When you begin your college application essays, you will encounter a variety of college essay topics. Don’t be alarmed. Virtually all amount to a personal statement. Let’s examine the choice of topics for your college admission essay.

1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

We’ll expound on this one in greater detail than the others, for much of what applies to this college essay topic is in large part true for your other options. Excellent college essay writing should reveal to the admissions board who you are, where you’ve come from, what you’ve experienced, and, most of all, how you think. What does that mean – how you think? Ultimately, the college admission essay is an indicator of how you process life experiences, be they personal experiences or current events in the world around you or works of fiction. Do you just skim the surface and tell a good story? Or do you make profound connections between seemingly disparate things? Seeing interconnectedness, exploring rich meaning under the surface, and expressing these discoveries eloquently are the absolute harbingers of a perfect candidate for an Ivy League school.

In terms of this college essay topic, what matters most is not the inherent depth of the experience you choose to relate, but rather the profundity you ascribe to it. In other words, the death of a relative might seem extraordinarily profound (which it is, of course), but even the shallowest, least-educted individual can perceive the impact of such an event. A better choice would be something that to an ordinary student might seem utterly trivial.

Let’s say you found an iPod when you were in eighth grade and had to decide what to do about it. On the surface, not much meat on the bones as college essay topics go. But if it leads you to a contemplation of the rights of ownership, and thoughts of Karl Marx surface, not to mention Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, you might end up with a marvelous college admission essay.

Another example: let’s say you once went to a dermatologist to have a benign mole removed. Again, this isn’t leukemia, it isn’t a leg amputation. It’s a routine outpatient procedure that takes all of five minutes at most. But it’s all in how you spin it. If you approach your entrance essay by considering your very identity, your genetic makeup, and what it means to alter your personhood by means a scalpel, and all of the ramifications of altering your identity, again your college essay writing will be revealing you to be a student of incredible depth and perspicacity.

2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

As college essay topics go, this entrance essay tends to be more challenging than the others. It will be difficult to sound original when talking about the war in Iraq or global warming. And it won’t be so easy to write a solid college admission essay on some random, picayune occurrence or issue. The best advice is to skip this topic.

3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

If you choose this college essay topic for your personal statement, you can follow pretty much the same advice. Again, avoid the obvious. Any idea how many students will write about Barack Obama this year? Or about Gandhi? Or their own grandmother? Or a teacher? Think outside the box for good college essay writing. It’s not who you write about, it’s how you write about him or her.

How audacious would it be to choose Ryan Seacrest?! Or an anonymous person you sat next to on a plane. No inherent meaningfulness in either of those two. But if you can succeed in making such an essay utterly sparkle with insight, you have gone above and beyond the Obama personal essays that will be churned out by the thousand.

admissions essays

4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

This is a truly great topic for college application essays. Follow the exact same advice as with #3 above. In other words, don’t pick Hamlet or Gandhi or the Mona Lisa or Socrates or Holden Caulfield. For sharp, penetrating college essay writing, set yourself a challenge by picking Inspector Gadget or Napoleon Dynamite. No, there’s nothing inherently great about those characters, so if you can breathe meaningfulness into your college personal statement with them as topics, you’re as good as gold.

Are you confused or lacking confidence that you can pull off such a feat? We highly recommend The Tao of Pooh, a book that equated all of the rich philosophy of Taoism with the antics of Winnie the Pooh. This book, a quick read, is instant proof that this approach to college essay writing is absolutely doable.

5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

This college admission essay topic is almost identical to #1 above. The chief difference is that this topic forces you to draw a specific conclusion – namely, that because of this or that personal experience, you will be making the college campus a more robustly diverse institution of higher learning. We think that forcing your conclusion isn’t nearly as ideal as the options inherent in college essay topic #1. Furthermore, this essay topic more than any of the others causes you to run a high risk of sounding self-aggrandizing and pompous. We want the admission board to come to the conclusion that you’re amazing; we don’t want you to state this yourself. Best advice is to skip this one, too.

6. Topic of your choice.

There’s really no need for your application’s college essay topics to include this garbage pail choice, but there it is. Fact is, any personal statement you make is almost certainly going to fall into one of the five college essay topics listed above, so the choose-your-own topic is meaningless. If you feel that you need this one for your college admission essay, it’s a good sign that you didn’t fully understand the potential inherent in three of the five topics listed above. (Again, skip #2 and #5.)