15 Great College Essays That Worked in 2021 With Examples

 Let’s check out the list of college essay topics to choose from. 

But before that: 

We’ll have two interesting brainstorming exercises to help you find your own college essay topics

The question is; How do I know these exercises really work? Because over the years our team has worked with thousands of students, many of them of who are similar to you. 

  • They know their essay could make a difference in their college application but they don’t know where to start.

Do you find yourself in the same shoes? 

What we can do is, we’ll go through step-by-step brainstorming exercises, find a topic that’s elastic, meaning a long enough topic talk, where there are lots of different parts of you, which is a feature you’ll find in most outstanding personal statements.

Great brainstorming leads to a great application. Check out an example of a student’s brainstorming exercises and the essays and applications that brainstorming led to. 

The Values Exercise

With this exercise, you can identify your core values and your ambitions by answering this question: What do I value?

Values Exercise | College Essay Brainstorming Exercise

Download a printable version of the values worksheet, here 

The Essence Objects Exercise 

This brainstorming exercise has effective ways to create a lot of content for your personal statement and add flexibility to bring your essay to life.

Besides that, it’s just fun to do and a great way to reflect.

 Have a look at this video and know what’s one of your essences objects

Essence Objects Exercise | College Essay Brainstorming Exercise

Check out the list of questions to help you with the exercise.

  • What’s something you never leave home without?
  • What’s a snack you crave?
  • A food that reminds you of your family?
  • A food that reminds you of home?
  • A tradition that reminds you of home?
  • What else reminds you of home?
  • An object that represents your best friend?
  • An object that represents your father? Your mother?
  • Your grandparents, or lack thereof?
  • Something you loved and lost?
  • A toy you used to play with as a kid?
  • Something that makes you laugh?
  • A book you love? Best movie ever?
  • Favorite guilty pleasure movie?
  • An object that represents something abstract that you broke (a heart, a promise)?
  • An object that represents a regret?
  • A favorite gift you received? A favorite gift you gave?
  • An object that represents a secret? (Don’t worry, this stays between us.)
  • Something about you no one else knows?
  • A dream?
  • Something you stole?
  • Something you found?
  • Something that makes you feel safe?
  • The worst thing that ever happened to you?
  • The best thing?
  • The logo on your imaginary business card?
  • The image you’d like carved into your tombstone?
  • An object that represents: a smell you love, a smell you hate, a taste you love, a taste you hate, the sweetest sound in the world?
  • The most remarkable thing about science?
  • Something you forgot?
  • Something old? Something new? Something borrowed? Something blue?
  • An accident?
  • The best thing you ever found in the street?
  • Best money you ever spent?
  • Does your life lie? Your favorite object?
  • Something from another country?
  • Your favorite sentence?
  • You’d cry if you lost this?
  • An object that represents someone you’d like to know more about?
  • Something you’ll never get rid of?
  • A bad habit?
  • A perfect moment?
  • A time you laughed so hard you cried?
  • A time you cried so hard you laughed?
  • An image you’ll never forget?
  • What they’d put in the museum of your life?
  • A tattoo?
  • The cover image on your first self-titled album?
  • Three objects from your room?
  • A near-death experience?
  • A moment when you were so embarrassed you wanted to disappear?
  • Recurring dream?
  • Worst (actual) nightmare?
  • When were you most afraid?
  • If you had a clone, what would you have the clone do?
  • First love?
  • A time you were speechless?
  • Heaven?
  • Hell?
  • The moment you left childhood behind?
  • A quotation you love?
  • Your favorite photo?

The “Everything I want colleges to know about me.” 

How to Figure out Everything You Want Colleges to Know About You

Create a list of things you want colleges to know about you. 


  • You can do this in a bullet point format or
  • You can do this on a blank sheet of paper
  • You can do it on a timeline 

For more detailed instructions, head here. 

College Essay Topic Examples 

Check out the list of essay topics that actually worked

Essay topic title: The Burying Grandma

They covered the precious mahogany coffin with a brown amalgam of rocks, decomposed organisms, and weeds. It was my turn to take the shovel, but I felt too ashamed to dutifully send her off when I had not properly said goodbye. I refused to throw dirt on her. I refused to let go of my grandmother, to accept a death I had not seen coming, to believe that an illness could not only interrupt but steal a beloved life. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Laptop Stickers” 

My laptop is like a passport. It is plastered with stickers all over the outside, inside, and bottom. Each sticker is a stamp, representing a place I've been, a passion I've pursued, or a community I've belonged to. These stickers make for an untraditional first impression at a meeting or presentation, but it's one I'm proud of. Let me take you on a quick tour. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Punk Rock Philosopher”

I am on Oxford Academy’s Speech and Debate Team, in both the Parliamentary Debate division and the Lincoln-Douglass debate division. I write screenplays, short stories, and opinionated blogs and am a regular contributor to my school literary magazine, The Gluestick. I have accumulated over 300 community service hours that includes work at homeless shelters, libraries, and special education youth camps. I have been evaluated by the College Board and have placed within the top percentile. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title:  The “Granda’s Kimchi” 

Every Saturday morning, I’d awaken to the smell of crushed garlic and piquant pepper. I would stumble into the kitchen to find my grandma squatting over a large silver bowl, mixing fat lips of fresh cabbages with garlic, salt, and red pepper. That was how the delectable Korean dish, kimchi, was born every weekend at my home. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Travel and Language”  

When I was very little, I caught the travel bug. It started after my grandparents first brought me to their home in France and I have now been to twenty-nine different countries. Each has given me a unique learning experience. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Dead Bird” College Essay Example 

Smeared blood, shredded feathers. Clearly, the bird was dead. But wait the slight fluctuation of its chest, the slow blinking of its shiny black eyes. No, it was alive. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “I shot my brother” 

From page 54 of the maroon notebook sitting on my mahogany desk:

“Then Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth and whoever finds me will kill me.” - Genesis 4:13. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Porcelain God”

Bowing down to the porcelain god, I emptied the contents of my stomach. Foaming at the mouth, I was ready to pass out. My body couldn’t stop shaking as I gasped for air, and the room started spinning. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Five Families” Essay Example 

When I was 16, I lived with the Watkins family in Wichita, Kansas. Mrs. Watkins was the coordinator of the foreign exchange student program I was enrolled in. She had a nine-year-old son named Cody. I would babysit Cody every day after school for at least two to three hours. We would play Scrabble or he would read to me from Charlotte’s Web or The Ugly Duckling. He would talk a lot about his friends and school life, and I would listen to him and ask him the meanings of certain words. He was my first friend in the New World. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title:  The “Happiness Spreadsheet” Essay Example

This one is Montage Essay, “Essence Object” Type

Meditation over a flaxen sunset with a friend and parmesan-topped spaghetti for dinner — “14.” Assignments piling up on my desk as a high fever keeps me sick at home — “3.” Taking a photo excursion through downtown Seattle for a Spanish project — “15.” For the past 700 days and counting, the Happiness Spreadsheet has been my digital collection for documenting numerical, descriptive, and graphical representations of my happiness. Its instructions are simple: Open the Google Sheet, enter a number between 1 and 20 that best represents my level of happiness, and write a short comment describing the day. But the practical aspect of the spreadsheet is only a piece of what it has represented in my life. To read the full essay, click here.

Essay topic title: The “food” essay example 

Another Montage Essay, “I Love/I Know” Type

I’ve spent most of my life as an anti-vegetable carboholic.  For years, processed snack foods ruled the kitchen kingdom of my household, and animal products outnumbered plant-based offerings. To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: The “Translating” College Essay Example

Montage Essay, “Skill/Superpower” Type

".miK ijniM" This is how I wrote my name until I was seven. I was a left-handed kid who wrote from right to left, which made my writing comprehensible only to myself. Only after years of practice did I become an ambidextrous writer who could translate my incomprehensible writing. As I look back on my life, I realized that this was my first act of translation.  To read the full essay, click here

Essay topic title: Countdown days

Day 19: I am using my school uniform as a slate to tally the days. As the ink slowly seeps through the fabric of my shirt, I begin to understand that being a conscious Arab comes with a cost.


Day 7: I come across a live stream on social media, 1,200 Palestinian political prisoners are on their seventh day of a hunger strike against the Israeli occupation. It is the first I have heard of its occurrence. I allow myself to follow the news daily through social media while regional mainstream media and our local news channels refrain from reporting any news of the strike. To read the full essay, click here.

Essay topic title: My journey in Hajj

Day 1: “Labbayka Allāhumma Labbayk. Labbayk Lā Sharīka Laka Labbayk,” we chant, sweat dripping onto the wispy sand in brutal Arabian heat, as millions of us prepare to march from the rocky desert hills of Mount Arafat to the cool, flat valleys of Muzdalifa. As we make our way into the Haram, my heart shakes. Tears rolling down my cheeks, we circumvent the Ka’ba one last time before embarking on Hajj, the compulsory pilgrimage of Islam. It became the spiritual, visceral, and linguistic journey of a lifetime. To read the full essay, click here.

Essay topic title: 12

12 is the number of my idol, Tom Brady. It’s the sum of all the letters in my name. It’s also how old I was when I started high school.
In short, I skipped two grades: first and sixth. Between kindergarten and eighth grade, I attended five schools, including two different styles of homeschooling (three years at a co-op and one in my kitchen). Before skipping, I was perennially bored. To read the full essay, click here.