Beating Writer’s Block

One of the most important parts of writing a great college admissions essay is picking a compelling topic. But what do you do when you get stuck? In this article, we offer a number of starting prompts to get you past writer’s block and into writing your college essays. We recommend you free-write for 10-15 minutes about 2-3 different essay starters and then choose your favorite among them to continue.

  1. Sometimes our failures tell us as much, if not more than our successes. Have you ever tried at something and failed, despite your best efforts? How did you recover and/or what did you learn?
    • Note: this is a great way to start essays about failure, overcoming challenges, or to answer questions about personal growth.
  2. If offered the chance to meet any historical figure, who would it be and why, and what would you want to discuss with them?
    • This is a great way to demonstrate your knowledge of history and your creativity. Great for humanities majors.
  3. If you were given the choice of becoming President of the United States or CEO of Apple, which would you prefer? Why?
    • Business or Politics? This is a great topic for future lawyers, government officials, and entrepreneurs.
  4. Free will: fact or fiction?
    • Get philosophical with this prompt.
  5. Which popular writers in our times will future generations continue to read? Which contemporary books, if any, will come to be regarded as future masterpieces? Why?
    • A good topic for students interested in literature and is also open to a humorous approach.
  6. If all goes to plan, in 20 years I’ll be…
    • Can be used to address prompts about your future plans.
  7. Can a Universal Basic Income solve the economic problems posed by increased automation, or would it simply disincentivize work?
    • Is work part of a meaningful and fulfilled life, or does increased automation allow us to pursue a world without work? What would people do with their time? Will it disincentivize work or open up new areas of creativity and exploration?
  8. Part of college is expanding your geographical, intellectual, and cultural horizons. What (or where) are you most excited to explore?
    • This is less about individual fields of study and more about the personal development aspect of college.
  9. Do you have a role model? If so, who and why? If no, then what takes its place, if anything?
    • This is an opportunity to write a great essay about a person who had a strong influence on your life and honor a friend, teacher, or other (ideally) non-family member.
  10. If you won a travel fellowship with free flights and hotels to travel for three months, where would you go and what would you do?
    • If you’re interested in international relations, or just interested in world travel, this gives you an opportunity to explore your wanderlust. This post blends creativity with worldliness.
  11. Is artificial intelligence a boon which could potentially solve all of humanity’s pressing problems or is it a looming nightmare that poses an existential risk to human-kind?
    • Worried about the robot uprising? Explain your fears, or explain why they’re overblown and that AI will help us address our deepest concerns.
  12. Small idea, big impact: According to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the most important weapon in our arsenal against the scourge of Malaria is not a pharmaceutical miracle, nor a technological wonder, but instead, the humble mosquito net. Name a simple (or simple-seeming) tool, device, or invention with a disproportionate effect on human-kind (positive or negative) and explain the impact.
  13. Write your own code of ethics for robots or AI units and explain why such a code is important. How should AIs balance the value of human life? What rules will govern the behavior of legions of robots and AI scripts?
    • As our world becomes more automated and the internet of things expands further, robots and AIs will be forced to make moral decisions. Which ethical principles should they follow?
  14. Throughout human history, many popularly held ideas have later been shown to be false. From geocentrism (in Astrophysics) to phrenology (in Biology/Medicine) to the phlogiston theory of combustion (in Chemistry), progress often comes at the expense of previously accepted theories. Which currently accepted ideas will we come to regard as false? Which ideas currently on the fringes of intellectual life will come to be commonly accepted?
    • People used to think the stars orbited around the earth. What else are we wrong about?

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