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  • Allison Grandits

My Favorite Essay Brainstorming Prompts

One of my favorite parts of the college application process is helping students with their essays. Particularly during the brainstorming process. I love assisting teenagers as they discover the stories buried inside of them that are begging to get out. They often feel like they have nothing meaningful to share with admissions: their life has been relatively free of challenges, and they feel like all of their experiences are generic. They’ve been told that the essay has to be “epic,” and they’ve been given a topic of things to avoid, both of which paralyzes them from knowing where to start. For many students, this is the first time they’ve ever written about themselves, and it’s a challenge. They don’t have the language to explain their personality or values because they’ve never explored who they really are or what matters most to them.

One of the first things I have students do is to get their brains in gear. I set a timer for five minutes and give them a list of questions to answer. I tell them to go with their gut and to answer as many as possible during the time limit. Most of the time, students answer about half; two or three come really easy to them, and the others are challenging. We talk through the ones they answered and discuss why the ones they didn’t respond to were hard. Most of the time, it was because the question had a qualifying word (most, best, hardest, etc.), which caused them to panic. When I rephrased the prompt (“What is one accomplishment?’ or “Who is one person who inspires you?”), they can usually answer quickly. This is when I remind them that their personal statement is based on THEIR perspective. If they tell the admissions officer that a specific event was the most impactful thing that happened in their life, then that’s the truth. Admissions officers will only know what the student shares with them, and they won’t be comparing them to the life they *think* the student has had.

Here are a few of my favorite brainstorming prompts. I hope you are able to use them to spark your deepest story.

  • Why do you want to go to college?

  • Describe your ideal day.

  • As you look into the future, what brings you hope?

  • What’s a question you can never seem to answer?

  • What would you change about your high school experience?

  • What are five things your future roommate needs to know about you?

  • What do you hope will be your legacy?

  • What is one problem you’d like to solve?

  • What is your favorite quote, and why?

  • What brings you joy?

  • Who inspires you the most?

  • Which ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?

  • If you had an extra hour every day, what would you do with it?

  • You are required to spend the next year in either the past or the future. To what year would you travel and why?

  • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Want even more inspiration? Sign up to receive 75 of my favorite essay brainstorming prompts here! Have you already written a draft but want to make sure your essay really shines? Be sure to check out the post, Final Edits: Making Your Essay GRAND. Have questions or want to talk about your specific situation? Contact Allison or visit Grand Fit Educational Consulting for more information.

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