Essay Writing Blog

Questions to Help with Brainstorming a Topic

Use the following list as a springboard as you develop your own connections. You can browse the questions below without a specific structure in mind and see what results from that free-association process. On the other hand, some people prefer to have more guidance as they brainstorm, and for those people we have ordered and grouped the questions into a logical structure.

Each subtopic begins with a series of questions and then an explanation of their potential relevance to the big picture.

Questions to Help Brainstorm a Topic - EssayEdge

Personal

  • Give an example of a time when you exhibited creativity in a personal or professional setting. Describe your thoughts and actions.
  • Think of a time when you truly helped someone. What did you do? How did this impact the other person? How did your actions impact you?
  • Give an example of a difficult interaction you had with someone. Describe the situation, what was difficult about it, and how you resolved it.
  • Provide a candid assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
  • If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, living or dead, whom would you choose and why?
  • What famous person do you esteem highest and why? This could be a remarkable statesman, scientist, businessperson, or anyone else.
  • What person that you know personally do you admire the most? What person in your life has most inspired you?
  • What value do you place on diversity and why?
  • What creative work has influenced you the most (a piece of music, a painting, a film, etc.)? How? Why?
  • If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be? What bad habits or personal faults are you currently working on?
  • Think of a failure or a time when you disappointed yourself, whether personally, academically, or professionally. What did you learn from this experience? How did it change you? What did you do to correct this problem?
  • Give an example of a time when you had an impact on a person, group, or organization. Describe the situation, your actions, and the results.
  • How do your friends describe you? How would you describe yourself?
  • What values are most important to you?
  • Do you have strong religious convictions that have influenced your academics or outside activities?
  • Think of an occasion when someone gave you negative feedback. How did you respond, both initially and in the long term? How did this experience change you? Were you able to improve yourself as a result?

Come up with unique combinations of your skills and characteristics, and consider how these have applied in past experiences or will apply to your future-both in college and afterward. Do not simply name skills for which you know the schools are looking, because that will detract from the unique portrait you are trying to paint. This exercise will help you to see yourself from different perspectives and recognize all that you have to offer.

Family

  • What is your most valued childhood memory?
  • Have you been responsible for caring for family members? For an ailing parent, a sibling, a disabled or aging relative, or a child? How has this impacted your academics? Your goals and values?
  • If different from your current place of residence, does your home country or place of birth have special meaning for you? Do you visit it often?
  • What do your parents/other family members do for a living? How have they influenced/inspired you? How has your family’s economic status impacted your education and childhood?
  • Have you suffered any serious hardships that impacted your academic or professional performance?
  • If you live in the U.S. but are not a native-born American: How did you deal with the challenges of moving to the U.S. from your home? Did you experience culture shock? How did you adapt? What was most difficult for you? What aspects of your new home did you enjoy the most?

Although these questions may seem routine, your answers can give admissions officers more information than meets the eye. They can learn something about your life at home: whether both your parents work; if you grew up in a “blue collar” or a “white collar” environment; or if your parents (or brothers and sisters) are alumni of the school.

You need to think about how your family has helped to shape you into the person you are today. Thinking about your parents and their character traits can help you identify some of your values and where they came from. You might realize, for example, that your interest in social work originates from your mother’s concern for the welfare of others. Do not worry if your experiences do not seem earthshaking. Often, everyday living can be most influential—and most interesting—to an admissions officer.

Activities

  • How did you spend the majority of your time over the past year?
  • To what non-academic activity did you give the most time over the past year? Or past several years?
  • What has been your most significant service activity? Your most memorable one-time volunteer opportunity? Your longest regular volunteerism commitment?
  • What has been your most significant cross-cultural experience? Why? How did it change your perspective?
  • What has been your most significant international experience?
  • Can you identify trends in your commitments? What do they say about your values and abilities?
  • Did you work during high school? If so, where did you work? How many hours per week? What were your responsibilities and duties? What did you learn?

Do not feel obligated to bring up every activity you have ever done, especially if it has been sufficiently covered elsewhere in the application. Remember that depth is more important than breadth. Admissions officers want to gain insight into what you care most about, and to see how you have devoted yourself.

As you think about why you joined an activity and chose to continue with it, look for trends or similarities. Sometimes there are links between different types of activities. For example, you may have joined the band and the soccer team because you like to contribute to a group effort. One way to determine your priorities is to imagine that you have time for only two or three activities. The ones that you would want to continue doing under these circumstances are probably the most significant to you. In analyzing which activities are the most valuable to you and why, you may come up with an interesting idea for an essay.

Accomplishments

  • What achievement are you most proud of? Why?
  • What significant challenges have you overcome?
  • Describe accomplishments for which you have been formally recognized. What qualities did you demonstrate in your path to success? What does each accomplishment mean to you personally?
  • Describe accomplishments for which you have not been formally recognized but that you are particularly proud of. Take even more time to reflect on why these have special meaning for you.
  • Discuss an accomplishment in which you exercised leadership. How effective were you in motivating or guiding others? How did people respond to your leadership? What did you learn that you can apply to future experiences?
  • Think of a time when you truly helped someone. What did you do? How did this impact the other person? How did your actions impact you?
  • Give an example of when you exhibited creativity. Describe your thoughts and actions.
  • Reflect on a time in which you failed to accomplish what you set out to do. How did you recover from that failure? How did you respond to your next challenge?
  • What was an important risk that you took? Why did you take this risk? What was the outcome? Would you do it again?

The important point here is that you develop insight into your accomplishments beyond their face value. Your essay should not merely list your most significant successes, nor is it enough to say that you are proud of them. You need to dig deeper to discover what these accomplishments mean to you, what they say about you, and how you learned from them. Also, reflect closely on your path to achievement rather than the result itself.

Goals

  • What are your career aspirations, and how will college help you to reach them?
  • What specifically do you hope to gain from the college to which you are applying?
  • What unique skills and experiences do you have to offer the school, your fellow students, the faculty, the broader community?
  • Why do you think you will succeed in college?
  • What is your dream job? What would you ideally like to be doing in five years? In ten years? In twenty years?
  • Are there specific faculty members at this college whose work interests you? With whom would you most like to study or conduct research?
  • What attracts you to this particular school?
  • How did you become interested in your intended field of study?
  • Name a current obstacle to the realization of your goals. What causes this problem? What are you doing to change it?

The questions concerning your academic experiences, special programs, and extracurricular or work activities may have triggered some thoughts about your future. While colleges are interested in your academic and career plans, they do not expect you to know exactly what you want to do or stick with this course of action forever. If you cannot put down a specific interest, you can narrow the field down to a few. In this way, you can show the admissions committee that you have a sense of where you are going without committing yourself to a particular destination.

When you respond to questions about your career or major on your application, be sure your answers are compatible with your abilities. Do not, for example, say that you want to write the great American novel if your grades in English are mediocre or poor.

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