College Writing Prompts Essays

Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing.”


Every school day since 2009 we’ve asked students a question based on an article in The New York Times. Now, five years later, we’ve collected 500 of them that invite narrative and personal writing and pulled them all together in one place (available here as a PDF).

The categorized list below touches on everything from sports to travel, education, gender roles, video games, fashion, family, pop culture, social media and more, and, like all our Student Opinion questions, each links to a related Times article and includes a series of follow-up questions. What’s more, all these questions are still open for comment by any student 13 or older.

So dive into this admittedly overwhelming list and pick the questions that most inspire you to tell an interesting story, describe a memorable event, observe the details in your world, imagine a possibility, or reflect on who you are and what you believe.


Childhood Memories

  1. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession?
  2. What Were Your Favorite Childhood Shows and Characters?
  3. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little?
  4. What Things Did You Create When You Were a Child?
  5. What Places Do You Remember Fondly From Childhood?
  6. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like?
  7. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past?
  8. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child but Never Got?
  9. What Objects Tell the Story of Your Life?
  10. What Are Your Best Sleepover Memories?
  11. What’s the Best Gift You’ve Ever Given or Received?
  12. What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail?
  13. What Nicknames Have You Ever Gotten or Given?

  14. Coming of Age

  15. What Have You Learned in Your Teens?
  16. What Personal Achievements Make You Proud?
  17. What Are Some Recent Moments of Happiness in Your Life?
  18. What Are You Grateful For?
  19. What Rites of Passage Have You Participated In?
  20. What Advice Would You Give Younger Kids About Middle or High School?
  21. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
  22. What Do Older Generations Misunderstand About Yours?

  23. Family

  24. Who Is Your Family?
  25. What Have You and Your Family Accomplished Together?
  26. What Events Have Brought You Closer to Your Family?
  27. What’s Your Role in Your Family?
  28. Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind?
  29. How Do You Define ‘Family’?
  30. What Are Your Family Stories of Sacrifice?
  31. What Possessions Does Your Family Treasure?
  32. What Hobbies Have Been Passed Down in Your Family?
  33. How Much Do You Know About Your Family’s History?
  34. Did Your Parents Have a Life Before They Had Kids?
  35. How Close Are You to Your Parents?
  36. How Are You and Your Parents Alike and Different?
  37. Do Your Parents Support Your Learning?
  38. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money?
  39. Do You Expect Your Parents to Give You Money?
  40. How Permissive Are Your Parents?
  41. Do You Have Helicopter Parents?
  42. How Do Your Parents Teach You to Behave?
  43. How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents?
  44. If You Drink or Use Drugs, Do Your Parents Know?
  45. Do You Talk About Report Cards With Your Parents?
  46. Would You Mind if Your Parents Blogged About You?
  47. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings?
  48. How Well Do You Know Your Pet?
  49. What Role Do Pets Play in Your Family?
  50. What Is Your Racial and Ethnic Identity?
  51. Have You Ever Tried to Hide Your Racial or Ethnic Identity?
  52. How Do You Feel About Your Last Name?
  53. What’s the Story Behind Your Name?
  54. What Are Your Favorite Names?
  55. How Have You Paid Tribute to Loved Ones?

  56. Community and Home

  57. Would You Most Want to Live in a City, a Suburb or the Country?
  58. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?
  59. What’s Special About Your Hometown?
  60. What Would You Name Your Neighborhood?
  61. Who Is the ‘Mayor’ of Your School or Neighborhood?
  62. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting?
  63. What Would a TV Show About Your Town Spoof?
  64. What ‘Urban Legends’ Are There About Places in Your Area?
  65. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
  66. Do You Know Your Way Around Your City or Town?
  67. Have You Ever Interacted With the Police?
  68. How Often Do You Interact With People of Another Race or Ethnicity?
  69. Who Would Be the Ideal Celebrity Neighbor?
  70. What Is Your Favorite Place?
  71. How Much Time Do You Spend in Nature?
  72. What Small Things Have You Seen and Taken Note Of Today?
  73. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?
  74. What is Your Favorite Place in Your House?
  75. How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?
  76. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare?
  77. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future?
  78. With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save?
  79. What Would You Put in Your Emergency ‘Go-Bag’?
  80. Have You Ever Lost (or Found) Something Valuable?

  81. Personality

  82. What Is Your Personal Credo?
  83. What Motivates You?
  84. What Makes You Happy?
  85. What Are You Good At?
  86. How Much Self-Control Do You Have?
  87. How Good Are You at Waiting for What You Really Want?
  88. What Role Does Procrastination Play in Your Life?
  89. When in Your Life Have You Been a Leader?
  90. How Well Do You Perform Under Pressure?
  91. How Well Do You Take Criticism?
  92. Are You Hard or Easy on Yourself?
  93. How Full Is Your Glass?
  94. Do You Have a Hard Time Making Decisions?
  95. How Good Are You at Time Management?
  96. How Productive and Organized Are You?
  97. How Would Your Life Be Different if You Had Better Listening Skills?
  98. How Competitive Are You?
  99. Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating?
  100. Do You Take More Risks When You Are Around Your Friends?
  101. Do You Unknowingly Submit to Peer Pressure?
  102. How Much of a Daredevil Are You?
  103. What Pranks, Jokes, Hoaxes or Tricks Have You Ever Fallen For or Perpetrated?
  104. How Do You React When Provoked?
  105. How Often Do You Cry?
  106. Do You Think You’re Brave?
  107. What Are You Afraid Of?
  108. What Are Your Fears and Phobias?
  109. What Are Your Personal Superstitions?
  110. Do You Like Being Alone?
  111. How Impulsive Are You?
  112. Are You a Novelty-Seeker?
  113. What Annoys You?
  114. Do You Apologize Too Much?
  115. Do You Have Good Manners?
  116. Are You a Saver or a Tosser?
  117. Are You More Introvert or Extrovert?
  118. Are You Popular, Quirky or Conformist?
  119. Are You a Nerd or a Geek?
  120. What Would Your Personal Mascot Be?
  121. What Assumptions Do People Make About You?

  122. Overcoming Adversity

  123. What Challenges Have You Overcome?
  124. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success?
  125. What Are Your Secret Survival Strategies?
  126. How Do You Find Peace in Your Life?
  127. How Have You Handled Being the ‘New Kid’?
  128. Do You Ever Feel Overlooked and Underappreciated?
  129. How Stressed Are You?
  130. How Do You Relieve Stress?
  131. Does Stress Affect Your Ability to Make Good Decisions?
  132. What Challenges Have You Set for Yourself?
  133. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’?
  134. What Did You Once Hate but Now Like?
  135. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax?
  136. Do You Set Rules for Yourself About How You Use Your Time?
  137. Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time?
  138. What’s Cluttering Up Your Life?
  139. What Work Went Into Reaching Your Most Difficult Goals?
  140. When Have You Ever Failed at Something? What Happened as a Result?
  141. When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail?
  142. What Life Lessons Has Adversity Taught You?
  143. What’s the Most Challenging Assignment You’ve Ever Had?
  144. What Kind of Feedback Helps You Improve?
  145. Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad?
  146. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse?
  147. What Are Five Everyday Problems That Bother You, and What Can You Do About Them?

  148. Gender and Sexuality

  149. How Do Male and Female Roles Differ in Your Family?
  150. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
  151. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
  152. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
  153. How Did You Learn About Sex?
  154. How Should Parents Address Internet Pornography?
  155. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School?
  156. What Have Been Your Experiences With Catcalling or Other Kinds of Street Harassment?
  157. Do You Know Boys Who Regard Girls as ‘Prey’?
  158. Do You Consider Yourself a Feminist?

  159. Morality and Religion

  160. How Do You Help?
  161. What Ethical Dilemmas Have You Faced?
  162. Would You Help an Injured Stranger?
  163. When Is the Last Time You Did Something Nice for a Stranger?
  164. Have You Ever ‘Paid It Forward’?
  165. How Much Do You Gossip?
  166. How Comfortable Are You With Lying?
  167. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To?
  168. What Could You Live Without?
  169. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away?
  170. Do You Ever Eavesdrop?
  171. How Important Is Your Spiritual Life?
  172. Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason?
  173. Can You Be Good Without God?
  174. Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents?
  175. Can You Pass a Basic Religion Test?
  176. What Can You Learn From Other Religions?

  177. Role Models

  178. Who Is Your Role Model?
  179. Who Are Your Heroes?
  180. Who Inspires You?
  181. What’s the Best Advice You’ve Gotten?
  182. Who Outside Your Family Has Made a Difference in Your Life?
  183. If You Had Your Own Talk Show, Whom Would You Want to Interview?
  184. To Whom, or What, Would You Like to Write a Thank-You Note?
  185. What Leader Would You Invite to Speak at Your School?
  186. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner?

  187. Technology and Video Games

  188. Are You Distracted by Technology?
  189. Do You Always Have Your Phone or Tablet at Your Side?
  190. What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life?
  191. What New Technologies or Tech Toys Are You Most Excited About?
  192. To What Piece of Technology Would You Write a ‘Love Letter’?
  193. Does Your Digital Life Have Side Effects?
  194. Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
  195. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
  196. When Do You Choose Making a Phone Call Over Sending a Text?
  197. Do You Know How to Code? Would You Like to Learn?
  198. Whom Would You Share Your Passwords With?
  199. What Are Your Favorite Video Games?
  200. What Have You Learned Playing Video Games?
  201. Do You Play Violent Video Games?
  202. When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
  203. Who Are Your Opponents in Online Gaming?
  204. Do You Like Watching Other People Play Video Games?

  205. The Internet

  206. How Careful Are You Online?
  207. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet?
  208. How Do You Know if What You Read Online Is True?
  209. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?
  210. How Do You Use Wikipedia?
  211. What Are Your Favorite Internet Spoofs?
  212. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos?
  213. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video?
  214. What Are Your Experiences With Internet-Based Urban Legends?
  215. What Story Does Your Personal Data Tell?
  216. Do You Worry About the Lack of Anonymity in the Digital Age?
  217. Do You Wish You Had More Privacy Online?
  218. Have You Ever Been Scammed?

  219. Social Media

  220. How Do You Use Facebook?
  221. What Is Your Facebook Persona?
  222. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had on Facebook?
  223. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
  224. Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account?
  225. Do You Have ‘Instagram Envy’?
  226. Do You Use Twitter?
  227. Why Do You Share Photos?
  228. How Do You Archive Your Life?
  229. Have You Ever Posted, Emailed or Texted Something You Wish You Could Take Back?
  230. Have You Ever Sent an Odd Message Because of Auto-Correct?
  231. Would You Want Your Photo or Video to Go Viral?
  232. Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday?

  233. Music

  234. What Are You Listening To?
  235. Who in Your Life Introduces You to New Music?
  236. How Much Is Your Taste in Music Based on What Your Friends Like?
  237. What Music Inspires You?
  238. How Closely Do You Listen to Lyrics?
  239. Which Pop Music Stars Fascinate You?
  240. Who Is Your Favorite Pop Diva?
  241. What’s Your Karaoke Song?
  242. What Song/Artist Pairings Would You Like to Hear?

  243. Movies, Theater and Television

  244. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
  245. What Movies Do You Watch, or Reference, Over and Over?
  246. What Movies, Shows or Books Do You Wish Had Sequels, Spinoffs or New Episodes?
  247. Do You Like Horror Movies?
  248. Who Are Your Favorite Movie Stars?
  249. Would You Pay Extra for a 3-D Movie?
  250. What Is Your Favorite Comedy?
  251. What Are the Best Live Theatrical Performances You’ve Ever Seen?
  252. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance?
  253. What Role Does Television Play in Your Life and the Life of Your Family?
  254. What Television Shows Have Mattered to You?
  255. Do Your Television Viewing Habits Include ‘Binge-Watching’?
  256. How Often Do You Watch a Television Show When It Originally Airs?
  257. What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back?
  258. Why Do We Like Reality Shows So Much?
  259. What Ideas Do You Have for a Reality Show?
  260. What Are Your Favorite Commercials?
  261. How Much Are You Influenced by Advertising?

  262. Reading, Writing and Fine Arts

  263. Read Any Good Books Lately?
  264. Do You Read for Pleasure?
  265. What Are Your Favorite Books and Authors?
  266. What Are the Best Things You’ve Read, Watched, Heard or Played This Year?
  267. What Are Your Favorite Young Adult Novels?
  268. What’s on Your Summer Reading List?
  269. What Memorable Poetry Have You Ever Read or Heard?
  270. What Are Your Favorite Cartoons?
  271. What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them?
  272. Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip?
  273. When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media?
  274. Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
  275. Do You Read E-Books?
  276. Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
  277. To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
  278. Why Do You Write?
  279. Do You Keep a Diary or Journal?
  280. Do You Have a Blog?
  281. Do You Want to Write a Book?
  282. When Do You Write by Hand?
  283. Do You Write in Cursive?
  284. Do You Write in Your Books?
  285. What ‘Mundane Moments’ From Your Life Might Make Great Essay Material?
  286. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in a Museum?
  287. What Are the Most Memorable Works of Visual Art You Have Seen?
  288. What Are Your Favorite Works of Art?

  289. Language and Speech

  290. What Are Your Favorite and Least Favorite Words?
  291. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
  292. How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite (Printable) Words?
  293. How Much Do You Curse? Why?
  294. Why Do So Many People Say ‘Like’ and ‘Totally’ All the Time?
  295. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony?
  296. How Good Is Your Grammar?
  297. What New Emoticons Does the World Need?
  298. Are You Fluent in Vocal Fry, Creaky Voice or Uptalk?
  299. How Much Information Is ‘Too Much Information’?
  300. When Did You Last Have a Great Conversation?
  301. Do You Speak a Second, or Third, Language?
  302. When Do You Remember Learning a New Word?

  303. School and Teachers

  304. Do You Like School?
  305. What Are You Really Learning at School?
  306. What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year?
  307. Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled?
  308. Would You Like to Take a Class Online?
  309. Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School?
  310. How Would You Grade Your School?
  311. What Can Other Schools Learn — and Copy — From Your School?
  312. Is Your School Day Too Short?
  313. What Do You Hope to Get Out of High School?
  314. Do You Have Too Much Homework?
  315. Does Your Homework Help You Learn?
  316. What Is Your Best Subject?
  317. What Memorable Experiences Have You Had in Learning Science or Math?
  318. Are You Afraid of Math?
  319. Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
  320. What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History?
  321. How Would You Do on a Civics Test?
  322. How Important Is Arts Education?
  323. What Is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment?
  324. What Would You Like to Have Memorized?
  325. Does Your School Value Students’ Digital Skills?
  326. What Was Your Favorite Field Trip?
  327. Do You Participate in Class?
  328. What Are Your Best Tips for Studying?
  329. Do You Use Study Guides?
  330. Is Everything You’ve Been Taught About Study Habits Wrong?
  331. How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
  332. Do You Have a Tutor?
  333. Are Your Grades Inflated?
  334. When Has a Teacher Inspired You?
  335. What Teacher Do You Appreciate?
  336. What Teacher Would You Like to Thank?
  337. What Do You Wish Your Teachers Knew About You?
  338. Do Your Test Scores Reflect How Good Your Teachers Are?
  339. Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?

  340. School Social Environment

  341. What Role Do School Clubs and Teams Play in Your Life?
  342. Who Has the Power in School Social Life?
  343. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
  344. Does Your School Seem Integrated?
  345. What’s the Racial Makeup of Your School?
  346. Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School?
  347. Can Students at Your School Talk Openly About Their Mental Health Issues?
  348. Is Your School a ‘Party School’?
  349. How Common Is Drug Use in Your School?
  350. Do You Know People Who Cheat on High-Stakes Tests?
  351. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
  352. How Much Does Your Life in School Intersect With Your Life Outside School?
  353. Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group?

  354. Senior Year, College and Applications

  355. Where Do You Want to Go to College?
  356. What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities?
  357. Is College Overrated?
  358. How Much Does the SAT or ACT Matter in Your Life?
  359. What Personal Essay Topic Would You Assign to College Applicants?
  360. What Qualities Would You Look For in a College Roommate?
  361. What Would You Do With a Gap Year?
  362. What Makes a Graduation Ceremony Memorable?
  363. How Do You Feel About Proms?

  364. Work and Careers

  365. What Are Your Longtime Interests or Passions?
  366. Do You Have a Life Calling?
  367. What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?
  368. Do You Think You Will Have a Career That You Love?
  369. What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job?
  370. Would You Consider a Nontraditional Occupation?
  371. Would You Want to Be a Teacher?
  372. What Hidden Talents Might You Have?
  373. What Do You Hope to Be Doing the Year After You Graduate From College?
  374. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
  375. What Career or Technical Classes Do You Wish Your School Offered?
  376. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had?
  377. What Have You Made Yourself?
  378. What Would You Create if You Had Funding?
  379. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love?
  380. Did You Ever Take a Break From Doing Something You Love?
  381. What Have You Done to Earn Money?
  382. Do You Have a Job?
  383. Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s?
  384. What Are Your Attitudes Toward Money?
  385. Can Money Buy You Happiness?
  386. Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?
  387. What Do You Want to Be Doing When You’re 80?
  388. Do You Want to Live to 100?
  389. What Do You Want Your Obituary to Say?

  390. Dating and Friendship

  391. Have You Ever Been in Love?
  392. What Are the Most Meaningful Relationships in Your Life?
  393. What Advice Would You Give to Somebody Who Just Started Dating?
  394. What Are the Basic ‘Rules’ for Handling Breakups?
  395. What Are Your Beliefs About Marriage?
  396. Are You Allowed to Date?
  397. Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
  398. Do You Have a Best Friend?
  399. How Do You Feel About Introducing Friends from Different Parts of Your Life?
  400. How Should You Handle the End of a Friendship?
  401. How Often Do You Have ‘Deep Discussions’?

  402. Sports, Exercise and Games

  403. Do You Like to Exercise?
  404. How Has Exercise Changed Your Health, Your Body or Your Life?
  405. Why Do You Play Sports?
  406. What Is the Most Memorable Sporting Event You’ve Ever Watched or Played In?
  407. What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen?
  408. When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You?
  409. What Sports Teams Do You Root For?
  410. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are?
  411. How Far Would You Go to Express Loyalty to Your Favorite Teams?
  412. What Fan Memorabilia Would You Pay Big Bucks For?
  413. What Rules Would You Like to See Changed in Your Favorite Sports?
  414. What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
  415. What Are Your Favorite Games?

  416. Travel

  417. Where in the World Would You Travel if You Could?
  418. What Is Your Fantasy Vacation?
  419. What Would Your Fantasy Road Trip Be Like?
  420. What Crazy Adventure Would You Want to Take?
  421. How Has Travel Affected You?
  422. What Famous Landmarks Have You Visited?
  423. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature?
  424. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling?
  425. Would You Like to Live in Another Country?
  426. Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist?

  427. Looks, Fashion and Health

Resources / College / 35 College Essay Prompts and Topics

35 College Essay Prompts and Topics

The college application process can be stressful and sometimes overwhelming. A great way to stand out from the crowd and boost an application for a “reach” school is with a strong essay. We’ve put together a list of common prompts and advice for how to answer them.

  1. Describe a facet of your identity, background or story that is essential to who you are.

For this essay, try finding a part of your identity that will set you apart and highlight the unique perspective you will bring to the university. Try to avoid writing an essay that a school will most likely get a million different times — for example, an essay about your talent playing a sport or your early love of learning. Think about an aspect of your personality, family or upbringing that is truly special.

  1. Write about a time that you failed at something. How did that failure affect you?

Don’t be afraid to dig deep and talk about something that may feel vulnerable. Try to conclude with an example of how the failure improved the way you deal with similar situations now. It can be uncomfortable for anyone to admit they’re less-than-great at something, but that honesty can be refreshing, especially if you tell your story in an authentic, relatable way.

  1. Tell us about a time where you challenged your pre-existing worldview. Why? Would you do this again?

In this essay, choose a time that you were able to listen to experiences and perspectives contrary to yours with respect and maturity. Demonstrate that you are able to zoom out from your personal worldview and learn from those you may disagree with. This can not only give colleges an idea of your ability to engage in difficult ideological debates, but also your character and humility.

  1. Write about a problem that you have or want to solve. It can be as big or as small as you can think of!

For this question, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box. It is easy to say a typical world issue — like hunger — but a creative problem can showcase your specific passions and interests and set you apart. An admissions officer is much more likely to remember an applicant who has a very specific essay written in a unique and quirky way.

  1. Write about a moment that illustrated your shift from child to adult within your community or family.

If you can’t immediately think of a pivotal event for this essay, you may want to skip it and try a different one. Essays like this are best answered with significant and unique moments rather than less important ones.

  1. Describe a favorite book or movie where the main character has to decide something difficult. What did you think about their choice?

The defining factor for this essay is what book or movie you choose. Stay away from pop culture novels that many people may use (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.) and try to pick a book you have read in school or something unique you read for fun that stayed with you. However, don’t use a book you didn’t enjoy! Inauthenticity will always come through in your writing.


Coordinate tutoring sessions for admission help with a sign up. SAMPLE


  1. Write your top 10 list.

With this prompt, get creative. Don’t simply put 10 things you enjoy — get specific! Pick something you love and give your top 10 — maybe top 10 memories of your life, top 10 favorite books, top 10 quotes, etc. Make sure you give clear explanations of the items on your list as well. The more specific your list is, the better.

  1. Tell us a topic that you have changed your mind on in the past three years.

For this essay, don’t hesitate to get silly or serious — but make sure you go all the way whichever side you choose! Pick an issue that doesn’t come immediately to mind. Try to pinpoint a specific “a-ha” moment your opinion changed, and make sure to give an example of how your changed perspective has influenced your behavior.

  1. Write about your life goals.

To answer this prompt, go beyond the generic career and family goals. Try to answer things with a personal spin — maybe talk about goals you have for yourself as a person (e.g., to be more kind) or something unique you want to check off your bucket list! 

  1. Pick a quote that describes a lot about you, and explain why you connect with it.

For this essay, choose a quotation that the admissions officers won’t see over and over. Stay away from individuals who are constantly quoted — like Dr. Seuss — and make 100 percent certain your quote is correctly attributed! Genius Tip: Check out these 25 inspiring volunteer quotes. 

  1. Write about your most embarrassing moment and how you learned from it.

This is a great opportunity to get creative and share a funny experience! Try transitioning the experience into a more serious explanation of how it changed you — for example, maybe it encouraged you to be more considerate toward others’ feelings. 

  1. Tell us about a time where you had to either take a risk or stay safe. What did you do? What happened? Would you do it again?

For this situation, if you made a poor decision, focus on the way you would change it. On the other hand, if you made a good decision, focus on what influenced you to make that decision and how it has changed you. You might think you have to pick an example where you took a risk, but your essay could be more memorable if you choose a candid example of when you chose to play it safe. 

  1. Describe something you’re passionate about. How do you learn more about it? What makes it so appealing?

This is the perfect essay to set yourself apart from other applicants. Talk about that thing you love, that obscure topic you’re an expert about — anything, as long as your passion shines through in your writing! 

  1. Pick your own topic for this essay.

This is a great instance to use an essay you’ve already written for another college. (Make sure to include modifications as needed.) This way, you can limit the number of essays you write and focus on quality of writing over quantity of essays. 


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  1. Tell us the best advice you’ve ever gotten, who told you it and whether or not you followed the advice.

Don’t write a generic essay — find an example of advice that was specific and personal to you. Explain why it was so important, and connect it to a specific example in which you did or did not follow it. 

  1. Write about the role that a certain activity (sports, theater, band, etc.) has had on your life.

This prompt gives you the opportunity to talk about your passions and show off your extracurricular activities. Make sure to connect the importance of the activity to a certain experience or story to give the essay direction. 

  1. If you could meet with any person, living or dead, for an hour, who would it be and what would you say to them?

For this prompt, stay away from figures that are likely to be written about by hundreds of potential students (presidents, Mother Teresa, etc.), and pick a figure you are actually passionate about and interested in, rather than what you think sounds most academic. If you want to go personal and choose a family member, make sure you have a memorable and unique reason. 

  1. If you were to give a very important speech or a TED talk, what would it be about?

When writing this essay, pick a topic of interest. Additionally, make sure whatever you write about has a clear, one sentence takeaway that you can stress throughout the essay to give it direction. To prep, watch a few TED talks online to help give your essay voice. 

  1. If you were to teach a class, what would your class be on?

This essay topic is a great opportunity for humor. Choose a unique topic that others might not think of, and whatever you choose, make sure you know a lot about it! 

  1. Tell us a “Eureka” moment that you had and what sparked it.

For this essay, make sure you think of a turning point that’s also an interesting story. This can be an opportunity to talk about an experience from one of your jobs or extracurricular activities. Tie it in to what you learned and how you’ve taken that lesson and incorporated it into your life. 

  1. Write an essay about a time that you had to be brave or stand up for what you believed in.

This can be a great opportunity to talk about what’s important to you and what beliefs you hold most central to who you are. Center the essay around one experience or time in your life. Don’t play this one down the middle — take a stance and defend it. 

  1. What makes you angry? What are you doing or what have you done about it?

Take this essay as big or as small as you want, but commit to it! Whether you write a funny essay about pet peeves or write one about large social problems, go all the way.  

  1. If you could change one day of your life, what would you change? Why?

If you can’t immediately think of a significant day, you probably don’t have a lot of material for this essay. Save this essay for an unusual experience! 

  1. Talk about a personal accomplishment that is unrelated to academics, but that means a lot to you.

For this essay, focus on a unique accomplishment that illustrates the diversity that you can bring to your university and really tells a lot about who you are. It can be a big or small accomplishment as long as it means a lot to you. 

  1. If you could time travel to any time and place, where would you go?

When writing this essay, either pick a historical, personally significant or futuristic moment, but make sure you are passionate about whichever moment you choose. Begin with explaining the moment’s significance and your desire to experience it, then describe your personal connection to it. 


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  1. If you could give any advice to an incoming high school student, what would it be?

In this essay, try to stay positive. Give advice about helpful things the student could do to benefit their high school career, rather than pointing out and seemingly complaining about the negative parts of high school (unless you are really funny) and then giving advice about how to deal with it. Be honest about your high school experiences while also displaying the perspective you have gained. 

  1. If you could stop one invention from being invented, what would it be?

Try to be unique for this prompt. Make sure to outline not only your reasons for choosing the invention, but also the impact that the invention not being created would have on the world. 

  1. Why do you want to attend this college/university?

For this essay: BE SPECIFIC! Colleges can tell when your essay is just a form essay. Make sure your essay mentions specific and unique aspects of the college/university you’re applying to so it’s clear that your essay is not just generic. There’s so much information out there on the Internet that there’s really no excuse for a poorly researched response. 

  1. Pick a law and explain why it is so important to you.

There are many ways to interpret this kind of prompt. Whether you talk about a political law, religious law, physical law or something else, make sure to connect it your personal experiences. The more unique you are, the more likely an admissions officer will remember your essay. 

  1. What do you want people to know about you but are afraid to tell them?

In this essay, don’t be afraid to get vulnerable and be specific. Whether you pick a trait or simply a specific memory, connect it to what it means to you personally and why you don’t generally tell people about it. 

  1. If you could add an amendment to the Constitution, what would you add?

Silly or serious, this essay can be fun. Just make sure the amendment is NOT already part of the Constitution, and be sure to outline the impact your new amendment would have. Go a step further by explaining your strategy for getting the amendment passed. 

  1. Talk about a person in your life who has helped you understand yourself better.

For this essay, give a few examples of how this person has impacted you. Then, conclude the essay with how you have understood yourself better because of these experiences. 

  1. What book would you recommend to everyone?

Stay away from books that are likely to appear many times. This might go without saying, but make sure it’s a book you’ve already read! Rather than just summarizing the book, explain why you’re recommending it. 

  1. Who is someone you have spoken up for because he/she cannot speak for him/herself?

If you don’t have a good example for this essay, don’t massage a story to make it fit. You’ll risk sounding privileged. This essay can be good, but it needs to be about a significant moment where you spoke up for someone who couldn’t speak for him/herself. 

  1. What is one thing you want to accomplish in college?

In this essay, focus on the interests/activities that you’re passionate about. Make sure to focus your essay around one or two focused and achievable goals. This is also a great opportunity to mention specifics about the college you’re applying to. 

With these prompts and ideas, you’ll be off to a great start on your college applications. One last piece of advice: Give yourself plenty of time to outline ideas and review — don’t wait until the last minute!

Kayla Rutledge is a college student who spends most of her time writing, singing for her church and eating quesadillas.

Posted by Kayla Rutledge




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