College Application Essay Topics

You nailed the ACT or SAT exam, your GPA is awesome and your recommendation letters are glowing.

Just when you thought you had everything under control, you realize you still have to complete your college application essay.

Darn it! What on earth are you going to write about?

Below we’ll discuss some of the most common college application essay topics used by colleges and universities. You should expect to see at least one of these college essay prompts (or one very similar) on your college applications.

1. Tell us about yourself.

If you find this question on one of your college applications, the admissions team is simply trying to get to know you better.

Yes, they have your transcript and standardized test scores, but they’re looking to learn a little bit more about the person behind all the paperwork – what’s special, unique, and/or distintive about your personality or life? Take this as an opportunity to give them some insight into your interests/goals and how you evolved into the person you are today.

2. What differentiates you from all of the other applicants?

Keep in mind, college admissions officers read thousands of essays during the college application season, so you have to find a way to set yourself apart from the other applicants. What high school accomplishments are you proud of?

Did you start a new student led club on a topic you’re passionate about? Were you captain of the football team? Do you tutor children with learning disabilities after school? Do you volunteer at your church’s soup kitchen on the weekend? Now is the time to  talk about all the extracurricular activities you’re involved with and share all of those high school accomplishments you’re proud of.

3. Why do you want to major in [fill in the blank]? 

If you’re applying to a particular program, don’t be surprised if one of your college application essay topics resembles this one. Take some time to think about what led you to become interested in this college major. Colleges and universities want to admit students who are passionate about their chosen career field. Simply stating that you’re applying to the College of Nursing because your mom is a nurse won’t cut it.

Instead, examine what life experiences swayed you towards the field of medicine. Perhaps you were a lifeguard at your local pool during the summer months of high school and you enjoyed helping others and saving lives. The purpose of these types of college application essay topics are to seek out those students who have a genuine interest in the program the applicant applied to.

4. What are you career goals?

College application essay topics like this usually come as a follow-up question to #3 listed above. If you apply to the college of business as an accounting major, you should understand the various career paths that exist for an accountant.

For example, do you plan to  work in the public sector and become a CPA (certified public accountant) or do you desire to work in the private sector as an internal auditor or perhaps you want to pursue your PhD in accounting and become a professor. The bottom line is if you haven’t thought about your career goals yet, now is a great time to start doing some research so you won’t get caught off guard by college application essay topics like this one.

5. Would you like to further clarify any part of your academic profile?

Sometimes life throws us curve balls. Parents get divorced, loved ones pass away, we get sick, etc. etc. etc. College admissions teams understand this, so that’s why they include college application essay topics like this one.

This is where you discuss medical conditions, family illnesses, or other life challenges that may have prevented you from performing your best in the classroom or on the ACT/SAT exam. This helps them keep everything in perspective.

6. Tell us about a time when you overcame an obstacle in your life.

College will be challenging, so the purpose of college application essay topics like this one is to see if you have the drive and determination to keep going when things get tough.

Maybe mom got laid off and you had to get a part-time job during high school to help your dad keep up with the bills, all while remaining on the honor roll at school. Whatever the case may be, use college essay prompts like this one to prove to the college admissions team you have what it takes to be successful at their university!

7. Define the qualities of a good leader.

Colleges want to admit students who are good leaders. That’s why so much emphasis is placed on your extracurricular involvement. They want to admit students who were captains of sports teams, presidents of student council, and coordinators of various volunteer efforts. And they believe if you performed well in these roles, you should be able to define which traits contributed to your success.

So if this question is one of your college application essay topics, take some time to reflect on the leadership roles you held over the past 4 years and identify what leadership skills made your successful.

Related Posts

The following two tabs change content below.


Lauren Anderson is a certified school counselor who's passionate about helping students all over the world successfully transition from high school to college! After spending 6 years as a business professional, she obtained her Master’s degree in School Counseling and now spends her spare time helping students.

Latest posts by TheCollegeHelper (see all)