Luckily, college essay prompts tend to be pretty similar to each other. In this guide, I'll list all the college essay questions for popular schools in the US (and a few abroad) and then break down the patterns to help you brainstorm topics and plan how to approach multiple essays efficiently. After reading this guide, you'll be able to strategize which essays you'll write for which colleges.
We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Accordingly, Prompt #2 essays should be predominantly filled with a student’s response, outlook, and demeanor when presented with one of life’s many hurdles, rather than a detailed account of the hurdle itself. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables. While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (the inability to achieve an A on an exam and/or secure tickets to that Drake concert) or that illustrate a lapse in good judgment (that time you crashed your car or ate 15 bags of Cheetos in one sitting). Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore.
As an alternative, this prompt gives you the opportunity to address a more ambitious, hypothetical problem you would like to solve. For example, you could address the logistical and legal problems of high-speed rail in the United States, the complex environmental and economic problems of using fossil fuels, or even the ethical dilemma of creating A.I. As long as you are creative and refrain from choosing a cliché topic like “curing cancer,” addressing a hypothetical problem can result in a strong essay. Be careful to frame your hypothetical problem clearly, explain why it is a problem, outline the important points, and explain your steps to create a solution.
If you’re like many high school students, you’ve been putting off this part of your application. Maybe it’s because you’re not inspired by the various prompts. Perhaps you’re procrastinating because trying to express your character, personality, worldview, passions, writing skill, and desire to go to a particular school all within just a few hundred words feels overwhelming. Or maybe you’re stressed because you know a lot rides on this part of your application but you don’t consider yourself a strong writer.
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I am applying for this scholarship to help me finish the last two years of my degrees. As a college junior and soon-to-be senior, my scholarship opportunities are limited. Most awards are reserved for freshmen. I took advantage of those early on, and I have one recurring scholarship that cover half of my tuition. However, I need additional financial aid to cover the remainder of my academic costs. I appreciate your consideration, and I hope that you can help me pursue a profession in criminal justice. This is my passion, and I have a clear plan to turn that passion into a lifelong career.
The Ortiz family was my fourth family. Kimberly, the host mom, treated me the same way she treated her own son. She made me do chores: I fixed dinner, fed their two dogs Sassy and Lady, and once a week I cleaned the bathroom. I also had to follow some rules: No food in my room, no using the family computer, no lights on after midnight, and no ride unless it was an emergency. The first couple of months were really hard to get used to, but eventually I adjusted.
The Telegraph Herald Scholastic Journalist Awards are presented to high school seniors studying within the Telegraph Herald's circulation area (roughly a 50-mile radius of Dubuque, Iowa). Applicants must be active in the editorial aspect (news, web, sports, features, photo and art/graphics) of newspapers and submit portfolios demonstrating experience, talent, and leadership in newspaper [...] More
Here’s a tip: Choose a topic you really want to write about. If the subject doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to the reader. Write about whatever keeps you up at night. That might be cars, or coffee. It might be your favorite book or the Pythagorean theorem. It might be why you don’t believe in evolution or how you think kale must have hired a PR firm to get people to eat it.

Another example could be “language,” discussing how it has evolved and changed over the course of history, how it allows you to look deeper into different cultures, and how learning different languages stretches the mind. A tip for expanding on these topics and achieving specificity is to select particular details of the topic that you find intriguing and explain why.
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In an ideal world, you can start writing and planning for your college essays the summer before your senior year. But many students have prior commitments that make following a six-month (June-December) timeline difficult. So here are a few adjusted timelines that can allow you to take advantage of the brainstorming and freewriting process even if you don’t have the full six-month window.

One of the most common questions at parent meetings is “what’s better college or university”? This question did not make sense to me, I then realized that parents want to know the difference between community college and a four year. Concepts like financial aid, grants, loans, are all foreign concepts as most of our parents never went to college. As a student ambassador, I help bridge that gap. We often hold meetings where we explained resources available and different options for each student. I have learned, that as a student, I can provide assistance to my own community through my knowledge. I am the communication necessary for further successes, using my personal knowledge and experience to help uplift and educate others in similar situations. My pursuit is to not only go to college but thrive and come back ready and able to help students like myself that have to fight for their seat in the lecture hall.
Be sure to describe the event or experience that caused you to realize the gravity of the problem, the specific actions you took to plan or execute your solution (i.e., call sponsors, raise money, design graphics, speak at events), explain why solving your problem is so critical, and identify the tangible change your solution would bring to people’s lives. For example, if you care deeply about drug education because of a past experience with a friend or family member, you could outline a plan to bring young-adult speakers to your school to positively influence your peers and stress the real dangers of drugs.
The scholarship is open nationally to high school seniors who are considered legally blind and have low vision or are visually impaired, requiring the use of visual aid(s), other than the use of eyeglasses, in their daily life. The purpose of this scholarship is to help students with visual challenges reach their full potential. This will further allow the students to build confidence and [...] More
Eligible applicants must be U.S. residents applying to a post-secondary/vocational institution or already enrolled at a college or vocational school. Applicant has a confirmed diagnosis of RA or JRA/JIA, or has a parent with such a diagnosis and will be required to submit an application form and a written paper in response to an essay prompt. Previous RPF Scholarship winners are not eligible. For [...] More
A few years earlier, my family of nine had been evicted from the home we had been living in for the past ten years. With nowhere else to go, we moved into our church’s back room for three months, where I shamefully tried to hide our toothbrushes and extra shoes from other church members. Right then I made a commitment to my family to contribute financially in whatever way I could. My sacrifice translated to a closer bond with my siblings and deeper conversations with my parents, helping me understand the true meaning of a unified family and the valuable part I play in that.

Whatever you’re into, embrace it. Show your feathers. Let your freak flag fly (within reason, obvs). This prompt is about the pursuit of knowledge and your desire to proactively challenge yourself. Whether you are devouring the classics on your Kindle or nerding out over the perfect cheese for calzone-making, your attachment to a subject may inspire admissions to want to learn more about it…and you.
The college application process has a logic to it—and it’s one you, the applicant, can both navigate and trust. All those essays, all those forms, all those questions? They’re about getting you in touch with the most authentic and vibrant version of yourself. In fact, if tackled with intelligence, reflection, and organization, the college process can actually offer you a chance to make the admissions process about you as a person, rather than about a distant name on a screen.

The Academic Merit Scholarship is open to both ABA and non-ABA Members. To be eligible, candidates will have completed, at a minimum, their first year of an accredited university (4-year university/college or junior college); must have a declared major or course of study relevant to the transportation, travel and tourism industry; must possess a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher.

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She’s only got 650 words. Which leads us to Tip #1: Take refuge in the anecdote, in the specific, in the particular: everything gets easier if you choose something specific. Many writers—of college essays and other media—get stressed out, believing that they must convey their entire selves in an essay. This just isn’t possible to do in the capsule of space that is your Common App personal statement. And, it will ironically accomplish the opposite—it’ll cause your essay to look shapeless and meandering, therefore communicating very little about you. If you instead use an individual story as a stand-in for something larger, or for something else, your essay becomes a kind of parable or lesson that educates your reader both about you and, hopefully, about a part of the world they’ve never previously considered.
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No one is expecting you to solve the issue of world peace with your essay. Often times, we find students getting hung up with “big ideas”. Remember, this essay is about YOU. What makes you different from the thousands of other applicants and their essays? Be specific. Use vivid imagery. If you’re having trouble, start small and go from there. P. S. make sure the first sentence of your essay is the most interesting one.
Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 
3. A wider relevance or a ‘lesson.’ Your essay doesn’t have to demonstrate that you underwent some great metamorphosis or epiphany as a child or teenager, but does your possible topic have a takeaway to work with? You’re looking for something that you can put in your pocket and carry into the future, and in an impressive and ideal world, something that the reader of the essay can say: “wow, I like that way of thinking, and I might even return to that one day.”

This experience was not the only reason I wanted to study criminal justice, but it did play a big part. I started exploring the career more when I decided that a desk job just wasn’t for me. Throughout high school I struggled because of the routine nature of it all. I saw the same people and attended the same classes every single day. I knew I didn’t want a job that would be that stagnant. That’s when I got the idea to work in law enforcement, because there would always be a new challenge for me to tackle. After researching the field even more, I set my sights on crime scene investigation.
2. Follow the directions of the prompt: As with many things in life, here, too, it is critical to follow directions and answer the question or address the topic presented to you. If you don't have sufficient knowledge to do so intelligently or aren't confident in your ability to do so, research the topic or talk to friends and family about it to perhaps get some inspiration.
The Ron and Cora Lee Children of Law Enforcement Officers scholarships are open to high school seniors seeking a full-time post-secondary education at an accredited college or university with at least a 2.5 grade point average (GPA) or equivalent, and who have a parent / guardian that is currently employed by, or entitled to a vested pension from a law enforcement agency, and personally has, or [...] More
Another advice is to start such type of work with a currently discussed problem within the society. It might be the reasons why recycling matters to the environment. If a student plans to become a world-known writer one day, he/she should focus on how this job may deliver life-valuable messages to the modern population. Focus on things you can do for both the college community and local society!
The Daniel J. Kimber Scholarship Program has been established in memory of Daniel Jarrod Kimber, a valued employee of Southwest Airlines Federal Credit Union. This scholarship is to provide senior level students with a portion of the funds needed to attend college. Scholarships will be awarded based on high school academic achievement, school/community involvement and submission of an [...] More
And yet, during this time of vocabulary enrichment, I never thought that Honors English and Biology had much in common. Imagine my surprise one night as a freshman as I was nonchalantly flipping through a science textbook. I came upon fascinating new terms: adiabatic, axiom, cotyledon, phalanges…and I couldn’t help but wonder why these non-literary, seemingly random words were drawing me in. These words had sharp syllables, were challenging to enunciate, and didn’t possess any particularly abstract meaning.
Beginning freshmen are considered based on: class rank (generally top 10 percent); ACT/SAT (generally a minimum ACT of 27 and SAT of 1260); participation in high school Honors, AP, or Gifted & Talented classes; quality of essays; extracurricular activities; service to school and community; letters of recommendation; and for those selected as finalists an on-campus interview. Entering freshman [...] More
This option was entirely new in 2017, and it's a wonderfully broad prompt. In essence, it's asking you to identify and discuss something that enthralls you. The question gives you an opportunity to identify something that kicks your brain into high gear, reflect on why it is so stimulating, and reveal your process for digging deeper into something that you are passionate about. Note that the central words here—"topic, idea, or concept"—all have rather academic connotations. While you may lose track of time when running or playing football, sports are probably not the best choice for this particular question.
On a day as pristine as all the others, the chicken is happily eating his lunchtime meal as the nice man carefully gathers the smooth white eggs when it notices that the man has left one behind. Strangely located at the empty end of the metal enclosure, highlighted by the bright yellow sun, the white egg appears to the chicken different from the rest. The chicken moves towards the light to tacitly inform the man of his mistake. But then the chicken notices a jagged gray line on the otherwise flawless egg. Hypnotized and appalled, the chicken watches as the line turns into a crack and a small beak attached to a fuzzy yellow head pokes out. Suddenly a shadow descends over the chicken and the nice man snatches the egg--the baby chick--and stomps off.
As you know, a college education is quite expensive, but it is an investment that is certainly worthwhile. I received a partial scholarship from XYZ University as an incoming freshman, and am paying for the rest of my educational expenses with student loans and the money that I earn from my job. Receiving this scholarship will enable me to continue to make progress toward my degree in preparation for a career as a widget maker.
Award Amount: Varies The Mary Grant Charles Prize Scholarship is open to undergraduate students at Tufts University. You must possess the same creative qualities in the writing of prose and poetry to qualify for this award. Preference is given to students whose writing reflects an interest in ancestry and genealogy. Get more information on the Mary Grant Charles Prize Scholarship.
What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child’s idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author’s future aspirations. It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time.
Studies have shown that there are winning strategies to rock-paper-scissors by making critical assumptions about those we play against before the round has even started. Douglas Walker, host of the Rock-Paper-Scissors World Championships (didn’t know that existed either), conducted research indicating that males will use rock as their opening move 50% of the time, a gesture Walker believes is due to rock’s symbolic association with strength and force. In this sense, the seemingly innocuous game of rock-paper-scissors has revealed something quite discomforting about gender-related dispositions in our society. Why did so many males think that brute strength was the best option? If social standards have subliminally influenced the way males and females play rock-paper-scissors, than what is to prevent such biases from skewing more important decisions? Should your decision to go to war or to feed the hungry depend on your gender, race, creed, etc?
My father left when I was one year old and I will soon be turning 17; I did the math and found that for about 5900 days he has neglected me. He was able to sleep 5900 nights without knowing whether or not I was dead or alive. Even though he’s been gone for 5900 days,  my life did not get put on hold. In those 5900 days I learned how to walk, talk, and I became a strong young man without the provider of my Y Chromosome because he is nothing more to me than that.
“If you can’t live off of it, it is useless.” My parents were talking about ice skating: my passion. I started skating as a ten-year-old in Spain, admiring how difficulty and grace intertwine to create beautiful programs, but no one imagined I would still be on the ice seven years and one country later. Even more unimaginable was the thought that ice skating might become one of the most useful parts of my life.
The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.
Award Amount: $1,000 The $1,000 Financial Freedom Scholarship is open to current full-time college students. You must submit an essay of between 1,000 and 2,000 words on what financial freedom means to you, why it is important and how you will achieve it in order to be considered for this award. Learn more about the $1,000 Financial Freedom Scholarship.
Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief. The answer to the final question about the "outcome" of your challenge need not be a success story. Sometimes in retrospection, we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.
I’ve danced ballet since I when I was seven-years-old. But, even after almost eight years, I could still barely extend my legs as high as my peers nor could do as many pirouettes as them. My flexibility was incredibly subpar and I easily wore out my Pointe shoes, making them unwearable after a couple of months. Where the average lifespans of my peers’ pointe shoes extended into months, mine could barely last ten classes. I was the weakling of my class at Ballet Etudes, and I was too absorbed in my insecurities to do anything to better myself to become the dancer I aspired to be.
Applicants submitting the Coalition Application: Please choose one of the topics above and respond in 300 words or fewer. In addition to writing on your chosen topic, upload an audio file, video, image, or document you have created that is meaningful to you and relates to your essay. Above your essay, include a one-sentence description of what you have submitted.
There is added value in mixing things together. I realized this when my brother and I won an international Kavli Science Foundation contest where we explained the math behind the Pixar movie “Up”. Using stop motion animation we explored the plausibility and science behind lifting a house with helium balloons. I like offering a new view and expanding the way people see things. In many of my videos I combine art with education. I want to continue making films that not only entertain, but also make you think.
The Mercatus MA Fellowship is a two-year, competitive, full-time fellowship program for students pursuing a master’s degree in economics at George Mason University who are interested in gaining an advanced degree in applied economics in preparation for a career in public policy. The Mercatus Center’s MA Fellowship program is targeted toward students with an interest in gaining advanced training [...] More
Many college applicants make the fatal mistake of composing a tedious laundry list of all of their accomplishments and extracurricular activities. Since there are plenty of other parts of the application for listing these items, it is more important to present the admissions officer with an engaging and compelling story to reveal your passions in life and true character. Do not be afraid to add a touch of appropriate humor because every smile or laugh that you can coax out of the reader is a major bonus. More than a list of the honors you have achieved in your academic career, the essay should be a thoughtful, honest, and detailed narration of your life that makes the committee want to learn more about you.
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My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. “The water’s on fire! Clear a hole!” he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I’m still unconvinced about that particular lesson’s practicality, my Dad’s overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.
Our Bright Future's Scholarship Program supports the field of early childhood education by offering financial assistance for future teachers. We believe the profession of early childhood education deserves more respect and support. It is our hope that this program will be a way to encourage students of great promise to continue pursuing their dreams of caring and teaching young children.
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Lastly, the “good” doctor understands that as our patients are human, so are we. This means we will make mistakes, some of which can result in life-threatening consequences. With that said, the “good” doctor practices humility and honesty, apologizing and sharing as much information with patients as possible. Although no one strives to make mistakes, they will happen, and how one reacts to them is a distinguishing feature of the “good” doctor (II).

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It’s family. It’s society. And often, it’s chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.
The scholarship is open nationally to high school seniors who are considered legally blind and have low vision or are visually impaired, requiring the use of visual aid(s), other than the use of eyeglasses, in their daily life. The purpose of this scholarship is to help students with visual challenges reach their full potential. This will further allow the students to build confidence and [...] More
But the best dimension that language brought to my life is interpersonal connection. When I speak with people in their native language, I find I can connect with them on a more intimate level. I’ve connected with people in the most unlikely places, finding a Bulgarian painter to use my few Bulgarian words with in the streets of Paris, striking up a conversation in Spanish with an Indian woman who used to work at the Argentinian embassy in Mumbai, and surprising a library worker by asking her a question in her native Mandarin.
Where did you grow up? Describe your neighborhood, town, or community. Big or small? What makes it unlike other parts of the world? How has it affected you? What images are important for someone who has never been to your hometown/neighborhood/community to see? For instance, is there farmland all around you, grain silos, cows? A Chik-Fil-A every block?
Being African, I recognize Africa’s need for home- grown talent in the form of “planners” (assistants with possible solutions) and “searchers” (those with desperate need) working towards international development. I represent both. Coming from Zimbabwe my greatest challenge is in helping to improve the livelihoods of developing nations through sustainable development and good governance principles. The need for policy-makers capable of employing cross-jurisdictional, and cross- disciplinary strategies to solve complex challenges cannot be under-emphasized; hence my application to this scholarship program.
The Megan Meier Foundation is seeking St. Charles high school seniors that have made a positive impact regarding issues of bullying and cyberbullying in their own school and community. Applicants must be currently enrolled as a full-time student, either within his or her high school or through an approved college program; reside in St. Charles County; have a minimum 3.0 GPA and passionately [...] More
The Morris J. and Betty Kaplun Foundation seeks to encourage young people to treasure our Jewish heritage, reflect on our Jewish values, and better understand our contribution to civilization and culture. To this effort, the Foundation sponsors an annual essay contest open to both junior high and high school students. The Foundation also issues grants to a wide variety of educational, scientific [...] More
The Dr. Abdulmunim A. Shakir ISNA Scholarship Program was established because of the strong belief in the value of education by Dr. Shakir. He dedicated himself to education and specifically to working with inner city youth, introducing students to Islam and the Arabic language. He was a true leader and arranged for this scholarship fund to be established to support freshman students in their [...] More
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The Iranian Scholarship Foundation (ISF) provides scholarships to students of Iranian descent in the United States who demonstrate exceptional academic promise, significant financial need and a dedication to community service. We believe that the future of the global Iranian community rests in the hands of our younger generation and the Iranian Scholarship Foundation is committed to providing the [...] More
This program recognizes students with a strong history of community service. Applicants should be a graduating senior with strong community service experience and strong academics from an Albuquerque metro area high school. Applicants must also have a minimum 3.0 GPA, 23 composite ACT and be attending a 2-year or 4-year non-profit or public college/university in the coming fall. For more [...] More
The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between 2013 and 2016, but it returned again with the 2017-18 admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them. Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content.

If you’re starting to feel frustrated or overwhelmed by your essay, take a break and do something else. A short walk around your neighborhood can help clear your mind and help you brainstorm new ideas for your composition. If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, do something completely unrelated to your essay and forget about it completely for a while. If you try to work through the stress, you may end up producing subpar work.

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