Unique College Essay Ideas

These are some bad college application essay #FAILs waiting to happen.

You know you need to stand out in your college application essay—but it’s important that you stand out in a good way. While you might be convinced that your essay is sure to impress the admission committee for its...uh..unique approach, it may not go over as well as you think. In fact, it might be downright bad.

When it comes to inventive application essay topics (or formats, for that matter), you don't want to go too far. Remember, the purpose of the application essay is to convey who you are, what’s important to you, what you’ll contribute to your community, and your college readiness. The application essay ideas below are simply bad at achieving those goals.

Trust me: you can be genuine and creative without them.

The foreign language

Writing your application essay in a foreign language might seem like a standout way to show your passion for the subject. But even if you’re planning on majoring in that language, it’s still a bad call. Besides, the admission committee has enough to worry about without getting your essay translated for them.

Instead: Write about your trip to the Dominican Republic and how speaking only Spanish made you realize you want to teach the language.

The poem

A poem instead of an essay
Can get a little bit messy
Try as you might
They often sound trite
As well as contrived, I must say

(Okay, that’s not very good. But poetry’s hard. Hence, don't go this route for your application essay.)

Instead: Write about your tradition of writing a poem for your grandmother on her birthday.

The devil’s advocate

Being controversial for the sake of being controversial has never been a good way to win hearts or minds. Your future college is looking for thoughtful, passionate students, not shock jocks.

Instead: Write about your experience on the school’s debate team.

The edgy rebel

Expletives. Violence and gore. Hot-button issues. What you might see as showing your edgy, rebellious side might actually come across as disrespectful to the admission committee. And why would they admit you if they don’t think you would represent their school well?

Instead: Write about how you love words, their cadence and meaning, and how one of your favorites happens to be a swear—without actually using the naughty word.

The overshare

If it’s related to bodily functions, it’s probably not an appropriate essay topic. Also, please, please do not talk about sexy times with your S.O. as part of your college essay. It’s not romantic; it’s awkward.

Instead: Write about how you were the only kid growing up who wasn’t grossed out when someone skinned their knee and how you found the coagulating blood fascinating, you future pathologist, you.

The arts-and-crafts project

Your application essay isn’t an extension of your art portfolio. Don’t submit a papier-mâché sculpture of the person who most influenced you. In fact, don’t send in anything the application doesn’t specifically ask for. It doesn’t help your case for admission, but it does make you look like you can’t follow directions.

Instead: Write about your penchant for knitting, how you use it to focus, and how the click-click of the needles helps you calm down when you’re stressed.

The big picture

Questions of great significance—Why are we here? Where are we going? What does it all mean?!?!—can lead to insightful writings and conversations, but they’re terrible application essay topics because they have little to do with who you are.

Instead: Write about your favorite summer camp memory: lying around the campfire, looking at the stars, and talking about philosophy with your friends.

The sob story

This is a tough one, because a personal (or even societal) tragedy can be hugely influential in your life. Even so, this is another essay topic admission counselors recommend avoiding, since it’s hard to get a sense of who you are as an applicant, however moving your story might be.

Instead: Write about how much you value being the person your friends turn to when they need a shoulder to cry on.

The Friday Night Lights

Have you ever watched a sports-related TV show or movie and thought, “This is really similar to that other sports-related TV show or movie I saw.” Well, it’s a lot like that with sports-related application essays, if you know what I’m sayin’.

Instead: Write about how you used your time on the bus rides to and from away games to sell homemade energy bars.

So, what does work?

Now that you know all these college application essay don’ts, what are the do’s? What should you write about and how? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered:

And if you want to take a new, inventive approach to your application essay, why not try an application video? Lots of schools are accepting them now. More advice here.

Have you seen any other application essays that just didn't work? Are you tempted to use one of these "bad" ideas anyway? Tell us your story! Leave a comment or get in touch.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

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What is a College Essay?

A college essay is an essay written by a high school graduate as part of their college or university application. In addition to academic qualifications and extra-curricular achievements, college essays have an effect in deciding if a college application gets accepted or rejected by a college’s admission board. A college essay is an attempt by the college administration to find out something about an applicant that may not be clearly revealed through his/her other documents.

If you are looking for college essay examples, here is a great one below.


What should you write about to get into college? Carol Barash, one of the admission officers, tells that three things she appreciates most in applicants’ essays are:

  • unique perspective
  • strong writing
  • authentic voice

When writing your college essay keep in mind that it tells a story that scores and grades cannot tell, so you have a great opportunity to show who you are.

College Essay Prompts

Be concise. Though there is no upper limit for the quantity of words, take into account that every admission officer has a huge pile of essays to read. Your essay should hold attention not take time.

Be honest. Of course, you may choose any topic, nobody will ever know that you’re describing experience which you never actually had, but remember that it is always easier to tell the truth than to invent lies.

Be accurate. Spellcheck and grammar check go without saying. Make sure that your paper has a catchy introduction and a clear conclusion, the style of narration is appropriate and the text is to the topic.  It would be helpful if you asked somebody, who is skilled in writing, to proofread and edit your essay.

Be cautious in your use of humor.

Be smart. College is an intellectual place so try to convince the board that you are the right person for them.

The only rule to follow when choosing a topic for your college essay is to choose the topic you are eager to write about.

Top 15 College Essay Ideas

1Some people have unique, unusual or interesting background, family, and life experience. If you are one of such students, feel free to share your life story or describe the world you came from.
2The lessons we learn from our failures are of vital importance for our future success. If you have such success story, it would be great to tell it! Focus on the benefits you took out from the failure you made.
3Reflect on a time when you changed your belief or stereotype. What or who forced you to act in a different way? What was the result of that change?
4Dwell on one of the ethical problems. Suggest your own solution for the chosen problem. What would you like to change or what law would you like to pass? For example, you can speak about the interaction between totally different cultures within one society.
5Describe the process of your transition from the childhood to the adulthood. Tell about the challenges you faced and difficulties you’ve overcome.
6Imagine yourself to be a member of the Nobel Prize Board. Write about the person you think should be awarded with this prize. Explain your choice.
7If you could change just one event in the World History, which one would you choose and why?
8Try to change your lifestyle for a month and describe your experience. You may try getting up at 4 a.m., being vegetarian etc.
9If you have volunteering experience don’t forget to mention it!
10Share your traveling experience.  
11What would you describe to be your unique trait or a special skill allowing you to stand out of the crowd?
12Make a list of 100 things you want to do before entering college or a To-Do list to become a better person. Share the results of this “experiment”.
13If you had a chance to have a 1-hour conversation with any person (dead or alive) whom would you ask for a dinner and why? Make up a list of questions you would like to ask.
14If you could go back in time and talk to yourself what would you say? How would it help you in the future?
15Share the best piece of advice that has been ever given to you. Why is it so important?

Remember, that there’s no “right” or “winning” topic, everything depends on your skills in writing and narrating. Be sincere, mind your language and try to make you story alive. You should make the reader (the college admission officer in this case) experience real emotions while reading your essay – that is the key to success.

If you are interested in how to write a college essay by yourself, read the article below.


In case you experience any difficulties with writing your college essay – ask our professional writers for help! We are available 24/7!

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