Archive for July, 2011

Essay Topics: Brainstorming Your Way to a Kick-A** Idea

Aah, brainstorming topic ideas, this is the fun part.  Here is where you get to think of all the interesting, unique and special things about yourself, with no pressure to select a topic or thesis at this point, if you’ve started the process early enough.  You can relax and get creative.

Give yourself plenty of time before the drop-dead deadline for the essay so you’ve got time to gather ideas, review them, reject what doesn’t work, and hone in and elaborate on what does.  I recommend carrying around a small notebook or journal to note ideas in when they occur to you.

I’ve given you some brainstorming prompts here to help you get started.

Keep in mind, the goal of brainstorming is to develop ideas, so don’t censor yourself in the exercises below.  Just let it flow out of you.  ; )


One brainstorming process you can use is called the “brain dump.”  Start filling up a page with things you’ve done, places you’ve been, accomplishments, goals achieved, hopes, dreams and aspirations, disappointments, stream of consciousness daydreaming stuff . . . just get it all down. Write, write, write, without filters!


Listmaking is another way you can come up with topic ideas.  Use these listmaking prompts to help you get started.

~ Make a list of important things you’ve done in school and out of school.
~ Make a list of what you feel your best traits/strongest attributes are.
~ Make a list of the experiences that have meant the most to you in your life.
~ Make a list of your accomplishments. Here you want to think not only of the obvious ones, the ones you’ve been formally recognized for, but also of smaller ones that are meaningful to you in a more personal way.


~ Think about your favorite books and movies – why are they your favorites?  Has a particular book or movie influenced you or changed your perception about something in a meaningful way?
~ Look at something you’ve worked very hard for and achieved – what made you successful?  Was it focus and determination?  Mindset?  Passion? Unwavering commitment?
~ Is there something you really wanted and worked hard for, then failed to get?  How did you react to this disappointment? 
~ What’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to overcome in your life, and how did you handle it?  What lessons did you learn?
~ If you could have one-on-one conversations with any three people, living or dead, who would they be, and what would you ask them/talk to them about?
~ What activities of yours outside of school bring you the most joy and fulfillment?
~ Poll a few friends and family members and ask what they would write about you if they were writing your admissions essay. Alternatively, ask a few of these folks to make a list of 3-5 your key personality traits, and see if you notice a theme in their responses. 
~ Looking ahead 5 years and acting as if everything you want for yourself in the next 5 years has been accomplished, what does your life look like?  What were the steps you took to get there?
~ What most interests you?  What do you care passionately about?

What the brainstorming process is meant to do is give you a bunch of stuff to begin working with.  The answer to any one of the questions above is not necessarily going to be your best essay topic.  But if you answer several of the questions, say in a “brain dump” in a Word document, or old school on a legal pad, you will begin to see connections, or a “theme,” about yourself. 

The brainstorming exercises are a way for you to begin the process.  You could answer all these questions in a notebook or on your computer, then set it aside for a couple of days and go back to it.  Let questions simmer in your mind if you can’t answer them right away.  Come back to them. I bet you’ll begin to see some overriding themes jump out at you. You may even have one of those “aha” moments where you know exactly what to write about.

(For more essay writing prompts and other great tips for writing a stellar college application essay, go to my website at and grab your FREE essay writing guide today!)


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