10 Best Brainstorming Prompts for the Common Application Essay

To write a great common application essay, you have to think about yourself in a way you never have before. You have to reflect on your past, your experiences, and yourself.


If that just sounds dreadful, try answering the ten questions below. I guarantee, one will elicit a great common application topic!


When answering, remember to think small. Think about your everyday life. You don’t need to write about anything profound, any thing “big.”


1. Think about times when you were out of your comfort zone. What happened? What did you do?

2.  What is your least proud moment? How did you handle the situation?

3. When have you failed? What was that experience like?

4. When have you been ostracized or witnessed someone being ostracized?  Why is this memorable to you?

5.  Think about your family’s quirks and history. What makes your family different, unique from others? What have you gained from those quirks and history?

6.  Is there a dead person you would like to be with/have a relationship with/talk to? Why?

7. Is there a problem you’ve solved or would like to solve? It might be an ethical problem, an intellectual challenge, or something of personal importance. If so, what is it and why is it important to you?

8. What do you do in your free time? Why?

9. Think of your favorite works of art or your favorite books. What draws you to them? How have these works influenced you?

10. What makes your house/apartment different than your friends’? What does your house/apartment tell you about who you are, how you grew up, and what your family values?


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Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized plan for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and career aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and secure admission to top colleges.  

About The Author

Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.