How to Brainstorm For Strong College Application Essay Topics

How to Brainstorm For Strong College Application Essay Topics
Choosing a topic for your application essay is like selecting an outfit to wear on a first date. The right clothing accentuates your best physical features and gives some insight into your personality. Similarly, the right topic for your application essay will highlight your best qualities and give the admissions officer reviewing your application some insight into your character.
Needless to say, it is important to choose a topic that suits you. Many schools will offer a free response question that will allow you to write about whatever you want. Others will give you a broad topic that still allows for a good deal of freedom. Even if you think you know what you want to write about, take some time to brainstorm potential topics before proceeding. Here are a few brainstorming techniques that have worked for my customers in the past.

Free Association Writing: This is a classic technique. The reason it's so popular is because it works. Tap into your unconscious mind by sitting down with a pen and paper and writing everything that pops into your head for the next 10 minutes. Don't worry about using complete sentences, correct spelling or correct punctuation. In fact, don't use punctuation at all if you don't want to. Just set the timer and don't stop writing until it beeps. If at any point you can't think of something to write, write about how you can't think of anything to write about. Something else will pop into your head soon. Remember, nothing is too ridiculous to write down. If you start filtering your thoughts, the free association writing exercise won't work.

When you're done, take a 10-minute break. Come back and read what you wrote. Are there certain ideas you keep coming back to? They must be important to you, perhaps important enough to write your essay about one of them. If you find an intriguing idea in your free writing text, but you're not sure about the topic yet, try doing it all over again. This time, begin by writing about the idea that stood out in your first exercise and see if the free write takes you in a direction that allows you to better flesh out your idea.

If you are more comfortable typing, use a computer instead of pen and paper.

Listing: Pick a word, any word. Write it on the top of a sheet of paper and then make a list of ten ways that word relates to you and your life. For example, you could write "River" at the top and then write "1. The time Jimmy and flipped our boat while paddling the river at summer camp. 2. The drive over the bridge to get to my grandmother's house. 3. I'm concerned about the low river level and the quality of our reservoirs..." etc.

Make at least five lists. When you're done, take a short break. Then come back and look the lists over. You may be pleasantly surprised to find the topic of a dynamite essay waiting there for you.

Detail Mining: Visit a few different settings that are important in your life, such as your school, your bedroom, your church, your local park or your favorite restaurant. Look around, but observe the place in a way you never have before. Look for details. Pay attention to the things you've walked by thousands of times and never really noticed before. Write them down. You'll be surprised how many you find. Sometimes these details can turn into rich essay material.

Next, try observing the activity of the setting from somebody else's point of view. For example, if one of the places you choose is a park bench with a view of the pond near your home, how does the homeless man who sleeps there see it? How do the children sitting there after their little league practice see it? How do the details you observe differ from the details they observe? Changing the perspective from which you view your setting may help you change the perspective from which you view the task of writing your college application essay and it may help you come up with better ideas.

Taking a Walk: If the three techniques above fail, get outside and go for a walk. Go alone. You need to clear your head. Don't try to think of a topic; let your thoughts come naturally to you. What are some issues you care deeply about? What are your passions? If you're off on a long walk by yourself without a care in the world, the answers to these questions are likely to creep into your head naturally. Maybe the topic of your essay will too.

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