Use this essay topic calculator to evaluate which college application essay topics will be the most impressive and compelling. Your idea might be strong in one or more of these categories:
- Recent situation with longevity
- Relationship to others
- How challenging?
- Related to interests in college?
- Amount of initiative?
- Amount of detail
- Word pictures
- Put it all together and what do you have?
OK–let’s talk about each of these items a bit more. Examples are in green.
- Recent situation with longevity—The situation you write about should have happened within the last two years, to show your mature reactions. This is because colleges want to know who you are now, not details about you as a five year old. But the best subjects to write about are interests you’ve had the longest, because that shows the strength of your passion and your commitment, dedication. Have you loved soccer or science since elementary school? Did the situation you discuss happen once or 10 times, over one week, one year, five years? How long have you had the job? Been obsessed with solving a Rubric’s cube? The longer the better.
- Relationship to others—Who else is in your story? People you work with on teams or in school? Any family members? Anyone you have learned from or taught? How you learn or teach others is always interesting. When it comes to leadership, being a team captain for example is wonderful, but just being the captain of something isn’t enough to impress college admission officers. What they are more interested in is how the student became the leader in their sport, and what that position requires them to do, and what doing the job means to them. For example, does it give you an opportunity to nurture younger students like your captains did, and how exactly do you do that?
- How challenging? Does your story involve any special skills that were a challenge to learn? Can you speak another language, debate like a lawyer, ride a horse, write a phone app, bake a fabulous pie or manage a cash register in a store? For example, getting on a plane is not very difficult, so trips are not often impressive essay topics. But a trip could be more challenging and might be essay-worthy if it is a work holiday trip that you have taken more than once, is related to your interest in college, or you initiated the trip, organized the trip, raised money for it, or came back from it a changed person.
- Related to interests in college? Does you story involve any subjects you are interested in studying in college?
- Amount of initiative? Sometimes I call this “getting off the sofa.” You might see it as “going above and beyond.” For example, Do you have a great job? I’m all ears. Did you get the job all on your own without any parental assistance? That shows initiative!
- Uniqueness—How unusual is this story? Have you done something in a different way or done something most people don’t do? For example, your story may be about helping a depressed friend by listening to her. That is admirable, but not necessarily a strong essay topic, because most people try to do that. A more unique topic would be about a bigger effort involving more people or more time, such as starting a fundraiser to help depression.
- Amount of detail—Can you remember the moment that you had the idea to be a lawyer? Can you remember what your grandmother said to you one day that spurred you to learn to play the fiddle? Details can be in the form of sensory information—what you saw, heard, smelled, felt, tasted—or, in the form of what you thought and felt. (Consult a book called the Emotion Thesaurus for help with describing the latter.)
- Word pictures—What parts to your story can the reader envision? Our brains are wired to remember images expressed in words. Is there a sick horse your took to the vet, a team of gymnasts that you started, an Indian dance that you learned in the heat of Calcutta?
- Results—How did the situation you describe in your essay end? Can you describe or quantify the result? Did you learn or change, and in what way does that show? Can you now speak before a group without breaking out in a sweat? Did you read 10 books, help a friend go from getting a C to an A in geometry, raise $100 or $1000, get the show part that you tried out for, start a club that now has 20 members, receive a poignant thank you note?
- Fun — Would this topic be fun for you to write about? Our passions make us happy! I watch for smiles on student’s faces when describing a situation. I like to say, “If you don’t want to write about it, people won’t want to read it.”
- Put it all together and what do you have? What will someone learn about you from reading your essay?
What is your essay topic? Take your time. These topics don’t come easily. But I know you will find one that shows what you care about, and what have you done about it.
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