Brainstorm College Essay Topics

Deciding on a topic for your college application essay seems daunting but there are ways to make it fun.  Remember to have someone you trust as a sounding board to get feedback.  Here are a few ideas to try to come up with a topic:

  1. Go to a bookstore, walk around until you find the section that interests you. Why are you interested in this section of the store? When did you become interested? Is there something about it that is important in your life? I learned this exercise from a professor when I was getting ready to write my Master’s thesis. He had us all meet at Barnes and Nobles, and while we were there I decided on a topic for my thesis. Applying for college is just as monumental, though I hope you don’t spend as much time writing your essay as I did writing my thesis!
  1. Do you have a specific major in mind? Why do you want to major in that?  Is there a defining moment or period of time that made you want to go into that field?
  2. Think about your favorite place to be and, if possible, go there. What do you love about this place? Is there something that is comforting about it or healing? Was there a time you needed to be in that place for comfort? Does it remind you of something you miss? If there is a story behind this spot, try to tell a friend. If they are intrigued, you may have found your topic.
  3. Who are your favorite people? What traits about those people that stand out to you? Tell them and ask them what they notice about you. Start a conversation and see what you discover, it may help you choose a great topic. If not, you have told people who are important to you something you appreciate about them.
  4. Go for a long walk or run by yourself, enjoy the outdoors, notice the smells, sights, sounds while you spend time letting your mind wander. Sometimes we can learn the most about ourselves by leaving distractions behind. Instead of music or a podcast, listen to the noise outside. You may hear birds and leaves rustling or lawnmowers and construction equipment. Not all of it will be peaceful but it will allow your brain a chance to think.

These may or may not help but exercises that give you a chance to think and reflect will only help you in the long run so try to enjoy the process.

A final thought to keep in mind, you are trying to make sure that the college admissions officers are getting to know YOU.  While each of us has had our struggles and triumphs during this era of COVID-19, the fact that we have missed vacations, weddings, funerals, and school activities is not a unique situation.  If something has changed you and made you a different person, feel free to write about it, but make sure the story is about you as a person and not the situation during COVID-19 that we’re all sick of living.  Admissions counselors have been living it and reading about it frequently and would prefer to hear about what has made you the person you are today.

Calculating College Costs

While narrowing down your college list finances tends to be an important consideration.  How do you take this into consideration before receiving your financial aid package in the spring?

The first step is calculating your Expected Family Contribution (EFC).  This will tell you what the college will expect you can pay out of pocket. Subtract that amount from the total cost of the college you’re interested in and that will give you your need base.

Then you have to find out the average (note that this is average and not an exact amount that you will be awarded) percentage of need base aid that the individual college awards.  The amount left after this will still need to be covered.


College A: $85,000                  College B: $45,000

EFC: $15,000                            EFC: $15,000

Need Base Aid: 80%                Need Based Aid: 70%

$85,000                                      $45,000
-$15,000                                     – $15,000 
$70,000                                      $30,000

80% of $70,000=                    70% of $30,000=
$56,000                                     $21,000

$70,000                                      $30,000
-$56,000                                    -$21,000
   $14,000                                       $9,000
+$15,000 (EFC)                       +$15,000 (EFC)
$29,000                                       $24,000              – Total amount at each school you will have to cover

Notice that even with a slightly lower percentage of need based aid covered the less expensive school still saves money.  The total cost is an important factor as well as the amount of need based and merit aid that a school rewards.  All of these factors have to be taken into consideration while approaching college decisions.


What?!?? My Kids Will Really Leave the House?

College student

During the holidays many people commented that my son only has 2.5 years left at home! As parents we spend so much time caring for them, helping them grow and gain independence but 18 sounds far away. Suddenly your child is 16 and you realize that he won’t be home for very long! My husband and I took this opportunity to start thinking about what we want to experience with our son while he’s still living with us. I broke the bucket list into 3 parts: things to do, things to teach, wisdom to impart. This encompasses the fun, sentimental, and practical parts of preparing to let your child spread their wings. Some of the things on the list we’ve already accomplished or incorporated, some are in the works, while there are a few that are ideas for the future. I also asked some parents for their input so this is the compiled list below.

Things to Do:
1. Play lots of board games
2. Travel and experience a piece of the world together
3. Do community service projects together
4. Be spontaneous more often
5. Spend extra time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and loved ones
6. Say I love you often
7. Go Camping
8. Hike parts of the Appalachian Trail
9. Laugh a lot
10. Read together – maybe the same book, maybe different books but together in the
same room with hot cocoa and cookies

Things to Teach:
1. Basic car maintenance – change a tire, check oil, change air filter, put air in tires.
2. Budgeting
3. Insurance information – how to choose and use!
4. Cook basic meals (and a yummy dessert)
5. Laundry

College student

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

6. To show gratitude
7. How to communicate with those above you (professors, bosses, etc)
8. Time Management
9. Respect for others (specifically in the context of roommates or dating)
10. Do my best to build my child’s confidence at this age, it’s been torn down enough

Wisdom to Impart:
1. Live within your means
2. Be kind and compassionate
3. Forgive, this is as much for you as it is for the other person
4. It’s ok to forgive but not trust again (or at least not right away)
5. You are worthy of love
6. Love others
7. Pay attention to your health, catch problems early
8. Don’t compare yourself to others, be the best version of YOU!
9. Change is one of the great certainties in life, learn how to make the best of it.
10. Major in the majors and minor in the minors: Ask: Is this worth my time, energy and emotion?

There are many more ideas out there, create your own list. Let your teen choose parts of it, start accomplishing these things together. In the midst of the college visits, SATs, and essay writing take time to be a family. That will teach your child the most valuable lessons of all.