College Admission Essay Brainstorm!

Greetings, college hopefuls. So far, we’ve given you advice on many of the things that we think you need to know in order to survive and thrive during the next four years. For example, what to include on your college applications, we’ve talked about how to deal with the transition and changes, we’ve broken down an award letter and even shared what we wish we knew before college. So it’s only right that we help with another important part of the process, your college essay. For some of us, this is the most intimidating part. What do you write about? How long should it be? Or simply, HELP! In truth, it’s really not as bad as it seems. Take a breath, everything will be ok. We’ll help you brainstorm.

You don’t have to be a fantastic writer to produce a good essay–that is one of the most common worries and misconceptions. The trick is choosing a good topic. How? We’re so glad you asked; we have some suggestions.

Before we begin, it’s important to note here that, the whole point of a college essay is for the admissions person or team at a college/university is to get to know you. Therefore, before you even put pen to paper, think about this: what is something that you would like them to know about you? Don’t focus so much on standing out or trying to present yourself as what you think is right. Just be yourself. As you brainstorm ideas, here are three more important things to keep you on track.

Student standing in front of a wall with papers covering it.

Remember to tell a story while you brainstorm.

When writing, don’t just answer the prompt question for question. Engage the reader as much as possible. In order to do that, answer this question: out of all the options, what story would you most like to read and why? Then use that answer to write that story. Putting yourself in the reader’s shoes is a great way to be mindful of how to keep them interested. If you don’t like or feel your story, chances are that they won’t either.

Paint a picture for the reader.

Some of the best stories paint pictures. Since you haven’t met the admissions officer in person (although you should interview with college admissions if possible), it makes sense that this would be important. Pictures help them get an even clearer idea of what message you’re trying to convey and who you are. Let your personality and true character shine through. Make the reader feel like they know you, like they’re with you in the moments you’re describing. Use your writing to take them on a journey, without exaggerating or lying of course.

Keep it simple.

One of the most basic yet effective rules of life. The goal here is not to sound like you already graduated college. They know that you haven’t, In telling your story, keep it simple. Use appropriate vocabulary and don’t be all over the place. Don’t complicate things. Most importantly, stay on topic, avoid rambling whenever possible. The people reading your essay do not have time to search through your essay trying to find your point. Make your message clear from the beginning and check to see if it flows. A good story no matter the length, always has a flow, a rhythm, Creating an outline before you begin writing also helps with this. You can also use it as a point of reference when editing later on.

Here is our list of college essay topics. Some of these have been very popular within the last year via  the Common College Application

  1. Describe a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What was it that prompted you to act? Would you make the decision again?
  1. Describe a problem you’ve solved or would like to solve. It can be an intellectual problem, a research-related problem, an ethical dilemma, anything that is of personal importance no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful to them, they think their application is incomplete without it. If this description fits, please share your story
  1. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that had an impact on your transition from childhood to adulthood. This can include within your culture, family or community.
  1. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recall an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?
  1. What difference do you want to make in the world? Where do you want to go in life?
  1. Describe a person you admire. Why?
  1. Why have you chosen to spend the next four years of your life in college?
  1. If you were given the opportunity to change one moment in your life would you do so? If yes, what would that moment be and why?
  1. What movie, poem, musical composition (song) or novel has most influenced your life and the way you view the world? Why?

In addition to these topics, there are also essay questions that are specific to some colleges/universities. Be mindful of that when filling out your applications. Sometimes, there’s an optional essay prompt that’s included as well. Do it only if you feel it’s necessary.

If you want to know just how popular these topics are, here are how the numbers breakdown. According to statistics, 47% of recent college applicants chose to write about their background, identity, interest or talent. This is the clear front-runner. 22% of applicants chose to write about an accomplishment; 17% choose something related to a failure. 10% wrote about a problem and less than 5% about challenging a belief or idea. This might give help give you a clearer idea of what direction you want to head in when it comes to your essay.

No matter what topic you choose, write from the heart. Create a connection. Tell your story your way and you won’t go wrong. After all, who knows you better than you? Always keep that in mind. Good luck and happy writing.

2 thoughts on “College Admission Essay Brainstorm!”

  1. Winnie says:

    So how do you distinguish yourself from the sea of other applicants in your personal statement? It all starts with the right topic that simultaneously shows your ability to write well while painting a picture of who you are in a simple and authentic fashion. No doubt this is easier said than done. Before you begin brainstorming, make sure you know which college essay topics to avoid and why.

    1. Allison Wignall says:

      Great advice, Winnie! We explore what to include and what to avoid in a college application in this post here! We also have some articles all about how to stand out in the “sea of other applicants” as you say, and how not to stand out. Hope you find these links helpful!

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