A lot of students struggle to come up with great college essay ideas. After all, most college essay prompts seem to ask for a pretty big accomplishment or a transformative experience. What if you haven’t helped dig a well for an impoverished South American village, or heroically ran into a burning building to save a litter of puppies (don’t do that), or invented a computer program that does your homework for you?
If you worry that your everyday life is just too boring for good college essay ideas, we have good news!
You don’t have to have had some sort of unique, tragic, or spiritual experience in order to write an absolutely amazing college application essay. You don’t need to have stared death in the face or climbed El Capitan or made the Olympic Tug of War team as long as you write about whatever topic you choose really well.
In other words, the secret to a great college essay has very little to do with your topic and everything to do with how well you write about your topic.
So to start: Set aside the idea that your essay topic needs to have some monumental importance. Next, start brainstorming some non-monumentally important ideas. Here are some brainstorming activities to get the creative juices flowing.
Think of Your Stories
When our tutors help students brainstorm college essay ideas, we like to call it “digging for essay gold.” This usually takes the form of an impromptu conversation in which the tutor tries to get the students to share stories about themselves.
Think about the little anecdotes you might share in a conversation with someone who’s getting to know you. After all, the purpose of your college essay is to help the essay reader get to know you, and such stories or memories perfectly suit this purpose.
Maybe some of your stories are funny. Maybe some are sad. Maybe some are neither. Don’t worry about that for now—you’re just brainstorming.
Answer some interview questions to gather ideas. Consider questions like these:
- What is something you’re really opinionated about?
Example: I strongly believe that people should use the Oxford comma.
- What is your biggest flaw, and what, if anything, have you done to try to overcome it?
Example: I procrastinate, and unfortunately, I’ve procrastinated solving my procrastination problem.
- What is your greatest accomplishment, and what about it makes you feel proud?
Example: I got my Driver’s License, which was a big deal because ever since I was in a car accident a few years ago, I’ve been really scared of riding in cars, never mind driving one.
- What’s the most recent thing you researched on your own (not for school)?
Example: I fell down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about Australian history. Spoiler alert: It’s weird but also fascinating.
- What’s something unique about your community (defined broadly to include home town, culture, church, etc.), and how has this influenced you?
Example: The town motto is “Everybody’s Somebody Here,” which is super cheesy but also really reassuring—and true. It’s a small town, so you’re sure to meet someone you know pretty much anywhere you go.
- What’s something you regret?
Example: I gave up on learning to play the piano.
Rule Out Things That Don’t Work
In some ways, it’s easier to tell you what topics you shouldn’t write about:
- Anything that makes you seem prejudiced against any group (racist, sexist, classist, etc.)
- Anything involving illegal activities or graphic subjects
- Anything that calls your integrity into question
There are also some topics that are just overdone. Avoid these college essay clichés.
Look At What’s Left
Look at the rest of your ideas. From which of these nuggets of a college essay idea can you weave a story that helps reveal something meaningful about you as a person? Let’s take a look at some of the examples above.
- Getting your Driver’s License when you’re afraid of driving shows overcoming fear.
- A newfound interest in Australian history may be indicative of a passion for historical study, revealing intellectual curiosity and, potentially, a future field of study.
Pick an idea and run with it. Maybe it’ll work, or maybe you’ll run right into a wall of writer’s block. This is just a rough draft—if your first topic idea doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board. No one is grading your first effort.
Still need college essay help? Contact your local C2 Education center to find out how our expert tutors can help you craft the perfect college essay!