College Application Essay Topics

Tips on successful college application essay topics. College essay prompts from the Common App, University of California and more. Does an outstanding college application essay really make a difference? Yes. Just read about our personal experience.

Last updated on December 7 2016 by College Financial Aid Advice

Successful College Application Essay

University of San Diego

Last spring, I had the privilege of driving my son to several Southern California colleges for his undergraduate college admission scholarship interviews. The potential students were selected by invitation only. What was baffling me was the fact that even though my son had a high GPA and SAT/ACT score, there were other students from his school district with equal or higher scores who had also applied but not received such invitations.

I soon discovered that the interviewers had two pieces of printed information they referred to while they were conducting these interviews: The students college applications, and their personal essays (Also known as personal statement essay.)

Based on this simple observation, I concluded that a well-written personal essay plays a crucial part in the college application process.

The undergraduate admission and the scholarship officers at each college or university you apply to actually take the time to read your essays. Therefore, start early and take the time to write a high quality personal statement essay. Think of it as your successful college application essay.



College Application Essay Prompts 2017

Each college or university may require different essay topics (Also known as college essay prompts.) For example, the prior year's Common Application (Common App) college application essay prompts (topics) are as follows. These may change slightly for next year. Note: Candidates choose one topic and respond in 250 words minimum and 650 words maximum.

College essay prompt 1.  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.

College essay prompt 2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

College essay prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again? 

College essay prompt 4Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

College essay prompt 5.   Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.


More College Essay Prompt Examples

University of California, Berkeley

The following example is for the University of California Application.

All undergraduate applicants must respond to 4 of 8 college essay prompts. Each response can be a maximum of 350 words.

UC College essay prompts for freshman applicants.

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.


2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. 

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?


4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.


5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?


6.  Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.


7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? 


8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

UC College essay prompt 1 for transfer applicants.

This first essay prompt is required for all transfer applicants.

Please describe how you have prepared for your intended major, including your readiness to succeed in your upper-division courses once you enroll at the university.

Transfer students to UC should choose 3 of the other 7 questions.

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.


2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. 

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?


4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.


5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?


6. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place? 


7. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

PLEASE NOTE that the first prompts for both the Common Application and the University of California (UC) overcoming challenge question are more-or-less the same topics: your personal statement or essay.

Additionally, some colleges and universities may require one or more supplemental essays (shorter in length). Following is the example for the Stanford University Supplement Short Essays:

Candidates respond to all three essay topics using at least 250 words, but not exceeding the space provided.

1. Stanford students possess intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development.

2. Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate - and us - know you better.

3. What matters to you, and why?

College Essay Examples

Here are some of the best college essay examples that were submitted in one of our college essay contests.

Letter to my Future Roommate

Finding My X Personal Statement

Bat Removal Personal Essay

Walking the Plank College Admission Essay

Aunt Martha Personal Essay

All That Jazz Personal Essay

Schizophrenic Symphony College Essay

For more college essay examples, see our page with links to many more college admission essay examples and Scholarship Essay Examples.

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