How to Write a Successful College Essay: Topics, Samples, & Tips

Sorry to disappoint you, but if you think that your high scores and grades would be enough to get accepted into the university of your dreams, you’re wrong… The best colleges worldwide, such as the Ivy League schools receive applications from thousands and thousands of talented students. You gotta stand out! And you have a chance to do it by writing a killer college essay!

In this article prepared by experts, you can find common app essay prompts and topics. Read this article very carefully! There are some useful recommendations on dos and don’ts of writing a successful college admission essay.

Application essay allows the admission committees to find out more about your personality and your unique interests. Sometimes topics could be restricted, but mainly they are open-ended.

It is an excellent opportunity to tell them about yourself, your background, and what you can bring to that college as a first-year student. Most people try to sound intelligent and sophisticated. Don’t make that mistake, only being yourself works!

🎓 7 Common App Essay Prompts

Basically, you attach a Common App essay to your college application. It is the only way commission officers can find out about who you really are. If they would be debating whether to admit your application, this type of essay is your savior.

Below, you can find seven prompts to help you with this tough task.

Common App Essay: Option #1

One of the best ideas might be to share an exceptional feature of your personality that makes you yourself. It may be your background, talent, or interest that is so meaningful for you that you think your application is imperfect without it.

It is all about your identity. Try to find something that has an impact on your personal growth. You can also write about a passion that has contributed to the development of your identity.

This topic might be quite personal, but it is what would make you stand out. It is one of the best ideas for the college essays that worked without fail!

Common App Essay: Option #2

Obstacles appear in our lives for a reason. They teach us. Recall the most significant challenge or failure you faced throughout your life. What was the lesson you learned from it?

It is always easy and satisfying to write about your success in the common app essay. However, it takes courage to admit your failures and, even more, to show that you analyzed and learned from them.

We guarantee that admission committees would be impressed by your persistence and courage at difficult times. Make sure you honestly describe how that experience has changed you and what you have learned from it.

Common App Essay: Option #3

Think about the time when you confronted some belief. What inspired you to question it? Did you change your mind on it?

An important detail about this topic is that you are free to write about anyone’s belief, not only yours. The main goal of this essay would be to present your strong personality. You would need to describe all the difficulties you met when you stood up against the popular belief.

Moreover, it doesn’t need to be successful. Maybe the cost of a change was too high, and it’s okay. This essay gives you a chance to show off your critical thinking ability.

Common App Essay: Option #4

Discuss a problem that bothers you. Consider anything personal for you: moral dilemma, intellectual issue, or even a matter of feelings. Also, it doesn’t matter whether you solved it or only not yet.

The most important trick is to always go back to the theme of your personality. You don’t want to sound fake. If global warming bothers you deeply, go for it. But try to avoid anything you are indifferent about. Many students make this mistake.

Describe an issue briefly and try to dedicate more time to analyzing it and proposing the solution. Add some thoughts about why it matters for you, as well. And last but not least, be creative.

Common App Essay: Option #5

Talk about an insight you had during the time of your personal growth. How has it influenced you or others?

Your personal growth is the time when you learn something and, as a result, mature. It doesn’t come with one event, but rather after a series of successes and failures. You might want to pick something that made a clear change, though.

However, you should be careful here. There is no need to show off your achievements in sport or art. It needs to be something valuable for your personal development. For instance, an event that brought you to a realization and revaluation of your values.

Common App Essay: Option #6

Share an idea or concept that thrills you. What is it that engages you so much that you forget about everything else? What do you do when you wish to broaden your knowledge about it?

It is an amazing topic that gives you plenty of room for creativity. You are asked to find and discuss something that you find engaging. It is a great chance to describe a concept that requires your brain to work on full capacity.

You would need to analyze why it engages you so much as well. It is also a chance for you to unveil your learning skills by describing how you dig deeper into the topic. Note that it is recommended that you write about something academic.

Common App Essay: Option #7

The topic of your choice. You are free to write about something once more, attend to a different prompt, or create something new.

If there is an issue you desire to share, but it doesn’t fit any of the prompts above, this is your chance. However, double-check whether it is the only option you have. The prompts suggested are quite broad, so your topic should really be unique.

Also, an open-ended prompt doesn’t mean you can write a poem there. Remember that a common app essay is about your personality. Meaningful context is above showing off your skills here.

💡 10 College Application Essay Ideas

To help you a bit more, we have chosen some interesting college application essay examples.

  1. Extracurricular activity that you find meaningful. Think about some activity that helped your personal development, challenged you, and got you out of your comfort zone. Maybe it opened up some traits or skills you didn’t know you had.
    This topic would combine several prompts described above so you can think about it and choose the theme you want to focus on.
  2. Why would you like to be accepted at this college? Here, honesty is your best tool. However, try to skip general ideas related to your future career. It is more important to show your interest in the chosen school. Focus on the detail that is unique for that institution. Just pointing out Harvard’s reputation is not good enough.
  3. Write about the book that you absolutely love. It is not a book report or review. Instead of reciting the plot, highlight the book’s importance for you. Is there anything it taught you or revealed about you?
    Don’t try to seem smart and pick something from classic. Be honest and talk about the book you are really passionate about.
  4. Write about someone you admire. Once more, try to avoid common choices like Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. There is no need to convince the admission committee that those figures were influential and important.
    Write about someone who actually made a change in your perception or behavior. Don’t take a focus away from yourself.
  5. Where do you see yourself after finishing this college? Schools are looking for ambitious students. However, it is also vital to possess some analytical skills. So for this topic, research everything about the college of your choice and analyze your skills. Try to predict how specific courses and opportunities might boost your professional experience.
  6. What do you want to bring to this world? Is there anything you wish to change in the world? What are you planning on pursuing in your life? Here, the most important thing is the attention to details. Explain how your work can be useful in the future. Schools often notice students who are ready to commit.
  7. What was the toughest social challenge you faced? Find a moment in your past when you were required to react to the unknown or tough situation. How did you work it out? This argumentative essay is supposed to highlight your ability to respond to social challenges. Colleges want to be sure you can handle the next few years on your own.
  8. Write about an outdoor activity that brings out your creativity. It can be some activity from your past as well. The point is to focus on how one simple undertaking reveals multiple traits of your personality. They don’t necessarily have to be good. But make sure to engage all the creativity you have.
  9. Describe an important and memorable meal you had with someone. Food brings people together. As it happens, a lot of significant announcements and other events happen during meals with friends and family. Recall the meaningful conversation you had over a family dinner or a tough decision made over a pot of tea with your friend.
  10. What was the failure you had that influenced you the most? Colleges are not looking for perfect students. On the contrary, the students that admit their flaws but can learn from them are highly wanted. It is one of the hardest topics here, as you need to reflect on your past mistakes. Remember to highlight what you learned from it.

🏆 10 Best Tips for a Successful College Essay

To summarize all pieces of advice that we talked about here, we made a list of the best and most useful tips that make your college essay successful.

  • Avoid repeating facts from your resume. If you mentioned all your hobbies and personal strengths in the resume, try to find something else. It can spice up your application and make it more unique.
  • Describe a part of your life. When you write about some event from your life, somewhat limit it. Just present that chunk of your experience as a piece of the puzzle. Also, include details like emotions, feelings, and sensations.
  • If possible, don’t send the same essay to multiple colleges. Sometimes, prompts might be similar across many schools, but try to resist the temptation. Surely, it can take much more time and effort, but it all pays off. Admission committees can always tell when an essay is too general and written specifically for their college.
  • Highlight the unique features of the chosen college. This tip is an addition to the previous one. Do your research and find out about some features you find interesting about the college. Your essay should point out that that school is what you have always been looking for.
College Essay Tips.
  • Don’t try to impress the admission committee. Even if you know what they expect from a perfect candidate, avoid trying to impress them. Instead of trying to stand out, just be yourself. The only thing colleges expect from you is showing your true self.
  • Try not to overuse dictionaries. It is not the time to show how sophisticated you are. It’s your resume’s job. Of course, we don’t encourage you to ignore the use of proper grammar and spelling. The point is to sound natural.
  • Take time and proofread your essay. Spellcheck is a very useful tool, but it is not almighty. It would be foolish to only rely on it. Look through your essay to find typos and grammar mistakes. Let someone else double-check it as well. Don’t leave out the title page to do at the last moment. If you’ve forgotten about it and need it done quick, use a title page generator tool.
  • Always go back to the prompt. It is understandable that you are trying to write a perfect essay, but don’t forget about the theme. Mainly, questions are quite open-ended, but you still want to make sure your writing aligns with the chosen one.
  • A last-minute application is never a good idea. You may even be able to write all the essays for different colleges in time when you do it last minute. However, you would be stressed and in a rush. Think about how it takes away from the quality of your writing.
  • Getting feedback from your counselor might be beneficial. Plan ahead and go to your school to ask a college counselor for help. The insight they can provide for your essays is quite valuable. Don’t wait until the last minute. You would have enough time to improve your writing that way.

😈 5 College Essay Topics to Avoid

You already know what good topics for a college essay are, but to be fully prepared, you should understand what you need to avoid.

  • Illegal behavior. Well, this one should be rather obvious! Even if your biggest challenge or event is connected with drugs or alcohol, please, avoid this topic. Even if it was all in the past, it could still affect your future. Not only would you not be accepted into college (especially the one like Yale or Stanford), you might even have legal issues!
  • Volunteer trips. Quite unexpected, right? While it is a great bonus that you had a volunteering experience, no one is interested in how you spend time overseas. Instead of describing how cool your trip to Europe was, focus on how it influenced you. Maybe include something unusual that happened to you there. Go back to the tips for a successful essay and revise them.
  • Your accomplishments. No doubt, it’s amazing if you have accomplished a lot. However, there is no need for bragging about it. Just imagine how many other students would decide to write about their successful life. It is not the purpose of the college essay. Once more, your writing is the way the admission committee gets to know your personality and identity.
  • Sensitive topics. The admission officers can also be biased and judgmental. You never know. It is best to avoid writing about religion and politics. Sometimes, the most important event of your life is related to either of these topics. But, we are sure you can find some other significant and influential things. Just stay away from these two matters.
  • Sports. It is too predictable. The officers from the admission office have read thousands, if not millions, of essays about fails and wins related to sport. The story is usually easy to predict. Try to find something else to show them that your passion for the sport is not the only thing that motivates you.

Good College Essay Topics

  1. A defining event from my childhood.
  2. My experiences and lessons from travel to Dresden.  
  3. Expatriation: the challenges of moving into new country.
  4. What appeals to me in firefighter profession.
  5. Volunteer experience impact on developing my leadership skills.
  6. Personal experience adopting a kitten from Humane Society.
  7. My reflections on aging as the period of new independence.
  8. Hazards and gains of Internet in our life.
  9. What did I understand from my experience of tribal tourism?
  10. My experience of improving interpersonal relations.
  11. The life lessons I received from attending court.
  12. How I got the precious lessons about race and ethnicity.
  13. Impact of Italian culture on shaping my personality.
  14. Personal experience of mysophobia.
  15. It’s everyone’s responsibility to save lakes and oceans’ wildlife.  
  16. My personal worldview’s development and its influence on my everyday life.
  17. Winning by losing: a story from my childhood.
  18. Personal experience of learning about life.
  19. How entering college changed my life.
  20. The superheroine I wish to be.
  21. Importance of personal responsibility in life for human happiness.
  22. Personal view on money and expenditures.
  23. Online friendship: a personal experience and a valuable lesson.  
  24. The positive impact of my type 1 diabetes disease on my personality.
  25. How music influenced my personal and academic pursuits.
  26. Five valuable lessons from my first semester.
  27. Writing: how getting a new hobby changed my personality.
  28. How the high school challenges added to my personal development.
  29. Teachers who made a difference in my life.
  30. The lessons I’ve got at my first job.
  31. My experience of volunteering in elderly care.
  32. How riding a bicycle experience reinforced my confidence.
  33. Personal experience helping children with special needs to integrate into our school. 
  34. The perfect place for social meetings: personal opinion.
  35. The lessons I derived from spending 12 hours without a cellphone.
  36. The lessons I’ve learned from failures in romantic relationship.
  37. Moving to the US for study.
  38. How interpersonal communication helped me to cope with challenges in friendship and other relationships.
  39. My personal story about handling stress in high school.
  40. How the quarantine time became a period of personal growth.
  41. My reminiscence of the tragedy on Septermber,11.
  42. How the logic course I took affected my life.
  43. What I learned from my trip to Yellowstone National Park.
  44. A visit to the Museum of Western Heritage and the lessons it taught me.
  45. Role of parenting style in shaping a child’s personality.
  46. The discoveries I made when I started to listen to classical music.
  47. Role of culture and family in my life.
  48. The day I experimented with challenging gender norms.
  49. My experience of developing important habits.
  50. How participating in sports affected my self-esteem.

📝 19 College Essay Examples That Worked

7 College Essay Samples: Hamilton

Some of the college essay ideas published by Hamilton reveal the secrets of a successful essay. The students wrote about their life experiences mainly. One of them was about the loss, others about heartbreaking family issues.

The most impressive are the ones related to some tragedy. However, the rest of them are deeply inspiring. Students describe their path towards self-realization and self-exploration. The most important detail is that their stories are full of hope.

In addition, the essays presented by Hamilton college are very artistic. They are good enough to be published as short stories. Attention to detail and various literary tools make the writing catchy and exciting to read.

6 Inspirational College Essay Examples: Johns Hopkins University

Johns Hopkins University presented the best examples of college essay topics as well.

  1. One of the best writings impressed the admission officers by the student’s sense of humor. Moreover, it was describing a passion for discovering new things.
  2. Another was about rock climbing and how the student’s style has been evolving throughout the years.
  3. One essay was telling the story of passion for debates. It impressed the committee with enormous enthusiasm.
  4. Focusing on reflections and insights is also a win. This piece of writing highlighted values and personality.
  5. This essay talks about multiculturalism by describing the student’s experience of making tortillas. It became a great introduction to their identity.
  6. Another student writes about his way of discovering medical research as his passion.

6 Best College Essay Examples: Tufts University

  1. One of the best college essay titles posted by Tufts University is related to the student’s background and their ambitions for the future.
  2. Another original essay is about visiting a live music concert and about deep emotions connected to that experience.
  3. This essay presents a student’s passion for research and how he came to it. The admission office must have been happy to accept such an ambitious student.
  4. The next student talks about their experience with farming and how learning something new is their passion.
  5. One of the students wrote about the person they admire the most, their father.
  6. The last essay revealed the power of storytelling. The student sees it as art, thanks to her experience in interviewing.

🔗 References

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