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How (and When) to Start Your List of College Essay Topics

I did it. I finally did what I tell other families to do. I started a list for my oldest child who is headed into sophomore year of high school. Not of colleges, though. A list of topics for the college essay

That's right. It's never too early to get started on this list. 

When I start working with a freshman, sophomore, or junior and their family, I tell them to begin writing ideas down NOW for the main college essay.
The ideas should be things, quirks, memories, special qualities, experiences, or anything that defines or sheds light on the student. Why? Because when the student is staring down the college essay in the summer before senior year, they often feel the pressure to think of something extraordinary on the spot about themselves in order to write their college essay. The reality is that if you start writing ideas down now, you will have a powerful list of topics to consider that are nearly impossible to think of when forced to in a short window of time. 
Families don't need much to get this list started.

Here's what I do when working with a new student and my own rising sophomore:

  • Create a Google document that you share with each other. Parents and the high school student can easily access the document and add to it at any time.
  • Label it clearly. The one I created for my daughter is titled, "Essay Topics for Sophie."
  • List a topic sentence for each idea. There is no need to write a book (or even an essay) right now. It is just about getting ideas down.
  • When you think of an idea, type it in the document immediately. Trust me, the good ideas are fleeting and you don't want to forget them.
  • The best list of topics tends to have five to ten potential topics by the summer before senior year. The student only needs one topic for the main college essay, but the other topics can be handy for the many supplemental essays they will need to write as well.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Ultimate Guide to Picking the Perfect College Essay Topic

It may seem early for a student to start any list. However, this list is just to help students gather ideas that are a lot harder to come up with when they have to. The college essay is one of the most pivotal pieces of an application. It has the potential to be one of the most revealing, representative, and transformative pieces of the student as well. Generating ideas for topics takes time. Start your list now.