How to Brainstorm Your College Essay Topic

With application deadlines fast approaching, one thing weighs heavy on students’ minds: writing the perfect essay. Having written my college application essays just over two years ago, I’m no stranger to this feeling. The pressure of turning abstract thoughts into perfectly articulated sentences feels intimidating, impossible, and everything in between. Are you feeling this pressure? 


Breaking the brainstorming barrier

Before you sit down to put words onto paper, it’s important to take some time to reflect. Your application essays give you space to communicate directly with your admissions officer. Essentially, you’re putting yourself on paper. Given all of the nuances and complexities that make you unique, how can you fit yourself into 650 words? The key is identifying what’s most important. Ask yourself: 


  • What are you most passionate about? This doesn’t necessarily have to be your intended major or academic interest. 
  • What do you love about yourself? These are the traits you’ll want to convey in your essay.
  • What past experiences shaped your current direction and/or perspective? Identifying a specific moment in time will be helpful. 
  • What do you want to say about yourself that’s not already in your application? 


When I worked with Courtney to brainstorm my college essay topics, she recommended the triple threat technique: adjectives to describe yourself, significant experiences, lessons learned. If you can identify an experience that incorporates aspects of all three, you’ve struck gold.


The power of storytelling 

While important, a great topic choice alone doesn’t make a successful essay; execution does. Once you’ve identified a topic, you can begin structuring your essay. Whether in your head or on paper, outlines help organize your thoughts before you take the leap into writing your essay. Though there is no cookie-cutter outline that produces the “perfect” essay, certain elements lend themselves to success. I love reading essays centered around a specific moment in time told in a narrative style. By placing your admissions officer directly into a significant moment in your life, you’re not only painting a picture of how you see the world, but also entertaining and engaging your reader. In these types of essays, admissions officers walk away with an understanding of who you are and what is most important to you. They’re also sure to be impressed by your creative writing skills, as these types of essays give you the space to show off your creativity. Allocating space for dialogue, imagery, suspense, and other elements that comprise narrative style writing ensures that your essay is a unique and engaging reflection of yourself. 


Letting go of “the perfect essay”

The key to writing a killer college essay is giving yourself space to write some not-so-killer essays. The pressure to choose the perfect topic and perfect words often stands in the way of actually putting words to paper; sometimes, we’re so scared of writing something bad that we don’t write at all. The beauty of college application essays lies in the writer’s complete creative control. Did you write an essay you hate? Guess what- you don’t have to submit it. More often than not, a student’s first college essay looks completely different from what they submit. Find comfort in the knowledge that you can try and try again until you love your finished product. 

Wondering what you should include in your essay? Download this free writing guide to learn the ACCEPTED Method: your 8-step formula to writing your acceptance worthy essay.

Landed on something interesting? Get to writing! (And check out Horizon Tutoring’s essay review service once you’re done)


[by: Preeta Kamat]


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