Whether you apply to college using the Common Application, Universal College Application, or individual institutional applications, you will most likely need to write a 400-650 word college essay or personal statement. The prompts for these essays are intentionally broad and open-ended to make it easier for you to find a topic that is personally meaningful. However, with such broad prompts, it can be difficult to choose what to write about. As you get ready to begin writing your college essay, here are some ideas for how to choose a topic.
Keep it specific. In response to such broad essay prompts, you might be tempted to try and tell your whole life story, but you only have a maximum of 650 words! Instead, choose a more specific subject, moment, or story to share so you can explore the topic in more depth, and not run out of space. Remember, it’s the details and depth of ideas that make an essay engaging. If your topic is too broad, you’ll only be able to skim the surface. Choose a very specific topic so you can explore it further.
It should be fun to write about. You want to have fun writing your essay (really, you do!). If you enjoy writing it, then it’s more likely your admissions counselor will enjoy reading it. With that in mind, try to choose a topic that would be fun for you to write about. Choosing a topic you enjoy will make the entire writing process easier, from brainstorming to writing and editing. You should note that enjoying the writing process doesn’t mean your essay should be “funny,” and you don’t have to choose a “happy” topic. You can let your sense of humor shine through if you like, but you can also enjoy writing an essay even if the tone is more straightforward or the topic more serious.
What matters to you? The purpose of the college essay is for admissions counselors to get to know who you are in your own words. The best way to show them your personality is to choose an essay topic that’s important or meaningful to you, and not something you think colleges want you to write about. If you choose a topic because you think it will impress colleges, your essay will probably read as disingenuous, and colleges won’t get to know your authentic voice. On the other hand, if you choose a topic because it’s truly important to you, colleges will appreciate your honesty and sincerity.
Of course, no matter what topic you choose, be sure to keep it appropriate! If you’re uncertain about the appropriateness of your topic, our advice is to remember that your essay is going to be the college’s first impression of you, so consider whether your topic is really the impression you want to leave. If, after some reflection, you’re still uncertain about whether or not your topic is appropriate (or if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas), you can always ask your college counselor or adviser for advice or a second opinion.