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Course: college admissions > unit 4.
- Writing a strong college admissions essay
- Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
- Brainstorming tips for your college essay
- How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
- Taking your college essay to the next level
- Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
- Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
- Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
- Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
- Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
- Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
- Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
Writing tips and techniques for your college essay
Pose a question the reader wants answered, don't focus exclusively on the past, experiment with the unexpected, don't summarize, want to join the conversation.
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60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications
Ideas to inspire every college applicant.
Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees. Every one of these questions is taken from real college applications for the 2023-2024 season, so they’re meaningful and applicable to today’s high school seniors.
Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts
2023-2024 coalition for college essay prompts, life experiences college essay prompts, personal college essay prompts, academics college essay prompts, creative college essay prompts.
Hundreds of colleges and universities use the Common App process . For many schools, this includes responding to one of several college essay topics, which can change each year. Here are the essay prompts for the current application cycle (check with your chosen school/s to see if an essay is required).
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process . Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024.
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
- Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
- Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
- What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Answer these questions by sharing specific examples from your own experience.
- Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
- Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
- Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.
- Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
- What are the best words of advice you have received? Who shared them, and how have you applied them in your own life?
- Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
- Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
- Who do you agree with on the big, important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
- Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
- When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
- Discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
- Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
- Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
- Describe a time you did not meet expectations and what impact the experience had on you.
These essay topics give schools a better sense of who you are, what you value, and the kind of student citizen you might be.
- What drives you to create, and what do you hope to make or have you made?
- Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or nonfiction) seems made for you? Why?
- What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
- How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?
- Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
- What would you want to be different in your own country or community to further principles of equality, equity, or social justice?
- What strength or quality do you have that most people might not see or recognize?
- If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why?
- What gives meaning to your life?
- If you wrote a letter to yourself to be opened in 20 years, what would it say?
- If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?
- Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
- What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
- Explain how a text you’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literature of any kind—has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.
Topics like these show your academic interests and demonstrate your commitment to learning and discovery.
- What does it mean to you to be educated?
- What is your motivation for pursuing higher education?
- Describe your reasons for wanting to attend the specific school you’re applying to. Who or what factored into your decision?
- Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?
- What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
- If you decide to take a “gap year” between high school and college, what would you do during that time?
- Many schools place a high value on diverse student populations. How can you contribute to and support a diverse and inclusive student population at your chosen school?
- Imagine you were just awarded a research grant for a project of your choice. What are you researching and why?
- What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.
- Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
- Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
Use these college essay topics to show off your creativity and innovative thinking.
- You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.
- Pick one person—a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual—to converse with for an hour, and explain your choice.
- If you could witness a historic event (past, present, or future) firsthand, what would it be and why?
- If you could have a theme song, what would it be and why?
- Discuss a book that you would call a “great book.” What makes the book great in your view?
- If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
- If I could travel anywhere, I would go to …
- My favorite thing about last Tuesday was …
- Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.
- If you had 10 minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your TED Talk be about?
- What are your three favorite words in the English language? Explain what they mean to you.
- Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?
- Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?
- If you could create a college course that all students would take, what would it be about and why?
- What website is the internet missing?
How do you help your students prepare their college application essays? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .
Plus, check out the ultimate guide to college scholarships.
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College Essay Format: Writing & Editing Tips
A good college essay format, with the right topic, goes beyond your academic accomplishments and extracurriculars.
You want to stand out in a crowd, particularly when you’re applying to the college of your choice. As part of the application process, many schools ask for an essay to accompany the standard academic and personal information they require. So it’s important to make it a good one.
Your college application essay is essentially a story you tell that offers a glimpse into who you are, beyond your admissions application, grades, activities, and test scores.
A college essay, often called a personal statement, is your opportunity to reveal your personality. It's a way for the admissions department to get to know you as a person and get an idea of the kind of student you'll be.
So how should a college essay be formatted? This article covers formatting best practices, how to choose a compelling topic for your essay, and writing and editing tips to help you craft an essay that captures the attention of the reader, gets your point across, and is free of errors.
Decide on a topic.
You'll often have a choice of topics for your essay provided by the college or university. Choose a topic that allows you to best highlight what you want the college to know about you.
A good start is to list three positive adjectives that describe you. Then, see if you can write two or three real-life examples of each trait that demonstrates that you possess that characteristic.
Also, think about the stories other people tell about you or the words they use to describe you. Ask people who know you well:
What do you think sets me apart from others?
What are my strengths?
How would you describe my personality?
What are my quirks?
These ideas can become the inspiration to develop material for a good college essay.
From the list of essay prompts you receive from the college, choose the topic that will give you the best chance to showcase who you are within the limited word count. You don't have to write about a major life-changing event. It can be a mundane or ordinary situation—like a dinner table conversation, day at school, or conversation with a friend. Often, slightly unusual topics are better than typical ones because they hold a reader's attention.
Regardless of the topic you choose, remember that the true topic of your college essay is you, and the purpose of it is to show how you are unique. It highlights an important piece of who you are and where you want to head in life.
Common college essay prompts
Over 900 colleges use Common App essay prompts, which means you may be able to write one essay for several college applications. Some past Common App college essay prompts—which are announced publicly each year—include the following topics:
Share a story about your background, interest, identity, or talent that makes you complete as a person.
Describe a time when you faced a setback, failure, or challenge and what you learned from it.
Tell about a topic, concept, or idea that is so captivating to you that you lose all track of time.
Write about something that someone has done for you that you are grateful for, and how gratitude has motivated or affected you.
Whether or not the school you're applying to uses Common App questions, it will publish required essay topics in its admissions materials. Or, you may be asked to write on a topic of your choice. Here are some additional common college essay prompts you might encounter:
Describe a person you admire and how that person has influenced your behavior and thinking.
Why do you want to attend this school?
Describe your creative side.
Name an extracurricular activity that is meaningful to you and how it has impacted your life.
Tell about what you have done to make your community or school a better place.
Consult your college application instructions to see how long your essay should be. Be sure to stay within the required word count or essay length, not going over the maximum or under the minimum.
Chances are, you'll be given a word limit. If none is specified, experts on the admissions process recommend you keep your word count between 500 and 650 words. Use the required essay length to help you determine what you will share. You won't be able to tell your life story within these few paragraphs, so choose the most impactful examples as your content.
Create an outline.
An outline helps you plan your essay so you know how it will begin and end and identify key points you want to include in the middle. Use your outline to stay on topic and get the most use out of your word count.
Decide on a logical order.
The most effective outlines are usually the most simple ones. For instance, a good story has a beginning, middle, and end. Likewise, your essay will have an introduction, body, and conclusion.
Unless the college requests a specific admission essay format, use the format you've been using to write essays in high school that you're likely to be the most comfortable with. If you're stuck on how to open your essay, write the middle of your story first. Then, go back and write a compelling introduction and a concise conclusion.
Sample format for a college essay
While the format of your college essay is largely up to you, it can be helpful to have an example as a springboard to give you ideas. Consider the following college essay format as you organize your writing.
1. Think about using a title.
A title for your college essay is not necessary. However, including one can add interest. But if you're low on word count, you can skip it. You can also wait until after you write your essay to decide. It's often easier to come up with a fitting, compelling title after you've told your story.
2. Open with a hook.
Your opening sentence is one of the most important parts of your essay. It's what you'll use to capture the attention of the reader and give them a reason to read on. The start of your essay is your opportunity to make an impactful first impression, so make your opening a good one. Here are two examples of how you can open with an interesting hook:
Start in the middle of your story: Call out the most interesting point of your story, and then backtrack from there. For example, "And there I found myself, surrounded by baby sea turtles on the hazy shores of Virginia Beach."
Make a specific generalization: This is a sentence that makes a general statement on what your essay will be about, but gives a specific description. An example: "Each year on our family vacation out of the city, I contemplate the meaning of life as we cross the Golden Gate Bridge."
3. Continue with your introduction.
While your hook will spark the reader's curiosity, the rest of your introduction should give them an idea of where you're going with your essay. Set your story up in four to five sentences.
4. Tell your story in the body of your essay.
If your introduction and conclusion are roughly 100 words each, your body will end up being about 450 words. Think of that as three to five paragraphs, with each paragraph having its own main idea or point.
Write in a narrative style—more as though you're having a conversation as opposed to writing an instruction manual. While you should pay strict attention to using proper grammar and sentence structure, you have the freedom to make your essay a reflection of your personality.
If you are a humorous person, use humor. If you're an eternal optimist or love getting into the minute details of life, let that shine through. Tell your story in a way that’s logical, clear, and makes sense.
5. Wrap up with a conclusion.
Finish your story with a conclusion paragraph, and make sure you've made your main point. What is the main thing you want the college to know about you through this story? Is it what you've learned, a value that's important to you, or what you want to contribute to society? Finally, conclude your essay with the personal statement you want to make about yourself.
Writing tips on how to format a college essay
As you're writing your college essay, keep these tips in mind:
Be authentic. One of the most essential parts of how to format a college application essay is to be authentic. The college wants to know who you are, and they will be reading dozens of essays a day. The best way to make yours stand out is to just be yourself instead of focusing on what you think they want to hear.
Show you can write . While the most important part of your personal statement is showcasing who you are, you'll also be judged on your writing ability. That's because knowing the fundamental principles of writing is important to college success. Show that you understand the structure of an essay and proper use of the English language.
Give the answer right away. If you're using a specific question as your writing prompt, answer the question directly in the opening paragraph. Then, use the rest of the essay to elaborate on your answer.
Stay on topic. Make good use of your word count limit by being concise and coherent. Stay on topic and refrain from adding any information that doesn't add to the main idea of your essay.
Write in your voice. Imagine you’re speaking to an actual person as you write. Be honest and accurate, using words you normally use. Your essay is a personal statement, so it should sound natural to the reader—and to you too.
Use real examples. Add real-life events and vivid details from your life. This adds color and validity to your personal statement. Personal examples will show you embody the characteristics or values you claim to, rather than merely saying you do.
Keep the formatting simple. Opt-out of fancy fonts that can be hard to read. Stick to fonts like Times New Roman or Arial. Avoid using bolding (except for headings), italics, all caps, or exclamation points. Let your words speak for themselves instead.
Save your essay. Instead of writing your essay directly in the online application, draft and save your essay in a document like Google Docs or Word—or start out on paper and pen if that's what you're most comfortable with. That way you can make edits and use helpful online spelling and grammar checkers. And you won't risk losing your essay if the application times out or you navigate away from it by mistake. When you copy and paste your essay into the application, make sure your formatting, such as line spacing and bolding for headings, remains intact.
Follow directions. Read and understand the specific instructions set by the college. Review them again before you submit your essay to make sure you've met all of the requirements.
Editing tips on how to format a college essay
Finally, edit your essay until you’re satisfied it conveys the message you want it to and it’s free of errors. Let your first draft be as messy or pristine as it comes out. Then, go back later—several times if needed—to clean it up. Ask yourself these questions as you edit your essay:
Is my essay free of grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors?
Is it the proper word length assigned by the college?
Have I answered the question in the prompt?
Does the introduction make me want to read more?
Are there any vague statements I can replace with more specific details?
Do any parts drone on or feel boring?
Does it feel too formal?
Are any parts or words repetitive?
Have I misused any words (such as there, their, and they're)?
Are my sentences varied in length?
Have I shared with the college what I most want them to know about me?
It can also be helpful to ask someone you trust to read your essay and give you constructive feedback. This might be a trusted teacher, parent, school counselor, or college student. It's best to choose someone who is familiar with the purpose of a college essay.
Ask them to give feedback about your essay using the same questions as above. But they should never try to rewrite your essay. And never let others edit out your voice. Ask them to focus on grammar and mechanics and to give suggestions on items to add in or leave out.
Above all, ask your guest editor what point they think you were trying to make with your essay. If they get it right, you know you've crafted a college essay that reflects you and your intended message.
Enhance your writing skills
Bring out your best in your college essay with a course in Writing a Personal Essay from Wesleyan University. Learn how to find your voice, structure your essay, choose relevant details, and write in a way that pulls in your readers.
Bachelor’s Degree Guide: Resources for Your Undergraduate Education
College Essay Topics and Writing Tips
How Long Should a College Essay Be?
How to Write a Personal Statement
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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First-year essay prompts
Common App has announced the 2023-2024 essay prompts.
Below is the complete set of common app essay prompts for 2023-2024..
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
We will also retain the optional community disruption question within the Writing section.
Looking for tips on how to approach the essay? Check out our blog !
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The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples
An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.
There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.
The essay writing process consists of three main stages:
- Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
- Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
- Revision: Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.
Table of contents
Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.
The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .
For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.
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Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:
- Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
- Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
- Do your research: Read primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
- Come up with a thesis: The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
- Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.
The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.
1. Hook your reader
The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.
Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.
2. Provide background on your topic
Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.
3. Present the thesis statement
Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:
As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.
4. Map the structure
In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.
The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Write your essay introduction
The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.
Length of the body text
The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.
To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.
That idea is introduced in a topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.
After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.
Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.
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The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :
- Returns to your thesis
- Ties together your main points
- Shows why your argument matters
A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.
What not to include in a conclusion
To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:
- Including new arguments or evidence
- Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
- Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”
Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.
Write your essay conclusion
My essay follows the requirements of the assignment (topic and length ).
My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information on the topic.
My introduction contains a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay.
I use paragraphs to structure the essay.
I use topic sentences to introduce each paragraph.
Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement.
I make clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.
My conclusion doesn’t just repeat my points, but draws connections between arguments.
I don’t introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion.
I have given an in-text citation for every quote or piece of information I got from another source.
I have included a reference page at the end of my essay, listing full details of all my sources.
My citations and references are correctly formatted according to the required citation style .
My essay has an interesting and informative title.
I have followed all formatting guidelines (e.g. font, page numbers, line spacing).
Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.
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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.
In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.
Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:
- It gives your writing direction and focus.
- It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.
Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
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Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
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Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
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There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.
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- How to Write a College Essay
College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Getty Images
For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.
"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.
Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.
This can feel like a lot of pressure.
"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."
That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.
But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.
"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.
Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.
From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.
Getting Started on the College Essay
How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.
A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.
Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.
Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.
In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.
Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.
"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.
Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words.
"While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.
The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.
The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.
There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.
The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.
Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.
Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.
What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.
"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."
If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"
The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.
Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.
The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."
If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.
Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:
"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."
"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."
The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.
"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."
He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.
"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."
The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.
"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."
Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.
Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.
Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.
"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."
While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.
"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."
When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.
"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."
After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.
The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.
Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.
Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.
"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."
Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.
And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.
When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.
Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."
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Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.
The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).
2019–20 Common App Essays
Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application , which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in 2019, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:
- Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
- The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure . How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
- Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
- Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
- Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
- Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
- Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
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Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts
Prompt #1: share your story..
Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school résumé and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.
Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.
You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.
Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.
Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.
Prompt #4: Solving a problem.
This essay is designed to get at the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation or quandary and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want insight into your thought process and the issues you grapple with, so explain how you became aware of the dilemma and how you tackled solving it. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you!
Prompt #5: Personal growth.
Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or accomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth.
Prompt #6: What captivates you?
This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.
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Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.
This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.
More College Essay Topics
Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:
Describe a person you admire.
Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .
Why do you want to attend this school?
Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.
Read More: 5 Ways College Application Essays and High School Essays Are Different
What is a book you love?
Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?
Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.
What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?
Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.
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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
What exactly goes into writing a great college essay, and more importantly, what does it take to write one that stands out from thousands of others, landing itself in the “Accept” vs. “Reject” pile?
Breaking Down the College Essay
Let’s start by breaking it down into manageable parts and examining the required elements.
What’s the point of the college essay?
Almost every standard college application requires first-year applicants to submit a personal essay. If you are one of these applicants, you may be wondering, what’s the point?
With so many colleges deciding to go test-optional, (many do not require standardized tests and instead focus solely on your transcripts, essay, and recommendations), the essay is the one place in your application where you can illuminate your character in words and ideas, rather than in numbers and percentages. It is your chance to show schools who you are, what makes you tick, and why you stand out from the crowd.
Admissions counselors will read your essay and try to determine whether or not they want you at their school. While reading, they will be asking themselves, “What will this person bring to our community? Will they make our school a more valuable place?”
What are the prompts?
There are seven personal essay prompts in the Common Application. You may choose to write about obstacles you’ve encountered, your accomplishments and realizations, moments when you experienced extreme gratitude, or select your own topic.
No one prompt is considered “better” than another, but they can vary slightly from year to year, so be sure to read through all of them for your application cycle. At the end of the day, if there is something you feel really passionate about, you can likely adapt it to fit a prompt.
How long should your essay be?
The essay should be 650 words, which might sound like a lot at first, but you will be surprised by how quickly you reach that limit once you get going. Most of the students I work with end up making cuts to shorten their essays before submitting. The word limit is non-negotiable. You will not be able to submit an essay that’s even one word over the limit.
Writing the College Essay
Your parents, teachers, and guidance counselors know what they are talking about when they tell you to get started on the essay during the summer before your senior year. Don’t leave it until the last minute. Once senior year starts, life is a whirlwind. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay. Aim to start in July or August before senior year.
Starting can be as easy as creating a document where you generate an ongoing list of potential topics. You will want to draft your essay in a separate document anyway. You can copy and paste it over into the Common Application once you have a final, edited version.
Additionally, starting doesn’t always mean sitting down in front of a computer and typing. Talk about topic ideas out loud with anyone who will listen. Discuss ideas for topics with your family members over dinner or on car rides with friends. Think about ideas when you are out for a run or bike ride. Almost all colleges and universities have samples of “College Essays That Worked” in the admissions section of their websites. Reading through these may inspire you.
Keep the focus narrow.
Do not think too big. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
That leads to another suggestion: Don’t write about Covid-19. Your essay might touch on something that’s an offshoot of your time spent in quarantine or a loss connected to Covid, but it should not be about the pandemic specifically. There’s no question Covid-19 had, and still has, a major impact on all of us, but that topic has been written about by many students from every angle possible. Colleges want to read something different.
The Common Application has added an optional question that gives all applicants a place to address the impact that Covid has had on them personally and educationally. If you feel you have a story you must tell connected to the pandemic, this is the place to share it.
So, what should you write about?
When brainstorming topics, think about challenges you have faced and how you’ve handled them. You can also ask people who know you best how they would describe you in a few words and why. Their responses can be great jumping off points for writing your essay.
Some students choose to write about seemingly small, ordinary topics that illuminate their character beautifully, and are both poignant and thought-provoking. One student I worked with wrote about growing up hiking with her parents from the time when she was a baby in a backpack carrier, to a grumpy middle schooler, to an appreciative, nature-loving young adult who found outdoor experiences were an essential part of who she was at her core.
Other students choose to describe major life events, or especially challenging experiences that have impacted them deeply. An essay that comes to mind is one written by a student who battled loneliness and isolation due to anxiety and depression, and ultimately found invaluable reprieve in the arts, a passion that they hoped to continue to pursue at the college level.
Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, be sure the essay rises above a strict recounting of a story. Instead, use the narrative to reveal your true self. It’s okay to be vulnerable and honest; in fact, it’s critical you do so. Admissions counselors will not judge you negatively for depicting moments of weakness or fear, or for having different politics than they might. More likely, they will be impressed by your level of self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and introspection.
Admissions counselors want value-adders. What adds value to a college campus? Students who display energy, resilience, leadership, passion, inclusivity, unique outlooks, and people who can inspire others. Your essay should tell a story that highlights traits like these. No one else has lived your life or experienced what you have in the way that you have; tell your unique story. Use a voice that’s real to you.
This is not the time to experiment with overly formal academic nor romantic, flowery language. Use words you would normally use and show the reader what makes you, you. There is no need to over-inflate things. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
The college essay is not like a typical English paper. It’s a true blend of the creative and the literary. In creative writing classes you often hear the advice, “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece. Describe sights, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and sounds as you write.
That said, just because you are being creative does not mean your essay should lack structure. This is not the time to experiment with a completely outlandish form. You don’t want to make your readers work to understand what you are trying to say. You want them to be entirely absorbed in the story you are telling. The easiest way to do this is by making your essay easy to read.
Think of the typical five paragraph structure for English papers. Your essay should have an introductory paragraph with a thesis/hook, supporting body paragraphs, and a conclusion that ties everything together. Your story might lend itself to six or seven paragraphs instead of five, depending on where the natural narrative breaks lie, and that’s fine. Just make sure it has a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Your essay should not have any spelling, formatting, or grammatical errors. Mistakes do not put your best foot forward to admissions counselors, and they are distracting.
Be sure to read, re-read, and share your submission with others to prevent the possibility of mistakes. Use tools like spell and grammar check, and ask at least two other people to read your essay and offer feedback. You can ask a trusted family member to take a look, or even reach out to a friend with exceptionally good writing skills. We often get so close to our own words that we miss obvious errors. Even the best writers in the world rely on editors to help catch mistakes.
Another option is to ask your English teacher or guidance counselor to review your essay. In some schools, students will work on the college essay in English class during the fall of their senior year. This gives them a chance to receive both teacher and peer feedback, which can be incredibly valuable.
Finally, read your essay aloud before hitting submit. It may feel silly, but you will be amazed at the errors you will catch this way.
Make a point.
By the time you reach your conclusion, be sure your essay makes some sort of point. This is what will separate it from the competition. Ask yourself what you want your reader to walk away thinking and knowing about you, and allude to that in your final sentences. A strong conclusion that helps tie the entire essay together, and also points to the bigger picture, is key.
To achieve this, as you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had. Above all, remember that the conclusion should not be an afterthought, nor should it simply summarize the previous few paragraphs.
In many ways, the conclusion is the most important part of your essay as it’s the last thing people will read. Be sure to give it the time, effort, and energy it deserves. You want your readers to pause and reflect at the end of your essay. You want them to feel something, versus just moving on to the next essay on their list.
While some students are able to afford pricey college counselors to help guide them through the application process, at the end of the day, there is no magic formula that someone can pay thousands of dollars for when it comes to writing the college essay. Everyone has a unique story to tell and that is priceless. As long as you give yourself the time to brainstorm, and write and then rewrite, as well as ask for feedback from others along the way, you can end up with a solid final product.
One lesson you will learn at college is that the world is full of a wide array of brilliant, interesting, diverse individuals who all have unique life experiences. You are one of those people. Enjoy the process of telling your story, and then relish the opportunity you will have to create more stories as you move onto the next chapter of your life.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.
College Admissions , College Essays
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Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
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Links to Full College Essay Examples
Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.
Common App Essay Samples
Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.
Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 145 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts.
- 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
- 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
- 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007
These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).
- 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
- 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
- 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
- 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020
- 8 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2019
- 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2018
- 6 Common Application essays
Essay Examples Published by Other Websites
- 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia
Other Sample College Essays
Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.
- 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020
- 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
- 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out
- 10 Harvard essays from 2022
- 10 Harvard essays from 2021
- 10 Harvard essays from 2018
- 6 essays from admitted MIT students
- 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018
- 9 "Why Tufts?" short essays
- 6 "Let Your Life Speak" essays
- 5 Tufts essays that worked, plus video commentary from Tufts Admissions
Books of College Essays
If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.
College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.
50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .
50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.
Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.
Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked
I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.
Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)
I had never broken into a car before.
We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.
Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.
"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"
"Why me?" I thought.
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.
Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.
But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.
Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"
The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.
Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.
What Makes This Essay Tick?
It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!
An Opening Line That Draws You In
In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).
Great, Detailed Opening Story
More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.
It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.
Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.
Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight
Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.
Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."
Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims
My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.
"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.
Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice
My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.
Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."
The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.
The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.
This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.
What Could This Essay Do Even Better?
Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?
Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.
Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.
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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.
Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.
I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.
In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).
I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.
A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.
It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.
Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.
One Clear Governing Metaphor
This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.
But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:
This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.
Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:
While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.
An Engaging, Individual Voice
This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.
Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).
My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.
I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.
Renner gives a great example of h ow to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.
Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!
For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:
Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.
Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.
Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.
Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.
In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.
The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.
All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.
Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.
#3: Start Early, Revise Often
Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.
Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!
For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .
Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .
Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.
Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.
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255 Unique Essay Topics for College Students [2023 Update]
The success of any college essay depends on the topic choice. If you want to impress your instructors, your essay needs to be interesting and unique. Don’t know what to write about? We are here to help you!
Our specialists will write a custom essay on any topic for 13.00 10.40/page
In this article by our Custom-Writing.org team, you will find 255 interesting essay topics for college students. We’ve also included some helpful tips on choosing a topic that will make your essay stand out.
- 🔝 Top 10 College Essay Topics
- 📋 How to Choose a Topic
- 🧑 Personal Essay Topics
- 🖌️ Descriptive Topics
- 🏺 Narrative Topics: History
- 🔮 Creative Writing Topics
- 🎓 Topics for Various Fields
- ✍️ Topics for Different Essay Types
- 🚫 Topics to Avoid
🔝 top 10 essay topics for college students, 📋 how to pick a college essay topic.
There is no universal advice on picking a great essay topic. However, the tips below will surely help you avoid choosing a mediocre one. Just follow these steps:
STEP #1: Start with brainstorming.
Relax and write down everything that comes to mind. It can be related to your personal life or areas of interest.
STEP#2: Use outside sources.
If you need additional inspiration, find a list of essay topic suggestions. Pick several options that appeal to you.
STEP#3: Select a topic.
Once you have your list of possible topics, do the following:
- Review the essay instructions or prompt, if you have one.
- Exclude ideas that are not suitable or compelling enough.
- Decide which of the remaining topics you want to write about. It might be the one you are interested in or understand best.
College Essay Topics: Fields & Disciplines
Now that you know how to choose a theme for your assignment, let’s examine this list of college essay ideas. These exceptional topics are arranged by subject, so you can go right to the section that interests you the most.
🧑 Personal Essay Topics for College
- Your perfect date.
- Settling an argument.
- What’s usually in your bag.
- Your most memorable purchase.
- What your upbringing was like.
- One quote that inspired you the most.
- What you do to make the world better.
- Where you want to spend your life.
- When the effort was worth the result.
- An unusual feeling you’ve experienced.
- A life-changing adventure. There are many ways to write about adventure in an essay . You can describe an interesting situation from your own life or one experienced by another individual, perhaps a famous figure.
- Positive and negative leadership examples. Typically, essays on leadership describe a specific person or a situation. A more interesting perspective on this subject is highlighting episodes of disastrous leadership. Some examples include the expansion of fascism after World War I or exploitation under European colonialism .
- Decision making. Both mundane and monumental, earth-shattering decisions make great essay topics. You can choose a situation and describe what the decision-maker did correctly or incorrectly.
- Deciding what to wear today. This might be the most mundane decision that everyone makes daily. However, just because it’s so ordinary, it might yield a fascinating college essay if explored thoughtfully.
- President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan. This decision may have been the most significant of human history. It marked the introduction of a technology that could annihilate the human race. This decision may have been the most significant of human history. It marked the introduction of a technology that could annihilate the human race.
- Purchasing decisions in the supermarket. Similarly, everyone decides what to eat several times every day. In an essay on this subject, focus on the most interesting factors influencing grocery shopping decisions.
- Picking a book to read. According to The Atlantic, an average modern American reads fewer books than at any earlier time in history. With this in mind, consider writing an essay on selecting a book to read. This is particularly interesting when you recognize that more books are being published nowadays than ever before.
- Childhood experiences as behavioral drives. An analysis of childhood experiences can help interpret individual character traits. Any challenge and achievement play a part in the formation of behavioral drives. You can discuss them in the context of one’s mental development .
- Parenting styles and motives. Everyone knows that the role of parents in children’s lives is crucial. For your essay, you can choose to evaluate specific approaches to interacting with a child. Obtain reliable data about a child’s habits and find correlations with social adaptation principles.
- Problem-solving skills in everyday life. Problem-solving skills allow a person to overcome challenges. You may assess these skills from your perspective. This essay can also highlight the traits that enable you to cope with difficulties.
- Negotiation skills and conflict resolution attainments. The ability to compromise is a valuable personal quality. It can be helpful in different areas of interpersonal communication. In your paper, analyze ways to enhance this skill for successful conflict resolution.
- Bill Gates’ initiative to create Microsoft and change the world. Thanks to Bill Gates , computer technologies became available to everyone. Assessing his career path can help identify specific components of success. What valuable lessons can we learn from him?
🖌️ Descriptive Essay Topics for College Students
- What your hometown is like.
- What you dislike about the Internet.
- If emotions were personified.
- How you experience art.
- Holiday season and nostalgia.
- Your personal teaching experience.
- How regular workout makes you feel.
- The impact of music on your body.
- National holidays in different countries.
- Traditions you observed around the world.
- Marriage: then and now. In bygone eras, most children were born within wedlock. In the contemporary world, fewer marriages take place than before. What are the reasons behind it?
- Pressure on women to marry. In the past, women were coerced into marriage more forcefully than men. Unfortunately, this tendency remains in many societies even today. You can choose this topic to investigate sexism in everyday life.
- Sports in your life. Everywhere in the world, fans fervently adore sports . It’s a spectacular subject for an essay, no matter if your tone is serious or lighthearted.
- Football : pros and cons. An essay about this popular American sport will surely spark your readers’ interest. For instance, you may explore the long-term health risks associated with concussions.
- Basketball as a global sport. After soccer, basketball is the most rapidly growing sport globally. Your basketball essay could delve into the geopolitical implications of this newly globalized sport.
- What is love ? It is the quintessential human emotion , and that’s why it’s a timeless topic for any writing assignment.
- Happiness and how to achieve it. Love and happiness go together, so it is no surprise that happiness is a fruitful writing topic . You can choose to concentrate on pursuing happiness, simply being happy, or anything else.
- The 19 th century origins of Christmas carols . You could write about the origins of Christmas carols, most of which date back to the 19 th century. Before that, Christmas songs were restricted to church hymns .
- Christmas carols around the world. Every country with a significant population of Christians celebrates Christmas uniquely, making the global diversity of Christmas carols one of the more interesting essay topics.
- Personal feelings evoked by Christmas carols. Once again, you can focus on your personal experience. Simply describe how Christmas carols make you feel. feel.
🏺 Narrative Essay Topics for College Students: History
- The life of Socrates.
- Nero and the Roman Empire.
- Everyday life of Puritans.
- Events of Mexican-American War.
- Life during the Great Depression.
- Women in Trojan War.
- The start of the Nuclear Age.
- Heroes of the Space Race.
- Pearl Harbor through the eyes of a witness.
- The fall of the Sumer civilization.
- Local heroes. You can write a fantastic college essay on a historical personality who is highly appraised in your state. What is this person’s contribution, and what makes them outstanding?
- Real-life villains. The Ivy League essays often include an analysis of notorious people’s deeds or personalities. You can write about Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin , Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Josef Mengele, H. H. Holmes, Caligula, and many others.
- Influential people in any area. Your college essay can focus on some notable figures in politics, finance, science, literature, architecture, visual arts, music, sports, or pop culture.
- The most influential women. You can write about women who achieved a lot in the “men’s world.” Choose between Elizabeth I , Margaret Thatcher , Indira Gandhi, and many other renowned figures.
- Scientists who changed the world. You may write a great college essay about the contributions of Nikola Tesla, Charles Darwin , Thomas Edison , and other scientists. What areas of our lives have changed thanks to these people?
- Great conquerors and their power. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan , Attila, and other commanders were outstanding people of their time. They expanded their territories thanks to successful military campaigns. Your essay may focus on one of these great conquerors.
- Hitler’s decision to unleash World War II . Adolph Hitler’s personality is often explored in academic works. Your paper can explore what prompted the German leader to popularize Nazism in Europe . Understanding it may help prevent the repetition of such events.
- Religious figures. Explore individuals who developed essential doctrines and spiritual teachings. Your essay may include the key ideas of people such as Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Smith Jr.
- Fighters for justice and equality. Democratic societies were significantly influenced by those who struggled for human rights. Freedom of people around the world was their primary goal. Your essay can assess the roles of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King Jr .
- Voyagers and discoverers. Thanks to the great explorers of the past, the world as we know it today was shaped. You can write about Christopher Columbus , Ferdinand Magellan, and others in your paper.
- Roman emperors . Ancient Rome was the greatest civilization of its time. Throughout its history, individual emperors have contributed to its prosperity. Julius Caesar , Nero, and other rulers can be the focus of your essay.
🔮 Creative Writing Topics for College Students
- A conversation with yourself from the past.
- What would life be like on a rogue planet?
- If you were an ancient conqueror.
- A children’s fairy tale.
- What if there is no money in the world?
- A new perspective on a famous story.
- If you lived in another era.
- What are animals thinking?
- A perfect world as you see it.
- A horror story in the style of Kafka.
- Detective stories . Suspense is often the key to interesting essays. You can write a unique story about a murder in a castle, a theft in your college dorm, or fraud in a famous (or fictional) company.
- The world of your fantasy. Write an outstanding college essay that describes a brave new (or beautiful) world. Your dreams, books, films, or even news you’ve heard can be the source of your inspiration.
- Stream of consciousness . It can be the most straightforward task you have ever completed. Just write about your thought, dreams, and ideas. Whatever comes to your mind! Make sure to edit it afterward.
- Description of a dystopian world. Come up with a dystopian scenario to assess contemporary vices and problems. Use descriptive words to make your essay stand out.
- A new look at traditional values. For a creative essay, try rethinking traditional values. For instance, you may provide new perspectives on compassion, charity, respect, and other essential components of a civilized society.
- A short movie script. One of the ideas is to write a short film script on any topic. This task will allow you to showcase your storytelling skills .
- The future as you imagine it. You can pay particular attention to social issues and their development. Will the situation improve in the future?
- Reporter experience. Conduct an investigation and report your findings in a creative essay. This work may include interviews, illustrations, and the analysis of issues. This approach allows moving away from traditional forms of essay writing .
- On behalf of another person. Take an opportunity to explore an issue from someone else’s perspective. For instance, you can assess the difficulties faced by people of the opposite sex. It can help analyze the problems of interpersonal communication .
🎓 College Essay Topics for Various Fields
College life essay topics.
- Making a choice. You can write your college essay about making a decision. For example, how did you choose your college? Are you happy with your choice?
- Good and bad habits . Write about the patterns that affect your academic life. How can you get rid of the unproductive ones?
- Major challenges . In your college experience essay, you can describe the major issues you have faced during your school years. How did you handle them?
- Time-management practices. College studies are often stressful. That’s why multitasking is an important skill. In your essay, explore the topic of time management. Analyze the algorithms for competent task distribution.
- Memorable events. Did you ever have a life-changing experience? You can write a perfect college essay about it.
- University life: expectations vs. reality. You can also try to imagine your future and write an essay on your expectations related to university life .
- Interaction with classmates. An interesting topic for a college life essay is building relationships with classmates. It can be helpful to study the basics of teamwork. Conflict resolution practices are also important factors of interpersonal peer communication.
- Freshman experience. You can describe it in anecdotes or conduct some research. For instance, assess the challenges and barriers that first-year students face. Then, determine optimal mechanisms to overcome them.
- Teamwork and group activities. Describe appropriate ways to communicate with people in groups. Or, you can focus on the crucial features of effective teamwork .
- Research work experience. College education involves conducting many kinds of research. They refer to theoretical training and the practical study of subjects. In this regard, you can describe your personal research experience.
- The importance of self-education. Students often face the need to study some subjects on their own. Self-education and its aspects can be an exciting topic to explore. Focus on honing individual skills and overcoming academic challenges.
- A comparison of high school and college. For many high school students, the idea of college study is different from reality. You can describe the distinctions between the two levels of education. Give personal views on the learning process and common pitfalls.
Health Topics for College Students
- Healthy eating . In the wealthiest and poorest countries on Earth, healthy eating has very different meanings. Focusing on cultural variations of healthy eating has plenty of potential.
- Fast food and its popularity. People have never eaten so much fast food as they do now. Consider writing about this interesting trend and its health implications.
- Childhood obesity as a global health issue . Because of all the high-calorie foods available today, many children in industrialized countries have weight problems. This issue has some extraordinary potential for persuasive writing.
- The problem of alcoholism . Substance abuse problems such as alcoholism have been an exemplary subject of writing for a long time. You can contemplate the implications of this problem in your college essay.
- Teen pregnancy: risk factors . In many regions of the world, teen pregnancy rates are higher than ever . The phenomenon is often associated with poverty and lower levels of education.
- Smoking in public . Should it be outlawed? Is it a public health hazard or just fundamental liberty that the government is unjustified to control or even regulate?
- Why do people smoke ? All smokers have their initial justifications for starting to smoke, so perhaps use your essay to explore one or several reasons.
- Quitting smoking . Some people use tobacco substitutes like candies or even nicotine gum. Whatever the methods are, everyone struggles when trying to overcome an addiction.
- Smoking should be banned . This is an extremely strong stance, but these are often the most entertaining essays to write.
- Smoking and mood. Studying the linkage between smoking and mood is undeniably intriguing, especially if you smoke or know a smoker.
- Dangers of secondhand smoke . When a person smokes, nearby people also breathe in many of the toxins. You could write about the moral implications or the societal and health impacts of this phenomenon.
- Smoking and cancer. Everyone understands that tobacco use is linked to cancer, so attempt to take a novel perspective if you choose this topic.
- Smoking and cardiovascular disease. Long-term smoking has been linked to heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD.) Try to convince your reader of these very clear dangers in your essay.
- Peer pressure and tobacco use. The vast majority of smokers develop this habit at a young age because their friends or acquaintances are already smoking.
- Smoking in pop culture. In the past, movies and TV shows often depicted smoking. Your essay could explore how this pattern has evolved.
- Acquiring bad habits from family members. As pointed out by a famous public service announcement from the 1980s, addictions such as smoking can run in families. You could explain the implications of it.
Ideas for College Essay on Ethics and Society
- Abortion as a controversy . You could use this topic for an abortion debate essay. Rather than taking one position, try to do your best to present different perspectives.
- The case against abortion . In writing a pro-life essay , you need to offer various reasons to oppose abortion.
- The case for access to abortion. You may also consider a pro-choice essay . In this type of abortion persuasive essay, you need to emphasize the costs to individuals and society when women are denied access to abortions.
- Shoplifting and its consequences. Your essay could explore the motivation for this practice, methods of discouraging it, or even its implications to retail businesses. Maybe you can even detail a personal story about a friend who has shoplifted .
- Domestic violence in developed countries. Violence against women and children is frequent in all societies, so you can use your essay as an opportunity to explore domestic violence .
- Types of animal cruelty . Another woefully widespread form of abuse is animal cruelty. It can range from dog fights to factory farming and everything in-between.
- Capital punishment: pros and cons. The vast majority of governments have banned this barbaric practice. When judicial systems have the authority to take lives as punishment for crimes , there are profound social implications.
- Current events analysis. If you have difficulty picking a topic, open up a newspaper or go to your favorite news website . Your next essay can be on the first article you read that captures your attention.
- History of child labor . Under this subject, you could survey the decline of child labor over time. You might also want to consider atypical counterexamples of this trend.
- Child labor laws . Child labor doesn’t occur on a larger scale because it is banned by law. Take some time to research the effectiveness of these laws.
- Child labor across the world. In this essay, try to evaluate how child labor practices vary from one geographic region to another.
- Unemployment and child labor. Sometimes, there aren’t enough jobs even for the adults in a nation, not to mention children. Consider exploring why this happens.
Environmental Issues Essay Topics for College
- Local environmental issues . Success in college essay writing largely depends on one factor: you should pick a problem you are interested in or know a lot about. For example, describe what environmental issues you and your community face.
- The most urgent ecological problems. Burning issues such as pollution, deforestation , biodiversity loss , and scarcity of natural resources can jeopardize the existence of the human race if solutions are not found. You can come up with a perfect essay on any of these challenges.
- Solutions to environmental problems. Winning college essays often include describing and analyzing efficient or inefficient solutions. You can write about emissions restrictions , the use of renewable energy sources, and so on. Why are some solutions ineffective?
- Renewable energy. Solar energy, windmills, electric vehicles, and many other solutions are implemented every year, but environmental issues persist. Your essay can answer the following questions: Why is renewable energy underused? Why is the production of electric vehicles in its infancy, although it started at the beginning of the 20th century?
- Global and political perspectives on sustainability. Some countries, especially in Western Europe, are making significant progress in developing sustainable practices. However, some states focus on gaining economic well-being or supremacy, especially in the developing world. Will the US be one of the global polluters in the future?
- Global warming and how to stop it. This is an urgent contemporary issue that deserves particular attention. An essay on a climate catastrophe may prompt readers to discuss the problem. Describe the ways to avoid adverse consequences for nature and humanity.
- Water and air pollution. Write about the impact of pollution on individual spheres of life. For example, focus on the correlation between contamination and economy.
- The depletion of natural resources. Ecological issues are often connected with natural resources. They’re essential in industrialized societies. You can discuss the depletion of these resources in your college essay.
- The issues of waste disposal. Environmental activists are concerned about severe soil pollution . They also address the negative impact of landfills on ecology. All of this shows that waste disposal is an urgent issue. Study how much of a threat it poses for humanity.
- The dangers of animal extinction. Over the past few decades, many species have become endangered . You can review this problem as a consequence of industrial development.
- Deforestation’s consequences. This topic is closely related to the issue of mass extinction. Forests are a habitat for countless species of animals and plants. What adverse effects does deforestation entail?
- The economic impact of environmental problems. Focus on financial aspects and budget spending on pollution control . You can also highlight the importance of addressing challenges associated with climate change.
Topics for Funny College Essays
- Humorous stories and personal experiences. University essay writing can be enjoyable and even entertaining. Describe some of your adventures or make up a funny story for your assignment. Be creative !
- Interesting historical facts. You can find tons of funny stories if you dig deeper into history. Many entertaining events are well-documented. Choose one and write an essay about it.
- Funny and awkward situations. All students know what it’s like to be in an uncomfortable situation. Try to describe such an event in a comical way. It will allow you to look at it from a different perspective.
- Dealing with unexpected tests. Sometimes professors don’t warn their students about upcoming tests . Did it ever happen to you? You probably didn’t enjoy these experiences. Still, why not describe them in a humorous essay?
- Your personal teaching experience . This topic is suitable for student teachers. Have you tried teaching a whole classroom of noisy children? Successful or not, these experiences make great anecdotes.
- Excessive efforts. Some students put too much effort into education. Sometimes it pays off, and other times it’s all in vain. Does it sound familiar to you? Write an essay about it!
- Poor time management. Delays, late deadlines, and other time management catastrophes can form the basis of this essay.
- Jokes on classmates. Innocent pranks help maintain a friendly environment and even serve as team building . Describe the memories of such humorous situations in your essay.
- Your professors’ jokes. Not only students but also teachers are often inclined towards humor. Occasional jokes on their part can be a good essay topic for college. Such gags can contribute to maintaining interest in a learning environment .
- Least favorite lessons. Describe the most boring or unpleasant class you can remember in a humorous manner.
- Making friends with other students. Awkward and funny situations often accompany these experiences. They can serve as a topic for a great essay.
- Unexpected praise. It’s always a pleasure to receive unexpected recognition from teachers. It’s especially gratifying when you do something well by accident or without even trying. Did anything like that ever happen to you? Then write a short story about it!
Best College Essay Topics on Gender Issues
- Machismo: what is it? How was the term coined? What are areas of life negatively affected by this phenomenon? Think about sports, politics, or popular culture.
- Gender roles in modern societies. Many Harvard essays provide answers to the following questions. How are gender roles distributed in your country, community, family? What factors led to this distribution?
- Famous feminists. Explore the contributions of Lucrezia Marinella, Anne Bradstreet, Emmeline Pankhurst, Eleanor Roosevelt , Marlene Dietrich, Alice Walker, Hillary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, and many other renowned women.
- Men’s views on gender. Writing a good college essay involves an analysis of different perspectives. It can be fascinating to examine men’s attitudes towards gender issues .
- Matriarchy as a social system. You can write about modern societies such as Bribri or Garo. Or, you can find examples of matriarchy in the past. What about Neolithic Ages or Bronze Age ?
- Biological differences between sexes. It can be an eye-opening experience to explore physical differences between men and women. Are they that different?
- Patriarchal society in today’s world. Assessing patriarchy as a trend can help identify key stereotypes and stigmas. How can we facilitate women empowerment ?
- Workplace gender discrimination . Even today, many women struggle to get promoted due to gender stereotypes. Biased attitudes are unacceptable in modern organizations. Where do they originate from, and what should be done about it?
- Conflicts between boys and girls at school. The foundations of interpersonal interaction are laid in a collective environment. Analyze students’ behavior patterns related to interactions between boys and girls. What are the most common causes of conflicts?
- Family violence from a gender perspective. Family violence is a grave social problem. In your paper, identify the underlying determinants of domestic abuse .
- The role of women in science . Assess the contribution of women scientists from different eras. You can focus on their specific achievements and auxiliary work. Both the humanities and the sciences are suitable for analysis.
- Individual duties in parenting. The roles of fathers and mothers in families are often separated. In your essay, analyze stereotypes and behavioral patterns related to parenthood. You can use specific variables such as the time spent with children.
- Women in male-dominated occupations. Assess the performance of women in positions usually occupied by men. You can study female CEOs, firefighters, or filmmakers. What are the career prospects for women in these fields?
Titles for College Essays on Diversity
- Cultural diversity’s importance . Many Stanford essays explore issues associated with cultural diversity and how it can affect individuals, workplaces, and societies.Many Stanford essays explore issues associated with cultural diversity and how it can affect individuals, workplaces, and societies.
- Ethnic diversity in different countries. The US is one of the most conventional examples of a melting pot. How do people of different cultural backgrounds co-exist there? What challenges do they face? How do they solve conflicts?
- Variety of religious beliefs. Religion is one of the most interesting subjects to write an essay on. You can concentrate on Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and dozens of other religions. Scientology or Happy Science can also be excellent essay subjects.
- Diversity related to sexual identity . You can write an outstanding argumentative essay on same-sex marriages or the inclusion of issues such as transgender identity in the K-12 curriculum.
- Personal contribution to diversity development. Address the promotion of diversity as an important social phenomenon. Your essay will raise awareness of this practice.
- Children’s and adults’ views on diversity and ethnicity. This essay can highlight crucial aspects of interpersonal communication. You can pose questions from a child’s perspective. Do other people’s ethnic backgrounds play an essential role for children compared to adults?
- Cross-cultural management in modern organizations. Leaders of various companies promote this valuable practice. It’s highly relevant in today’s business environment. The trend of globalization is one of its crucial factors.
- Gender diversity in the management field. Issues related to the distribution of leadership roles are often discussed in the context of gender. In your paper, evaluate the perception of male and female managers. This analysis may reveal the existing trends and views on the issue of diversity .
- Gender diversity from a criminological perspective . You can evaluate the current situation in the legal field. Assess offenses committed by people of different genders. The proportion of female prisoners, the severity of crimes, and other essential aspects can be used as criteria for comparison. This work may help assess potential bias.
- Gender diversity in the army. Attitudes towards women in military service are interesting to discuss. In an essay, you can present distinctive opinions. Mention the importance of involving people of all genders.
Short Essay Topics for College
- Teenagers’ concerns . You can write a simple essay on the appropriate age to vote or the proper age to buy alcohol. You may also want to examine major reasons for misunderstanding between teenage children and their parents.
- Best something ever. An excellent way to start a college essay is to write about something you admire, such as your favorite movie. What can you learn from it?
- Someone inspirational. For example, why not write an essay about your favorite teacher? How did this person change your life?
- Political issues in the US. Many short college essays are concerned with political life. You can write a winning essay about Electoral College or the flaws in the US voting system.
- An abstract concept. You can define an idea in your short essay. For instance, write about consumerism and the existing definitions of this term. Which one is the most appropriate? Why?
- Modern social values . The topic refers to the shift in moral values. For example, you can discuss the roles of wealth and personal beliefs. Compare them with the values of past eras to highlight the changes.
- Contemporary addictions and methods to deal with them. Explore excessive smartphone use, gaming , and other new addictions. Include the ways of dealing with these problems.
- A management theory overview. This paper can summarize individual findings related to management. Alternatively, you can present one of the theories of business development.
- Proposal of a legal act. This topic is perfect for a law essay. For example, discuss the document’s purpose, stakeholders , and industry-specific implications. The intersection with other regulations is optional.
- A geographic location. A short essay format is convenient for a description of a specific place. You can start by providing the basic facts about it. Include its population, area, resources, and several other parameters.
- Definition of an economic term. In this short essay, analyze a term of your choice. For instance, discuss inflation , capital, clearing, or any other definition. Explain the term you’ve chosen in simple words.
- A science to study. Choosing a science to learn is a potentially daunting task. In your essay, assess any field of study you like. Describe their benefits and pitfalls. You can also mention career prospects.
Great College Essay Ideas in Visual Arts
- Historical periods in art. Your paper can dwell upon a specific era. Why did the Renaissance occur? What are the central peculiarities of Postmodernism ?
- Artists and their personalities. Countless Cornell essays on art provide insight into artists’ legacy. Your essay writing can become a fascinating process if you focus on Leonardo, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Andy Warhol , Artemisia Gentileschi , or Barbara Kruger.
- Prospects of artistic forms. You can use your imagination and think of the world in the 2100s. Try to predict the movements that will become popular in 100 years.
- Masterpieces. Essay writing practice is associated with the ability to narrow topics down. You can choose a specific work for your analysis from the following list: The Birth of Venice , The Scream , Starry Night , and Girl with a Pearl Earring .
- Different genres and styles in visual art . Many distinctive genres characterize visual arts. They differ in style, period, and other aspects. In your essay, you can describe impressionism, surrealism , cubism, abstract art, and other genres.
- Mediums in visual arts. Every art form is distinguished by the use of materials. Explore the peculiarities of oil paintings, prints, or watercolors.
- Art galleries to visit around the world. You may want to choose one art gallery and describe its history. Your essay will be even more interesting if you add the descriptions of the most famous artworks found in the museum.
- How auction houses work. Numerous art pieces and collectibles are sold at auctions. One of the world’s most famous auction houses is Sotheby’s. In your paper, present the workings of an auction of your choice. Add individual examples of profitable deals from its history.
- The most expensive art objects . The cost of many classical paintings is enormous. The prices are usually estimated by qualified experts. Explore this topic in your essay and include information on the most expensive art objects.
- The comparison of classical and contemporary art forms. Art is a dynamic environment that is constantly evolving. New genres and forms of expression appear regularly. In your paper, compare classical canvases with modern means of creative expression such as graffiti . What influences the emergence of new art forms?
- Rescued artworks and their history. History knows examples of great artworks that were found centuries after their disappearance. Your essay can study several art objects saved during wars.
Conspiracy-Related College Essay Topics That Stand Out
- Space exploration . If your essay requirements concerning the topic are not too strict, you can try to answer some of the following questions. Did “a giant leap for mankind” really occur? Why was the Moon project shut down? Is there life on Mars ?
- Wealth distribution. An excellent essay for college students can focus on the allocation of resources. Is there a league of people who own or control all the resources ? How did the world’s wealthiest people earn their money?
- Secret societies of the past and present. Does the Illuminati exist? Can such a secret society persist in the modern world?
- Catastrophes and reasons behind them. Why did Titanic drown? Was the curse of the Pharaoh real? Was the Chernobyl nuclear disaster an accident , or was it an unsuccessful experiment of KGB?
- JFK’s assassination . Who killed the most loved president? Why was the investigation so inadequate? Were any other countries’ agents involved?
- Aliens among us. Does Area 51 exist? What do governments hide? With questions like these, essay writing for college students can be exciting!
- Did Adolf Hitler escape after World War II? One of the most mysterious conspiracy theories is the possible escape of Adolf Hitler. Some people believe that the Nazi leader moved to Argentina after World War II . Your essay may discuss whether his suicide was staged.
- Is HIV an experimental biological weapon against humanity? The end of the 20th century was a difficult time. During this period, a suspicion arose that HIV was a biological weapon. Pharmaceutical companies and governments were blamed for this. What caused this conspiracy?
- Did Elvis Presley fake his death? Elvis Presley , the idol of millions, passed away long ago. However, many fans don’t believe in this outcome. A conspiracy theory was born that the musician faked his death. You can explore its implications and determine what it says about American pop culture.
- 5G cell towers exposure and accusations against Bill Gates . Explore the public fears related to the potential exposure to 5G cell towers. Include the experts’ opinions and assess the role of Bill Gates as one of the promoters of fast Internet.
- Flat Earth theory and its followers. In recent years, many flat Earth proponents have emerged worldwide. In your essay, compare their arguments with officially existing data. Why is this conspiracy so widespread?
- COVID-19 conspiracy theory. Certain groups of people doubt the threat of the pandemic. They believe that the coronavirus is a fictional problem. Your essay might focus on the evidence for the virus’s existence.
✍️ Topics for Different College Essay Types
Below you’ll find writing prompts for problem solution, cause and effect, and definition essays. There’s also a section with personal statement essay topics. Check them out!
- In a problem-solution essay , you need to introduce an issue and suggest several ways to fight it. Usually, each body paragraph describes a different solution. This essay aims to convince the audience that these scenarios are the best ways to eliminate the problem.
- In a cause and effect essay , you need to discuss a problem, its reasons, and possible consequences. It’s better to pay attention to topics that involve multiple studies of the issue (you can read our cause and effect essay guide to learn more.)
- In a definition essay , you need to explain a term, concept, or idea. Sometimes a definition is only a part of a more extensive research paper. It’s crucial to study the topic from different perspectives to provide an extended definition. Before you start working on your essay, make sure that the meaning of the word you’ve chosen is not too simple.
- In a personal statement , you write about yourself. Writing a personal statement or a transfer essay is crucial when applying to college. How do you make it a winning paper? Read our personal statement guide .
Problem Solution Essay Topics for College Students
- How can students contribute to educational system changes in the United States? Discuss student communities and their impact on college life. Do students need to have more power and control over changes in the educational system?
- Ensuring access to clean water in developing African countries. Describe the achievements of charities that aim to help countries such as Ethiopia . You may also write about the costs of technologies that filter water. What are the possible solutions with a limited budget?
- How can you help make energy cleaner? Try to think about what you can do on campus that will enable clean energy access. Decide whether it should be a part of your curriculum.
- Ways of reducing plastic waste in oceans. Research the current efforts of environmental organizations and big businesses. Then, evaluate them and find the best solution.
- Healthy eating habits among children. Think about the right age to start educating children on healthy eating . Find several possible ways to develop the proper habits without forcing children.
- How can students address sustainability and climate change? Describe your participation in ecological projects, communities, etc. You can also discuss the possible things you and other students can do without spending too much time and money.
- Ways of stopping healthcare rising costs in the United States. Highlight the current problems of the healthcare model . What measures does the government take to solve them? Try to find the best way to optimize the resources.
- Psychological support for children who suffered from violence. Research the techniques specialists use when working with children. What do you find more preferable: therapy or medication ? Suggest how we can protect children from further offenses.
- How can we provide equal chances to children who want to receive an education? For this essay, find as much information as possible about financial aid , including grants, loans, and other projects. What’s the best way to make education accessible to everyone?
- Reducing homelessness in the United States. Study the factors that make people homeless and what the government does to fight it. Then try to come up with an action plan.
Cause and Effect Essay Topics for College Students
- The effects of regular alcohol consumption on women’s health. Everyone knows that excessive alcohol consumption has highly adverse effects. In your essay, you can discuss the causes of alcoholism in women. Try to find specific information about diseases, psychological problems, and lifestyle changes related to them.
- What causes bullying among preschool children? Children might get violent due to many factors. Describe what beliefs and behavioral patterns influence their actions at preschool age.
- What are the economic effects of the 2020 lockdown ? Write about the changes in the labor market, remote jobs, and new opportunities. How did small businesses manage to survive in extreme circumstances?
- Lack of education in African countries: causes and effects. Discuss why children in some African countries don’t have access to education. Then, explain how it affects labor markets and economies. Make sure to choose only one country as a research subject.
- What will be the effects of implementing higher taxes on tobacco ? Will it inspire people to quit smoking or buy fewer tobacco products? Study the previous cases of such measures and predict the outcomes.
- How does social media affect communication in families? For this essay, research the impact of social media on family relationships. Do social media users communicate more or less with their closest relatives? on family relationships. Do social media users communicate more or less with their closest relatives?
- The causes and effects of glacier melting . Global warming, ozone depletion, and many other factors contribute to this process. Discuss how this issue influences people and animals.
- What would happen if everyone started using electric cars? Study the benefits and drawbacks of electric vehicles . You might discuss the CO2 emissions and safety.
- What are the effects of animal hunting in the United States. We can call hunting a hobby, a sport, and even an illegal activity. In your essay, describe the current laws and why people want to hunt. How do these activities influence animals’ populations?
- The causes and effects of chemical pollution in China. China is the biggest manufacturer of goods in the world. However, the waste that the factories produce becomes dangerous for its ecology. In your essay, research how chemical pollution affects the everyday life and health of the Chinese people.
Definition Essay Topics for College
- Behaviorism in psychology and philosophy. Consider writing your essay on behaviorism as a psychological movement at the beginning of the 20 th century. Additionally, you can provide a broader definition by researching behaviorism in philosophy. century. Additionally, you can provide a broader definition by researching behaviorism in philosophy.
- How can we define egoism ? People interpret human behavior and character traits in different ways. Someone who seems to be an egoist to you can seem like someone with a sense of self-worth to another person. You can provide your own viewpoint on this issue.
- What is the definition of evil ? Some people believe in eternal evil , while others see evil even in the littlest bad things that happen to them. In your opinion, what makes someone or something evil?
- Does the term “commodification” only apply to goods? In the modern world, everything has value. Discuss the moral aspects of commodification and the limits of its application.
- What is your definition of the word “endurance” ? You can compare the physical abilities of athletes and non-athletes. Don’t forget to mention mental stamina that involves dealing with psychological pressure and overcoming difficulties.
- Does the word “ambition” have a positive or negative meaning? Naturally, you can’t give a single answer to this question. Instead, you can discuss both sides of this concept in your paper.
- How can you define the word “dualism”? Describe all the meanings of the word “ dualism ” in philosophy and daily life. Don’t forget to provide your understanding of the concept. You may also explain why this term is controversial.
- What does the word “identity” make you think of? Cover all the meanings of this word. Begin with a set of qualities that defines a person. Also, you may include a psychological interpretation of the term.
- What is your interpretation of the word “justice”? Discuss the legal definition of this concept. Also, you can write about the moral aspects and the subjective meaning of the term. Describe how justice is related to rewards and punishments and its place in the modern world.
- What are your thoughts about realism ? This term is used in many disciplines. For example, it’s prominent in literature and art. In your essay, you may describe realism as a philosophical concept and its different forms and perceptions.
Themes for Your Personal Statement Essay
- Your academic credentials. When writing about your academic achievements , it is appropriate to mention the major things like your degree or courses you’ve had. It’s better to focus on the moral lessons you’ve learned rather than your grades and certificates.
- Your personality traits. A successful acceptance essay will reveal your character. Admission officers want to know who the applicants are. Every university has its specific culture, so they should make sure you can fit in.
- An event that changed your life. Of course, your college entry essay can’t be just an enumeration of character traits. Describe some circumstances where your personal qualities manifested themselves. Again, it’s best to focus on the lessons you’ve learned!
- Commitment as your character trait. Your college admittance essay should also show your dedication. Why do you want to study there? Why do you want to take the course you’ve chosen? What are you ready to do for your alma mater?
- Humor in your life. Even Harvard personal statement essays are often characterized by humor. Write about your failures in a funny way, and admission officers will see your ability to stand up and fight.
- Academic goals and ways to achieve them. Choosing a field to study is a responsible step. You can describe this process in a personal statement . Justify your choice and mention the academic skills necessary for this particular field.
- Creative writing . When applying to a course in English, it can be effective to write a poem rather than a typical description of your educational background.
- Views on society and contemporary values. You can impress the committee by discussing your opinions. One convenient approach is to focus on modern society and its values. Analyze the foundations of a particular cultural environment and assess interaction gaps.
- Professional objectives you want to achieve. Without mentioning professional goals, a personal statement will be incomplete. One effective strategy is to evaluate the desired prospects you want to achieve. They can be related to education as well as work. Pay attention to relevant resources needed to acquire optimal skills.
- Cultural background from an ethnic perspective. A personal statement can be focused not only on your academic experience but also on your cultural background . Include the basic facts about your ethnicity, parents, beliefs, family values, and other information. This way, you’ll present yourself comprehensively and impartially.
- Self-evaluation over time: personal strengths and skills. Both short- and long-term perspectives are worth mentioning. Assessing individual development and career growth can provide you with a helpful timeline.
🚫 College Essay Topics to Avoid
When it comes to college essays, some topics might produce a wrong impression or offend your audience. That is why you need to know what kind of content is not suitable for your academic writing.
Here are the most common examples of the topics that you should avoid:
- Your personal life. Better leave the stories about your breakups aside. For a successful application essay, you can focus on the other areas of your life. Try to choose a topic that will show how well you are suited for the college.
- Inappropriate humor. Provocative, mean, or cruel jokes are not suitable for college essays. Your audience probably won’t consider such humor clever or funny. If you are unsure if a joke fits your task, don’t hesitate to ask your professor.
- Tragic stories. This trope is critical to avoid when writing essays about yourself. It’s okay to mention tragic events, but it’s best to avoid making a pessimistic narrative out of your paper. Instead, you can describe such occurrences as challenges to overcome and focus on the positives.
- Sensitive or controversial topics. Avoid them if you know that they may offend your readers. Politics, religion, abortions, and cruelty are not the best topics for college essays. If your assignment requires writing an essay on one of those topics, make sure you don’t make bold statements or provoke your audience.
- Cliché topics. It’s better to avoid writing about your academic achievements, volunteering, or winning a sports competition. Admissions officers and professors have read similar essays thousands of times.
- Overly narrow topics . It’s good to choose a topic that stands out because it’s not cliché. However, it becomes harder to find enough relevant information if it’s too obscure or limited. Choose a topic like this only if you are sure you will have enough data to research.
- Insulting someone. Offensiveness is a wrong approach to your assignment that creates a negative impression. It’s crucial to stay objective and professional when it comes to academic writing.
- Fancy words. Avoid overcomplicating your essay’s title and its contents. It’s also not a great idea to begin your essay with a trite quote. Instead, it’s best to prioritize logic and clear structure during writing.
- Vague topics . It will likely make your essay lack a focus, which will come off as unprofessional. Make sure to always narrow your topic down to a particular issue.
- Untrue and unrealistic topics. It might be interesting to fantasize about impossible scenarios and get creative. Still, remember that you need to support your statements with solid evidence. It’s much harder to do when you deal with unrealistic topics.
We hope these college essay topics helped you make a great choice. If you need more proposal argument essay topics, feel free to use our topic generator . Let us know in the comments what topic you’ve chosen!
This might be interesting for you:
- College Essay Writing 101—the Comprehensive Guide
- How to Write a Creative Essay: Tips, Topics and Techniques
- Descriptive Writing Exercises to Boost Your Imagination
- Terrific Essay Tools for Fast and Simple Writing
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✏️ College Essay Topic FAQ
Think about something that makes you genuinely interested. You will need to research the subject. So if you are bored from the outset, you won’t be able to do a good job and impress your readers.
A good topic doesn’t have to be very serious. It means that the subject under study should fascinate you. Then you would be able to make it enjoyable for others, too. Study something connected with your hobby, favorite author, or even a country.
To choose a good topic, you need to think about your assignment. Different issues are appropriate for argumentative, persuasive, and other types of essays. The main thing is that the subject should interest you. Your essay would be more exciting for the readers if you have fun writing it.
If you are lucky enough to choose a topic for yourself, you can have fun writing the essay. Don’t waste this opportunity! To figure out the best subject, think about your favorite things. If you want to share something with others, write an essay about it.
- Writing Tips: Thesis Statements: Writers Workshop, The Center for Writing Studies, Illinois
- Essay Introductions: UMGC, the University System of Maryland
- How to Read an Assignment: William C. Rice, for the Writing Center at Harvard University
- Thesis Statements: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- Essay Writing: University of Wollongong
- How to Write High-Quality Papers and Essays More Quickly: Ransom Patterson, College Info Geek
- Essay Tips from Andrew K. Strickler, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid: Connecticut College
- Essays that Worked: Hamilton College
- Popular Application Essay Topics: The Princeton Review
- Women’s Health Topics: US Food & Drug Administration
- Essay Topics: Yale College Undergraduate Admissions
- Essay Topics and Tips: College of Arts and Sciences, Lewis & Clark
- Essay Prompts: Seattle Pacific University
- Essay Questions, Undergraduate Admissions: University of Michigan
- Writing the College Essay: Babson College
- The Essay: NYS Higher Education Services Corporation
- Over 1,000 Writing Prompts for Students: The New York Times
- How to Write a College Essay: Sofia Tokar, Southern New Hampshire University
- Personal Essay Topics and Prompts: ThoughtCo
- Who’s the Most Significant Historical Figure?: The Guardian
- The Dos and Don’ts of Campus Life: CollegeXpress
- Climate Change: National Geographic
- 4 Types of Parenting Styles and Their Effect on Kids: Very Well Family
- Campus Life: What to Expect: My Future
- Gender Equality and Women Empowerment: United Nations
- 100 Creative Writing Prompts for Writers: Writer’s Digest
- 13 Benefits and Challenges of Cultural Diversity at Workplace: Hult International Business School
- 7 Benefits of Gender Diversity at Workplace: Workplace.com
- Artists: The Art History
- Art Movements: Artyfactory
- 36 of the Most Popular Conspiracy Theories in the US: Insider
- Personal Statements: University of Connecticut
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Well, I really liked studying it. This post offered by you is very effective for proper planning.
Glad you found this post useful. Thanks for your feedback and be back for more helpful tips!
I do accept as true with all of the ideas you have offered in your post. They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very brief for starters. Could you please extend them a bit from subsequent time? Thanks for the post.
Firstly, thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it. I’ll definitely take into consideration your request.
All people like adventures and traveling. Adventure essay writing is a nice opportunity to tell about the most amazing events of this kind you had in your life.
You’re absolutely right, Jacob! Thanks for taking a moment and writing the feedback. Hope you’ll be back 🙂
Thanks Thanks Thanks! This totally helped me write my adventure essay! I love your blog, so helpful with writing various types of academic papers.
Such a pleasure to read your warm feedback, Julia! Thanks!
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One of the most common questions we receive at the Writing Center is “what am I supposed to do in my conclusion?” This is a difficult question to answer because there’s no one right answer to what belongs in a conclusion. How you conclude your paper will depend on where you started—and where you traveled. It will also depend on the conventions and expectations of the discipline in which you are writing. For example, while the conclusion to a STEM paper could focus on questions for further study, the conclusion of a literature paper could include a quotation from your central text that can now be understood differently in light of what has been discussed in the paper. You should consult your instructor about expectations for conclusions in a particular discipline.
With that in mind, here are some general guidelines you might find helpful to use as you think about your conclusion.
Begin with the “what”
In a short paper—even a research paper—you don’t need to provide an exhaustive summary as part of your conclusion. But you do need to make some kind of transition between your final body paragraph and your concluding paragraph. This may come in the form of a few sentences of summary. Or it may come in the form of a sentence that brings your readers back to your thesis or main idea and reminds your readers where you began and how far you have traveled.
So, for example, in a paper about the relationship between ADHD and rejection sensitivity, Vanessa Roser begins by introducing readers to the fact that researchers have studied the relationship between the two conditions and then provides her explanation of that relationship. Here’s her thesis: “While socialization may indeed be an important factor in RS, I argue that individuals with ADHD may also possess a neurological predisposition to RS that is exacerbated by the differing executive and emotional regulation characteristic of ADHD.”
In her final paragraph, Roser reminds us of where she started by echoing her thesis: “This literature demonstrates that, as with many other conditions, ADHD and RS share a delicately intertwined pattern of neurological similarities that is rooted in the innate biology of an individual’s mind, a connection that cannot be explained in full by the behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
Highlight the “so what”
At the beginning of your paper, you explain to your readers what’s at stake—why they should care about the argument you’re making. In your conclusion, you can bring readers back to those stakes by reminding them why your argument is important in the first place. You can also draft a few sentences that put those stakes into a new or broader context.
In the conclusion to her paper about ADHD and RS, Roser echoes the stakes she established in her introduction—that research into connections between ADHD and RS has led to contradictory results, raising questions about the “behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
She writes, “as with many other conditions, ADHD and RS share a delicately intertwined pattern of neurological similarities that is rooted in the innate biology of an individual’s mind, a connection that cannot be explained in full by the behavioral mediation hypothesis.”
Leave your readers with the “now what”
After the “what” and the “so what,” you should leave your reader with some final thoughts. If you have written a strong introduction, your readers will know why you have been arguing what you have been arguing—and why they should care. And if you’ve made a good case for your thesis, then your readers should be in a position to see things in a new way, understand new questions, or be ready for something that they weren’t ready for before they read your paper.
In her conclusion, Roser offers two “now what” statements. First, she explains that it is important to recognize that the flawed behavioral mediation hypothesis “seems to place a degree of fault on the individual. It implies that individuals with ADHD must have elicited such frequent or intense rejection by virtue of their inadequate social skills, erasing the possibility that they may simply possess a natural sensitivity to emotion.” She then highlights the broader implications for treatment of people with ADHD, noting that recognizing the actual connection between rejection sensitivity and ADHD “has profound implications for understanding how individuals with ADHD might best be treated in educational settings, by counselors, family, peers, or even society as a whole.”
To find your own “now what” for your essay’s conclusion, try asking yourself these questions:
- What can my readers now understand, see in a new light, or grapple with that they would not have understood in the same way before reading my paper? Are we a step closer to understanding a larger phenomenon or to understanding why what was at stake is so important?
- What questions can I now raise that would not have made sense at the beginning of my paper? Questions for further research? Other ways that this topic could be approached?
- Are there other applications for my research? Could my questions be asked about different data in a different context? Could I use my methods to answer a different question?
- What action should be taken in light of this argument? What action do I predict will be taken or could lead to a solution?
- What larger context might my argument be a part of?
What to avoid in your conclusion
- a complete restatement of all that you have said in your paper.
- a substantial counterargument that you do not have space to refute; you should introduce counterarguments before your conclusion.
- an apology for what you have not said. If you need to explain the scope of your paper, you should do this sooner—but don’t apologize for what you have not discussed in your paper.
- fake transitions like “in conclusion” that are followed by sentences that aren’t actually conclusions. (“In conclusion, I have now demonstrated that my thesis is correct.”)
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Ban or Embrace? Colleges Wrestle With A.I.-Generated Admissions Essays.
A.I. chatbots could facilitate plagiarism on college applications or democratize student access to writing help. Or maybe both.
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By Natasha Singer
Natasha Singer reports on the ways that tech giants and their tools are reshaping education.
Rick Clark, the executive director of undergraduate admission at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and his staff spent weeks this summer pretending to be high school students using A.I. chatbots to fill out college applications.
The admissions officers each took on a different high school persona: swim team captain, Eagle Scout, musical theater performer. Then they fed personal details about the fictional students into ChatGPT, prompting the A.I. chatbot to produce the kind of extracurricular activity lists and personal essays commonly required on college applications.
Mr. Clark said he wanted to get a handle on how A.I. chatbots might reshape the admissions process this fall — the start of the first full academic year that the tools will be widely available to high school seniors — and come up with guidance for students applying to Georgia Tech.
“Students on some level are going to have access to and use A.I.,” Mr. Clark said. “The big question is: How do we want to direct them, knowing that it’s out there and available to them?”
The easy availability of A.I. chatbots like ChatGPT, which can manufacture humanlike text in response to short prompts, is poised to upend the traditional undergraduate application process at selective colleges — ushering in an era of automated plagiarism or of democratized student access to essay-writing help. Or maybe both.
The digital disruption comes at a turning point for institutions of higher education across the United States. After the Supreme Court ruled in June that race-based university admissions programs were illegal, some selective universities and colleges had hoped to rely more on essay questions — about applicants’ upbringing, identities and communities — to help foster diversity on campus.
The personal essay has long been a staple of the application process at elite colleges, not to mention a bane for generations of high school students. Admissions officers have often employed applicants’ essays as a lens into their unique character, pluck, potential and ability to handle adversity. As a result, some former students say they felt tremendous pressure to develop, or at least concoct, a singular personal writing voice.
But new A.I. tools threaten to recast the college application essay as a kind of generic cake mix, which high school students may simply lard or spice up to reflect their own tastes, interests and experiences — casting doubt on the legitimacy of applicants’ writing samples as authentic, individualized admissions yardsticks.
“It makes me sad,” Lee Coffin , the dean of admissions at Dartmouth College, said during a university podcast this year that touched on A.I.-generated application essays. “The idea that this central component of a story could be manufactured by someone other than the applicant is disheartening.”
Some teachers said they were troubled by the idea of students using A.I. tools to produce college essay themes and texts for deeper reasons: Outsourcing writing to bots could hinder students from developing important critical thinking and storytelling skills.
“Part of the process of the college essay is finding your writing voice through all of that drafting and revising,” said Susan Barber, an Advanced Placement English literature teacher at Midtown High School, a public school in Atlanta. “And I think that’s something that ChatGPT would be robbing them of.”
In August, Ms. Barber assigned her 12th-grade students to write college essays. This week, she held class discussions about ChatGPT, cautioning students that using A.I. chatbots to generate ideas or writing could make their college essays sound too generic. She advised them to focus more on their personal views and voices.
Other educators said they hoped the A.I. tools might have a democratizing effect. Wealthier high school students, these experts noted, often have access to resources — alumni parents, family friends, paid writing coaches — to help them brainstorm, draft and edit their college admissions essays. ChatGPT could play a similar role for students who lack such resources, they said, especially those at large high schools where overworked college counselors have little time for individualized essay coaching.
So far, however, very few U.S. universities have published admissions policies on the use of A.I. tools by applicants.
The University of Michigan Law School recently issued guidelines saying that “applicants ought not use ChatGPT or other artificial intelligence tools as part of their drafting process.” But the law school does allow applicants to ask mentors, friends or other humans “for basic proofreading assistance and general feedback and critiques.”
The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has taken the opposite stance. The law school’s website says applicants may use A.I. tools to prepare their application materials as long as they “ use this technology responsibly ” and certify that the information they submit is true.
After experimenting with ChatGPT this summer, the admissions team at Georgia Tech chose a third way. The university’s website recently posted guidelines encouraging high school applicants to use A.I. tools as collaborators to “brainstorm, refine and edit” their ideas. At the same time, the site warned applicants that they should “not copy and paste content you did not create directly into your application.”
Mr. Clark, the Georgia Tech admissions official, said ChatGPT could not compete with live writing coaches or savvy parents in providing feedback to high school students on their personal essays. But he hoped it could help many students get started.
“It’s free, it’s accessible and it’s helpful,” Mr. Clark said. “It’s progress toward equity.”
Several high school seniors said in interviews that they had chosen not to use A.I. tools to help draft their essays — partly because they wanted to tell their own personal stories themselves, and partly because many universities have not taken clear stances on applicants’ use of the chatbots.
“The vagueness and ambiguity is kind of hard for us,” said Kevin Jacob, a senior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology in the Atlanta area. The public high school has a dedicated writing center where students may get feedback on their college essays.
The Common App, a nonprofit group that runs an online system enabling high school students to apply to many colleges and universities at once, has not taken a public stance on the use of A.I. chatbots. The group requires applicants to certify that their writing — and other material they submit as part of their college applications — is their own work . But the group has not updated the academic integrity policy on its website to include artificial intelligence tools.
“This is the first full application cycle where students have the ability to use ChatGPT, and this technology is constantly changing,” Jenny Rickard, the chief executive of the Common App, said in a statement.
“We’re all learning more about these tools, and it’s important for our member institutions and our K-12 partners and counselors to set reasonable parameters on how they can and can’t be used.”
The New York Times emailed more than a dozen universities and colleges — including large state schools, Ivy League schools and small private colleges — asking about their policies on high school applicants using A.I. tools to draft their admissions essays. The majority did not respond or declined to comment.
In a statement sent by email, the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Michigan said the school was “aware of the new technology” but had “not made any changes to our undergraduate application process, including our essay questions .”
Ritika Vakharia, a senior at the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, said she had tried asking ChatGPT to produce ideas for college admissions essays. But she found the responses too broad and impersonal, even after she gave it details about her extracurricular activities like teaching dance classes to younger students.
Now she said she was working to come up with a more personal college application essay theme.
“I feel a little more pressure to create, like, this super unique, interesting topic,” Ms. Vakharia said, “because a basic one these days could just be generated by ChatGPT.”
Natasha Singer writes about technology, business and society. She is currently reporting on the far-reaching ways that tech companies and their tools are reshaping public schools, higher education and job opportunities. More about Natasha Singer
Explore Our Coverage of Artificial Intelligence
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Nvidia has become the most visible winner of the artificial intelligence boom. The Silicon Valley company achieved its dominance by becoming a one-stop shop for A.I. development, from chips to software to other services.
The use of A.I. to generate voice deepfakes has given scammers a potent weapon for trying to trick people into sending them money.
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Let’s Talk About Harvard’s Brand New College Application
Last month, the Common Application portal officially opened, inviting high school students across the globe to showcase themselves and their talents to admissions officers at top U.S. universities. With this application comes a variety of supplements: excitement about the potential outcomes of the process, apprehension about the mortifying ordeal of being known by admissions officers, and of course, the actual supplemental essays themselves.
These elements of the application process are as old as the Common App itself. But this year, with the end of race-based affirmative action in university admissions, applicants are facing an added uncertainty: the extent to which their diverse backgrounds can factor into their essays, and in turn, their admissions.
Recognizing this confusion, Harvard decided to change its supplemental essay questions from one optional open-ended essay and two optional short essays to a series of five required short essays, each with a 200-word limit.
While Harvard’s new prompts signify a notable effort to meet the moment, we have misgivings about the ability of these new questions to thoroughly capture the diverse array of student experiences.
Our foremost concern: How can students reasonably condense discussions about formative life experiences and their identities into 200 words or less?
Moreover, shortening the essays has a disparate impact that falls heaviest on those from marginalized backgrounds. Learning to package yourself within a shorter amount of space is a product of advanced education; longer essays more equitably allow applicants to discuss their experiences in full, particularly if they are from non-traditional backgrounds and require more space to elaborate on nuanced qualifications.
Another issue is the prompts themselves. Formerly, students picked one topic from a list of prompts, giving them maximum agency over the best way to share their own narratives; now, the new mandatory prompts force students to answer questions that may not even be relevant to their background at all.
Take one of the new prompts: “Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.” This question seemingly privileges applicants from well-resourced backgrounds for whom additional academic opportunities were plentiful in high school.
And while one may argue that students without equivalent resources can compensate with the other prompts, in what world is it equitable to have one out of the five required short-answer prompts seemingly cater to those from highly privileged backgrounds?
Harvard’s restructuring of its supplemental essay questions amid the post-affirmative action turmoil also gives us an opportunity to reevaluate the role of “trauma dumping” in the application process. Despite the negative connotations of this term, we feel that oversharing past hardships can be appropriate in college admissions essays considering that evaluators are seeking to understand the sum total of applicants’ experiences and how they’ve excelled despite personal circumstances.
Given polarized conversation surrounding the imprecise phrase “trauma dumping” and its place in college applications, we need to distinguish between explaining how past life experiences have shaped who you are and voluntarily offering highly volatile and sometimes triggering life experiences in social contexts. Those who have undergone traumatic experiences should not have to fear that writing about the experiences that shaped them looks like a beg for admission.
If we have faith in the college admissions system, we can trust that evaluators will not reward students who merely provide a litany of past traumas in their applications, but instead give credit to applicants who discuss how they have grown from or coped with these experiences. If Harvard is willing to entirely restructure its supplemental essays in the aftermath of affirmative action’s fall, it ought to also provide underprivileged students with resources on how they can write about trauma productively given the new prompts.
Furthermore, Harvard needs to communicate what other steps they will take to ensure the College’s student body remains diverse. How will the University conduct outreach to underprivileged communities? Organizations like QuestBridge — a service that connects low-income students with selective universities — could play a helpful role in promoting student diversity.
As the Class of 2028 gets to writing, we mourn the loss of Harvard’s old application. However, the focus on retaining a diverse student body in the questions Harvard asks its applicants is a welcome supplement.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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My 5 favorite AI tools for school: Class is in session, and generative AI can help
During last year's back-to-school season, ChatGPT had not yet been unveiled, and generative AI wasn't on everyone's radar. However, today, the topic is more popular than ever, and new helpful AI tools for students are released daily.
A common misconception is that generative AI can harm education by promoting cheating. However, when used properly, these tools have the potential to improve student learning and transform workflow significantly.
As someone who consistently tests new generative AI tools, I wish I'd had these tools when I was in school.
Also: Meet generative AI's 'super users': 70% of Gen Z use GenAI
Generative AI would have allowed me to focus on the tasks that would improve my education, helping me to produce higher quality output and create a better understanding of the material I was learning.
Today, a student can use AI to help them find sources for a paper, which cuts down on time searching on Google. They can then use the technology to save time on reading materials and synthesizing ideas into a paper.
The key to correctly using AI for schoolwork is identifying the right tools and use cases. Since there are so many tools, I compiled the list below from months of testing to make your life easier.
1. Bing Chat
Bing Chat is at the top of my list because of its multiple potential use cases that could improve a student's workflow.
Also: ChatGPT vs. Bing Chat: Which AI chatbot is better for you?
If you are familiar with ChatGPT, Bing Chat is the same concept -- an AI chatbot, powered by OpenAI technology, but with significant differences that, in my testing, make it better.
First off, Bing Chat uses OpenAI's most advanced large language model (LLM), GPT-4, for free. Besides Bing Chat, the only other GPT-4-based chatbot available is ChatGPT Plus , which costs $20 a month, which is a big outlay for a student who's already juggling school expenses.
Another major pro for Bing Chat is that it's connected to the internet and has information on all current events and sites, making it possible to access any information you need. The technology also cites its sources as footnotes, making it easier to fact-check and to avoid hallucinations.
Lastly, Bing Chat can answer everything that Google can, but instead of having to aimlessly search through the search results for what you're looking for, the technology gives you the answer in an easy-to-understand response with footnotes that you can follow to lead you to the site.
Also: 7 ways you didn't know you can use Bing Chat and other AI chatbots
Bing Chat also has the advanced writing, coding, and mathematical abilities that ChatGPT has, making it a great assistant for writing and editing essays, solving and explaining math problems, and generating and debugging code.
Some other ways you can use Bing Chat in your studies are:
- Answering questions you have about class or materials
- Researching for a paper
- Finding answers for take-home exams or assignments
- Explaining complex topics, such as history, current events, politics, and scientific terms, in a more digestible way
- Creating Excel formulas
- Making graphs and charts
- Planning vacation itineraries (we all need a break from school sometimes)
To find the best way to use Bing Chat for your own workflow, I recommend using it for the use cases discussed above and experimenting with different things.
I used Quizlet from middle school through college as a study tool to help me remember content for tests. Students can use it by building a study set with terms and definitions and then using various different learning methods, such as flashcards (my personal favorite), matching columns, and more.
Students can also browse the millions of study sets created by other users. When I was a student, I found that if I searched Quizlet for a study set about any topic or even a specific textbook, someone else had likely made one.
Also: How to use ChatGPT to create an app
Although the platform is far from new, it has leveraged AI for more than six years to create its study features, such as its Learn mode, and to create testing options for students to review their material.
Quizlet recently delved further into AI by using OpenAI's ChatGPT API to create an AI-enabled tutor called Q-Chat, which is available in beta for free.
I tested the AI tutor and its interactive question-answer prompt system impressed me. The AI tutor simulates a real conversation, either teaching you or testing you on the study information through a natural language dialogue.
Also: How to use ChatGPT to make charts and tables
Quizlet also recently announced other AI features, including Magic Notes, Memory Score, Quick Summary, and AI-enhanced Expert Solutions.
Overall, whether it's the older standard tools I used or one of the more advanced ones, Quizlet is a powerful tool for learning and studying classroom materials, and learners of all ages can benefit from it.
As a student, a big portion of the documents you get are sent as PDFs. Whether these PDFs are class readings, research papers, or syllabi, they are often lengthy and tedious. ChatPDF can entirely change the way you interact with PDFs for your studies.
With ChatPDF, all you need to do is upload your PDF, and it will process your file in seconds. Then, you are redirected to a chatbot interface where you can ask ChatPDF any question you have regarding the PDF.
Also: How to use ChatPDF: The AI chatbot that can tell you everything about your PDF
The questions can be as broad as asking for a summary of the PDF or as specific as asking for a particular term in the text and what it means. Once it finds an answer, it tells you where in the text it formulated its response from.
This tool can be leveraged when you read a research paper and are left with a million questions, or it can even quickly find the information you need to complete an assignment or paper.
ChatPDF would have changed my life for the better when I was at college and was sent papers to read almost every day. I even still use ChatPDF as a working professional to help me understand some otherwise complex topics and to double-check my findings.
Duolingo is a great app for learning a new language. Students can use it to supplement the language courses they are taking in school.
The appeal of the Duolingo app is that it gamifies the language-learning experience through bite-sized lessons that feel like individual quests. It also has a streak, leaderboard, league, and point system that motivates learners to want to keep going.
Even though I am not a student, I do have a 245-day streak in an attempt to learn a new language.
Also: Duolingo's new music course gamifies how you learn to play and read music
Foreign language courses are typically mandatory for students throughout their education, starting at the middle school level all the way through to college.
As if learning a new language isn't already hard, my experiences suggest foreign language courses are not a priority for schools, especially at the younger learning levels, making them under-resourced and sometimes poorly taught.
Duolingo would be a great way to bridge the understanding gap that is being created in class. Test yourself on your understanding of the language before an exam or simply supplement your in-class lessons with some out-of-classroom practice.
Although younger learners can benefit from AI chatbots , such as Bing Chat, there are concerns about giving them access to the entirety of the internet. If you are a parent with those concerns, Socratic by Google is a great alternative.
Also: How Google Socratic can help you with your homework
With the Socratic app, students can type in any question about what they are learning in school or upload their worksheets. Then, the app will generate a conversational, human-like response with unique graphics and even related YouTube video links.
The app will not just pump out answers or generate essays. Instead, it will give step-by-step explanations and instructions that students can use to get the answer themselves, functioning as an intelligent learning tool.
To give parents peace of mind, Socratic also blocks inappropriate questions from being answered.
The app isn't limited to younger learners, and Google actually refers to it as a "learning app from Google that helps high school and university students." However, due to its functionality, I would say it's actually better suited for younger learners because of the limits and the fun graphics.