College Essay Topic – How to choose a topic

09.04.23 How to write a college essay Time to read: 8min

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Securing a coveted spot at a reputable college often hinges on the quality of your college application essay. A compelling and memorable college essay begins with selecting the right topic that resonates with both you and your target schools. In this article, we delve into the nuances of choosing an impactful college essay topic, offering guidance on how to identify themes that are both personal and meaningful, while also appealing to admissions officers.

College Essay Topic – In a Nutshell

  • A good college essay topic is the key to writing a memorable application essay that will help you stand out from your competition.
  • A good college essay topic should be personal and focused on your experience and share what is unique about you.
  • Your college essay topic should be original.

Definition: College essay topic

A college essay is a piece of writing that’s usually part of a college application. Writing a good essay starts with choosing an ideal college essay topic.

A good college essay topic makes your work easier and allows you to write an exceptional piece. Additionally, it provides you with an opportunity to create a unique and memorable piece.

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College essay topic: share your story

College admissions boards need more than regular statistics like your name, grades, and SAT scores to vet students. For this reason, they require students to write college application essays. These essays give them insight into who you really are.

Choosing a strong college essay topic will impact the rest of your essay by making it easy to compose a unique piece. A strong college essay topic should share your story and personal experience.

A great technique for brainstorming your college essay topic is coming up with reflection questions and answering them. It helps you identify a strong college essay topic. You can forge reflection topics based on different topic categories.

Background identity

A good college essay topic should focus on a subject that you feel strongly about, like your background identity.

When brainstorming a college essay topic that focuses on your background and identity, you can ask the following reflective questions:

  • What makes you unique from other applicants?
  • What are some things that represent your character, associations, passions, and identity?
  • What foods are important for you?
  • What objects define you?
  • What makes you stand out from your mates?
  • What foods are important to you?

Challenges you have experienced

A strong college essay topic should also focus on challenges you have experienced and how they shaped you positively. Here are some reflective questions you can answer when brainstorming topics that reflect your beliefs and values:

  • What is the greatest challenge you have experienced and what lesson did you take from it?
  • Is there an experience that made you think less or more about yourself or others?
  • What experiences have shaped your identity?
  • What experiences have changed you or made you grow?

Beliefs and values

Your college essay topic should give you a chance to focus on your beliefs and values. The following reflective questions will come in handy here:

  • What are your core values?
  • What stories demonstrate your values?
  • Are there instances that have changed your beliefs and why?
  • Have you encountered somaeone with differing beliefs?

Motivators and role models

Your motivators and role models say a lot about you. So, a college essay topic should allow you to cover this subject. You can answer the following question:

  • Who do you admire the most?
  • What people have significantly impacted your life?
  • What people challenged you to grow?
  • What public or historical figures do you look up to and why?

Goals and accomplishments

The admission team would appreciate knowing more about your aspirations and accomplishments. cheque out the following questions when brainstorming a college essay topic in this category:

  • What achievements are you most proud of?
  • When have you encountered and solved a difficult problem?
  • What is the best thing that has happened to you and why?
  • When have you demonstrated leadership in your society or community?

Academic and personal interests

Your academic and personal interests are also a key subject to discuss in your college essay. Here are some questions you may ask when brainstorming a college essay topic in this area:

  • What topics mean the most to you?
  • What books do you read?
  • What would you take to a deserted island if you had to?
  • What would be the soundtrack or movie to your life and why?

Character, behaviour, and qualities

A strong college essay topic should allow you to discuss your character and behaviour in a positive light. Ask the following questions as you brainstorm a good topic:

  • What adjectives would people close to you use to describe you?
  • What is your life’s motto?
  • What objects cause people to think about you?
  • What do you want people to know about you?
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Guidelines for a good college essay topic

Choosing a college essay topic is harder than most students assume. If you are struggling to pick a strong topic, you can try and focus on your qualities. Start by identifying your unique and positive qualities then think of stories that reflect these qualities.


If your qualities are loyalty and empathy, you can write about a time when you helped somaeone or took care of somaeone.

Another strategy for choosing a college essay topic is starting with a story. This is where you recall a memorable topic that you would like to write about. Next, think of the qualities and values that the specific story demonstrates.


If the story is about completing a marathon, you can write on qualities like growth, strength, and resilience.

Furthermore, you can seek advice from your friends, instructors, family, or fellow students. They may help you with topic brainstorming and give you feedback on your potential choices. Guidance counsellor s, teachers, and mentors may also come in handy.


A good college essay topic should have the following values:

  • It should focus on your experiences and be personal
  • It should share a unique element from the rest of your application
  • It should be original and unique from what many students write about
  • It should showcase positive stories and qualities


On the other hand, you should avoid topics with the following qualities:

  • Cliché topics
  • Topics that do not reflect positively on your character
  • Topics focused on traumatic experiences or challenges without positive lessons or outlooks


Choosing a common college essay topic

Most students tend to steer clear of common college essay topics. Cliché topics are hard for many students to write about because they are hard to spin and make original. However, through creativity, you can make them work.

An example of a common topic is extracurricular activities. This topic is difficult because your college application essay already lists your extracurricular activity. However, you can make it work by describing vivid details, reflecting on powerful and life-changing moments while partaking in the activity. You can also reflect on how an experience partaking in the activity influenced your goals.

An essay about your role model is also a cliché and hard to write because it is not about you. However, you can make it work by giving a brief overview of your role model and how they have influenced you. Ensure that your essay focuses mostly on you, your goals, and outlooks.

Essays about traumatic life experiences are also clichés. They are often negative and may seem like you are trying to win sympathy from the college admissions board. However, you can make it unique by not dwelling a lot on the negatives. Instead, focus on how you overcame the experience, the positive changes it triggered, and important lessons you learned.

Essays on becoming a better person after a travelling experience, community service, and the likes are also very common. They are often cliché and hard to make original. You can turn them around by focusing on a particular event that impacted you, reflecting you’re your behaviour, and avoiding cliché angles and insights. Creativity will often come in handy.

Note: You should make your college essay topic stand out. You can do the following to craft a strong essay from a common college essay topic:

  • Applying a unique and advanced writing style
  • Writing surprising or unique story angles
  • Making interesting connections or insights

While uniqueness and originality are usually advised, in some instances choosing a common college essay topic may come in handy. For instance, if you do not have enough time to brainstorm or cannot find a unique topic. You can choose a common topic but write it uniquely.


A strong college essay topic should be personal and should discuss something different from the rest of your application.

A strong college essay topic makes your writing easier. It also helps you create a memorable essay that will help you stand out from your competition.

Yes, admissions boards do not mandate unique and original topics. However, your essay must stand out from others by having a unique angle or an advanced writing style.

You can choose a strong college essay topic by spending time brainstorming. Answering reflective questions based on different categories like your background, role models, character, values, challenges, and experiences.