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How to pick an essay topic (pt. 1)

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

You've filled out your application, including Activities & Honors. What's left to say in an essay?

Avoid Resume Writing

Make the most of each part of the application. Colleges won't forget your resume when they read your essay! You don't need to write about winning a competition in an essay when it's already in your Activities & Honors section.

Focusing on your achievements feels like bragging.

So what's the point of the essay?

A thought experiment

Let's say someone gives you 50 other students' Common App main essays and transcripts. Which five students would YOU want to work with for a group project in school?

This is essentially the question colleges are trying to answer when they read your essays. The transcripts will tell you how "good" of a student they are.*

The essay is where we learn about your personality—especially key interpersonal skills. We're primarily reading the essays subjectively to see how likable you are and how likely you will positively contribute to a group.

3 Main Goals of an Essay

Most essays cover either #1 or #2—and hopefully also #3.

  1. Show you're an awesome person (leadership and teamwork skills)

  2. Show you're an awesome student

    1. Meaningful engagement with a subject or extracurricular

    2. Personal growth (requires a contrasting before & after)

  3. Stand out! (through your writing style, not through your topic)

Make sure it matters (to you)!

You'll already be on the right track if you keep this thought experiment in mind. As long as the topic is important to you, we'll see your enthusiasm on the page! Don't worry too much about what kind of topic you're "supposed" to write about.

Some tips:

  • Make sure you're the "main character"

  • Make sure you interact with other people

  • Choose an event within the past 2–3 years

*this is really reductive and an emotionally unhealthy way of evaluating yourself



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