College Application Essay Topics

Tips on successful college application essay topics. A personal essay is required for. many college applications. See the college essay prompts for the Common App Personal Essay and University of California Personal Insight Questions.

Last updated on November 25, 2022 by College Financial Aid Advice.

Successful College Application Essay

University of San Diego

Some colleges and universities also have supplemental essay questions, for example see Stanford University supplemental questions to answer, that are in addition to the questions on the Common App.

Does an outstanding college application essay really make a difference? Yes. Just read about our personal experience.

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.


Common Application Personal Essay

Each college or university may require different essay topics (Also known as college essay prompts.) For example, the 2022 Common Application (Common App) college application essay prompts (topics) are as follows. These may change slightly from year to year.

Note: Candidates choose one topic and respond in 250 words minimum and 650 words maximum.

2022 Common Application Personal Essay Prompts (for 2023 - 2024 school year):

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 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?

College essay prompt 3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

College essay prompt 4Reflect 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?

College essay prompt 5.   Discuss an accomplishment, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.

College essay prompt 6. 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?

College essay prompt 7. 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.


University of California Personal Essay 

University of California, Berkeley

The following are the University of California Application personal essay prompts or personal insight questions for the 2022 application (2023 - 2024 school year):

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

University of California 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.  Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.

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

8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

University of California essay prompts (personal insight questions) 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. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you a strong candidate for admissions 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.


College Supplemental Short Essays

Additionally, some colleges and universities may require one or more supplemental essays (shorter in length). Following are the Stanford University Supplement Short Essays for the 2022 application (2023 - 2024 school year):

Candidates respond to all three essay topics using 100 - 250 words, but not exceeding the space provided.

1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.

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—get to know you better.

3. Tell us about something that is meaningful 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

College Essays about Influence of Music

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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