IvyWise Resources

3 Tips for Brainstorming College Essay Topics

By Tasha, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor 

A blank page. The cursor blinks insistently, mockingly. You stare at the page, fingers on keyboard, ready to go. Now all you have to do is start writing, right?

The truth is the writing process is about much more than writing itself. Brainstorming and outlining are often essential to the process–unless you have a sudden burst of stream-of-consciousness inspiration, in which case, please, go forth!

As you approach the college application process, brainstorming college essay topics should be top of mind. Though it’s important not to belabor the process, it’s a good idea to be intentional about identifying possible topics. Read on for my three  tips for brainstorming college essay topics.

Start Journaling or Journal More Often

Recently, I recommended that college juniors should commit to daily journaling practice both to improve and get accustomed to the craft of writing. I’m going to echo that recommendation here as it relates to brainstorming essay topics. After all, there’s no better place to look for personal essay topics than your own inner psyche.

Journals are a place to write everything down without filter and  self-judgment. They are a place to connect with yourself and reflect on what is going on in your life. While this reflection might seem self-indulgent or trivial, it’s actually extremely useful; reflecting on your own thoughts and feelings about your experiences is the basis of writing a personal essay. After all, personal essays are about self-reflection. If you can journal thoughtfully, I guarantee that you have multiple solid college essay ideas already

Spend Some Time Brainstorming Possible Responses to the Common Application Prompts

The 2022-2023 Common Application gives students the chance to choose from seven personal statement prompts.  Though it may seem like a lot of work to consider each and every prompt, I encourage you to sit with each of the seven prompts and brainstorm at least three possible responses for each prompt.

I recommend starting with a paper and pencil and writing out a list of ideas. Some students even sketch out their ideas with diagrams, charts, or even illustrations, but do whatever works for you. For me, the physical, tactile experience of writing or drawing on paper often leads to a more creative and generative brainstorming session.

It’s also possible that you are a more auditory and/or vocal person. Try recording voice memos of your brainstorming sessions and then listening to them  the next day with a pen and paper in hand. This will create a conversation between your voice memo self and your next-day self, which will help you reflect on your ideas and start getting them onto the page.

Sometimes, the brainstorming session for one essay prompt will naturally generate excellent essay ideas for one or more of the other prompts. Often, students will combine some of these ideas, if that combination fits one of the prompts.

Mining an essay idea from your journaling practice may even save you a step or two in the brainstorming process. Since the final essay prompt is open-ended, allowing students a lot of creative freedom, you wouldn’t have to make that idea conform to any of the other essay prompts.

Pay Attention to Everyday Occurrences

As you’re going about your high school life, whatever it may include, pay attention. Pay attention in class, outside of class, and everywhere you go. You might just get an idea when you least expect it. I think this is especially true when it comes to consuming media and art.

For example, maybe you go to a new art exhibit at a museum and the artist’s statement makes you reflect on a meaningful experience you had during your childhood. Maybe you listen to a podcast that discusses surprising, meaningful moments, and it makes you think of a similar moment in your own life. Maybe you read an article about something happening  in a far-flung corner of the world and you draw a parallel to something happening closer to home that has affected you directly. Whatever the connection is, it’s likely that you’ll make one if you pay attention and take time to reflect.

As you approach your blank page, take a deep breath. Don’t think about it too much. If you arrive at the page prepared with some solid brainstorming, you’ll be writing before you know it.

At IvyWise, our expert counselors are all former Deans and Directors of admission from top colleges in the US – they know how admissions committees review essays and what they’re looking for in the personal statement. We work with students to help them brainstorm and identify interesting essay topics that reveal something new about the students – helping them to stand out in the competitive admissions process. For more information on how we help students brainstorm and revise their application essays, contact us today.

 简体中文 »
close wechat qr code