What are some good topics for a college admissions essay?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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?
literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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? 

Wiggin42 | Student

This is quite a nerve wracking task. We're told that its our essays that make us stand out in a pile of applications. More and more, the application essays border on the line of creative writing which is completely different from what high school students are taught for 4 years: argumentative, exposition, persuasive, etc. Admissions officers want to hear your unique voice. Pick a topic that reflects you. My friend wrote about her favorite Marvel superheroes (and she got accepted! The admissions officer even sent a hand written note in the mail about how much she loved the essay). The point here is that if you pick something you love, you will write about it much better than if you picked something because it " sounds good " .

kitscatt | Student

A good topic for a college admissions essay answers the question being posed by the university and tells a narrative important to your life which illustrates your personality or growth. Think of it this way; a college admissions officer may see very little of your personality in your application. Your grades do not illustrate whether or not you have a sense of humor, and your test scores do not show your kind and generous heart. While your activities and electives may give some insight, the picture is always incomplete without the essay. 

If you are having trouble coming up with a topic, consider the following:

  1. What are some of the most interesting things about me?
  2. What would I bring to a college that no one else would have?
  3. Who are significant people in my life beyond the obvious? What have I learned from them?
  4. Has anything different, tragic, traumatic, or unique happened to me? How have I grown from that experience? What lessons have I learned?
  5. What barriers have I overcome in my life?
  6. Have I made any major mistakes? What did those mistakes cost me? How have I grown from my mistakes?
  7. How have my activities influenced my personality? Why are these activities important to me? How have they helped me grow?

Other things you can do to get ideas:

  1. Talk to your friends or your family. Sometimes others know us better than we know ourselves! Is there a story they always tell that perfectly illustrates your personality? 
  2. Read other college admissions essays. Reading what others have chosen to write about may give you an idea.

It it also important to avoid forced or cliche essay topics. Here are some examples:

  •        Sports as a metaphor for life
  •        What I learned from a mission trip/vacation/travel
  •        What I experienced during a great accomplishment
  •        “Forcing” an out-of-the box essay on an uncomfortable topic that isn’t honest 
  •        The “I am ME and I don’t care what YOU think” essay