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Need Help with Your Essay Topic? Ask Yourself These 5 Questions

If I had a superpower, I would want it to be nostalgia. I would want to remember all of the moments of my childhood and motherhood that shaped me and the people around me. If I could, I would want to be able to be nostalgic even for complete strangers, like high school students who just finished junior year.

Nostalgia is one of the most influential tools I use when I am helping a student find an essay topic that they could write about for their college applications. Students are often focused on the big events, big achievements, or even big failures of their life when I am much more focused on the smaller ones and what they say about them.

Read More: How to Solve the Three Biggest Issues When Writing Your College Essay

As this challenging school year comes to a close and summer arrives with eager arms, I encourage students who are staring down the college application process to take some time to reflect on those small moments of their lives. Small moments turn into special essay topics. And special essay topics translate into moving essays that reflect a more self-aware YOU.
Here are a few nostalgia-focused questions to ask yourself if you are struggling to come up with an essay topic:

1. What piece of your background, upbringing, culture, or childhood is a touchstone for who you are today?

2. Was there a time you now can look back on and recognize that you saw something, heard something, or acted in a way that surprised, shaped, or impacted you?

3. Apart from family vacations, nightly dinners, yearly holidays, or achievements, what are your favorite memories thus far?

4. Is there an object, value, or characteristic of yourself that you hold dear?

5. What moment in your life forced you or someone else to pivot and what did you learn about yourself?

Every June as the school year comes to a close, I reflect on the highs and lows, the triumphs and challenges, and the growth of my three kids and my own development as a working mom and wife. But it is those small moments of the school year and of our lives that tend to remind me what really matters. 
The picnic lunch, right down to the checkered red and white table cloth my husband and I brought with us to visit our daughter in the fall when she was just getting acclimated at boarding school. The night my son crawled into bed with me and comforted me when I couldn't stop crying after a difficult day. And that moment just this week when my youngest, who faces insurmountable odds to get up to grade level in reading and math, read "National Friend Day" aloud to me as if she had been reading her whole life. 
We easily forget those small, beautiful, and revealing moments of our lives. But we shouldn't. They turn into great college essays. More than that, they turn us into the people we are today.