What are some good topics for a college admissions essay?

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As an English teacher of high school seniors, I have been surprised regarding some of the more contemporary and novel questions which colleges and universities have begun to ask students to answer as part of their college admissions process. Curious about some of the more surprising essay questions, I opted to do some research on some of the nontraditional questions being asked of applying students. Here are some of the more surprising questions (reworded). 

- Prove that a toad possesses the ability to hear. 

- In a narrative, relate the following five events: a UFO sighting, a cosplay event, a novel from the Romantic period, your idea of a utopia, and Elvis. 

- Propose your own original theory to explain one of the following mysteries: love, cottage cheese, the "skin" on water, crop circles, Stonehenge, echos, Red Bull, eating contests, or Pangaea. 

- Why does everyone hate Mondays? 

- If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound? 

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In general, it is often the case that universities and private, liberal arts colleges differ in the topics which they prefer for college admissions essays. For example, liberal arts colleges tend to emphasize topics that afford the student the opportunity to think creatively as well as comparatively, whereas the state universities emphasize topics that will afford the student to demonstrate problem-solving abilities and achievements that will relate to one's future goals.

Here are examples of real admissions essay topics that have been used in two private colleges in one state. (These have been reworded):

  1. Write about a person who was considered a radical or a maverick in his/her society, but this person's creative spirit and accomplishments actually became valuable contributions to the society of his/her time.
  2. If you could be one famous historical figure, who would you like to be, and why?
  3. Explain what is the most meaningful character trait that a person should possess.
  4. What traits set people apart from others as exceptional and worthy?

Here are reworded examples of admissions essay topics used by some universities:

  1. Describe your personal achievements and how you think they will relate to your future goals
  2. Describe a single experience in your life that has contributed to what you are and what you want to be
  3. How does your personal background affect your perspectives of society and the world?
  4. What is the single greatest problem of contemporary society?
  5. Describe your short and long-term goals
  6. Why is it important to you to earn a college degree?

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