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Most Common College Essay Topics

Last updated November 1, 2023

It's time to start drafting your college essay! While this can be a bit daunting for many, it's important to know that you have options when it comes to writing your essay. Each year, the Common Application has multiple essay prompts that students can choose from to write an essay that is honest, entertaining, and authentically them. Your essay is a key component of your college application and will help the schools you apply to learn more about you and your unique story - so picking a prompt that you feel great writing about is important. Here are the Common App's college essay prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 

You want to select this option if you are connected to something that you would feel lost if you didn’t have it in your life. For instance, you might have a cultural or ethnic identity that drives your world view, outward expressions, and even academic interests. Or maybe you’re into a hobby or subculture like gaming or cosplay that fuels your confidence and connection to the world. If you feel strongly about it, write about it!

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 

Many students are tempted to select this prompt despite not having any major setbacks or challenges. Failure is something we all face, but sharing your story about perseverance, grit, and your growth over time is the key to this prompt. Have you overcome family trauma, an accident or illness, or natural disasters that helped build your resolve to succeed? Or another instance where you displayed your resilience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Today’s high school students are faced with all kinds of social issues that can threaten their sense of safety and security. Whether through school walk outs or sit ins, community marches, or social media campaigns, students are speaking up and speaking out. But, those protests aren’t always met with open arms from those in charge. If you have used your voice to challenge the status quo, this essay topic is perfect for you.


Close-up of hands typing on a laptop keyboard - Most Common College Essay Topics


Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Although the past few years have been incredibly challenging for many, there may have been some silver linings or big moments of joy for you that you want to share. What experiences have moved you or changed your perspective on things? Who are you grateful for and why? How can you demonstrate that gratitude is a key element of your story and trajectory to college and beyond?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

High school can be a time of extreme personal growth and self-awareness. A lot can happen between your freshman year and senior year. Sharing how experiences or accomplishments have fueled your personal development can demonstrate maturity and the ability to handle change to admissions counselors. Personal growth and how you respond to life's changes is definitely one of the most common college essay topics you'll encounter.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

This essay topic is for the student who has a strong passion for a certain topic, idea, or concept. If you find yourself this passionate about something, it only makes sense to invite the college admissions team into this part of your world. It can really help them get to know what unique perspective you can add to the student body.

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

If none of the pre-selected essay topics jumps out at you or moves you, choose your own topic! This essay prompt allows you the freedom to write about anything you want. Just make sure you can deliver a solid, cohesive essay on whatever topic you choose if you go this route. Remember that this is your chance to tell your reader who you are academically & socially. Use this essay question as an opportunity to tell your reader anything that wasn't clear in your application or financial aid process.

Want your college essay to be reviewed for FREE by our team of experts? Submit your essay here! We’ll have it back to you within a week with personal, actionable feedback.  

Have any questions about applying to college? Text #Hello to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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