How to Find College App Essay Inspiration

Magnifying glass on paper is one way to find inspiration for common app prompts

Flickr user Theilr

Are you struggling to find a topic for your college application essay? It isn’t always easy to settle on one idea, especially if the school didn’t give you a common app prompt. These three tips will help you find inspiration for your essay.


One of the best things you can do for your college application essay is to brainstorm. The college may have given you a vague topic or question to write about. Think about everything you can that pertains to you under this umbrella.

You’ll want to think about big moments in your life, decisions you made, sad or happy memories, people who have influenced you, important places, or a thought provoking question about yourself or the world. Consider opinion pieces. Make a list of all the topics that come to mind. You might find one speaks to you.

Ask Your Family, Friends, and Teachers For Ideas

Sometimes the people closest to you might know a defining characteristic about yourself that you didn’t think about previously. Consider talking to your family and friends, but also teachers, guidance counselors, or other influential adults in your life that you’re close to. Ask them what your college essay should be about or if they have any suggestions, and listen to what they have to say.

You don’t have to go with what they suggested, but add it to your brainstorm list. They might have insight into your history or personality that didn’t come to mind before.

Look Up Common App Prompts

Even if your college didn’t provide a prompt, or provided many, it can help to gather inspiration by looking up other common app prompts. Keep in mind that you’ll want your essay to stand out, so it’s important to avoid cliches. All the same, reading prompts and maybe a few sample essays can light the spark of inspiration!

Start Writing

Sometimes, if you can’t settle on or think of a specific topic for your college essay, the best thing to do is start writing. Start writing about your youth, experiences, vacations, volunteer work, or anything you can think of. Write down stories about your life in general. Or write down your opinions on subjects that matter to you or the world. This is also just a great way to brainstorm.

During this writing, you might actually find the essay writes itself or the perfect topic or subject presents itself in a way you didn’t think of previously. Or it may lead you down a path you hadn’t thought of before. Either way, just writing down your thoughts may inspire the perfect college essay. Sometimes getting started is the hardest part.

Coming up with a topic for a college essay isn’t always straightforward. However, when you do settle on a subject, do make sure you’re still within the requests of the application. You don’t want your piece to be too long or too short, and you still want to make it relevant to the reader. Your school may also ask a question that your essay should have something to do with. Another thing to keep in mind is to stay away from topics that are overdone or don’t pertain to the reader. These tend to be volunteer stories, sports, subjects that are extremely personal, or stories where you sound like you’re bragging.

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