style.


Your college essay topic gives admissions officers the scope to get to know the real you, apart from your grades and scores. To come up with great topics, you need wholeheartedly dive into a brainstorming exercise. The more ideas about your life that pour out of your memory and onto the page, the better chance you have of finding the perfect college essay topic.

Write down as many things that come to your head even if you end up going off-topic. Make a list of possible topics.

After the list is made, sit back for a day or two or even more. Later pick the ones that seem most promising. Then write the ones that form into a narrative that reveals the most interesting thing about you as a person.

At each stage of your writing process; take others’ opinions or ask for your parents or teachers to go through the entire essay, not to write for you but for guidance, in case you are running into trouble.

Featured Image Source: SignUpGenius

References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

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