Quick Tips For Choosing A College Essay Topic

Contemplating essay topics


Not really a fun word. And not really a fun feeling when you’re sitting in front of a blank Word document, trying desperately to decide what to write about for your application essay.

So how do you prevent those long Sunday afternoons of type-a-single-word-and-then-immediately-delete-it madness? Well, to start with, take some age-old advice and relax. It’s not nearly as stressful to write an essay when you reflect on the fact that the zombie apocalypse could occur before you ever receive an admissions decision.

Once you’ve let the tension go, here are a few other tips:

Follow Every Rainbow

Ideas for essay topics will come to you in droves, and your instinct will be to send them all away until you find the “right” one. But guess what? You probably won’t recognize the “right” one – at least not “right” away. The best way to find which topic is going to really work is to start writing about all of them. Even if your well dries up one paragraph into every attempt, you’ll be able to tell, deep down, the difference between the rocky roads and the true dead-ends.

Read Other Essays

Take this one with a grain of salt. It’s helpful to read past examples of successful college essays to get a feel for what kinds of stories can be well told in 500-600 words; on the other hand, if you read too many – or read them JUST before you start to write – you’ll lose the strength of your own voice and start telling a story that sounds like everybody else’s. So don’t try to write after reading until the residue of  “other people’s style” has washed away.

Jump the Hurdles

If there’s literally no path forward for a topic (“Hmm… I guess I don’t know how to translate my love of mac and cheese into a great essay after all”), cut and run. But if you know there’s a way (“My love of knitting really DOES make me a better basketball player! I’m just not sure…how…”) and you just keep getting tripped up? Persevere. Write the ending first. Finish in outline form. Talk it out with someone. Ignore your own bad writing; you’ll fix it later. The point is to just get started.

Need some more help getting starting? Check out these:

3 Essay Writing Risks To Take On Your College App