College Essay Ideas for Writing About a Significant Experience

Writing about a goal you accomplished is one idea for writing about a significant experience.
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Writing about yourself isn't always easy, but writing about something you care about and were genuinely affected by can produce a great college essay. To help convey what is distinctive about you, write in a way that is true to your own voice. Ideas for significant experience topics include accomplishments, hardships, risks you've taken and times you've helped others.

1 An Accomplishment

The topic of accomplishing a goal is effective for a college essay because it shows the reader you set personal or professional objectives and plan ahead in your life. Selecting a single achievement, you can write about it in such a way that the reader learns about you as an individual. In the essay, you can address why you wanted to achieve that particular goal, what obstacles you had to overcome and what the accomplishment taught you about yourself and others. For example, you could write about a time you won a basketball competition or were selected for a scholarship.

2 A Hardship

You can write about a genuine hardship in a way that shows you as a mature and honest adult reflecting on an experience. Colleges are trying to discern whether or not applicants are a good candidate for their school. Therefore, you should present qualities that present you as a promising potential student with honesty, perseverance, resilience, motivation and thoughtfulness. For example, you might share the experience of your parents divorcing or the hardship of finding new friends and adapting after moving to another country.

3 A Risk You Have Taken

Showing the admissions board that you have taken a risk in the past is an effective way to approach the subject of a significant experience. Some risks you can write about include competing in a dance contest, leading a march at your school, writing an editorial in the school newspaper or trying out for a sports team. This topic is a venue to show you are confident, ambitious and not afraid of failure.

4 A Time You Helped Someone

You can avoid the cliche of "I've always wanted to help people" by being as specific as possible when describing a firsthand experience of helping others. You can reflect on what you learned form the experience and the person you helped and how you will use this lesson in the future. For example, you could write about a period when you volunteered at a homeless shelter or helped another student who was being bullied and then explain how the lessons you learned from that experience -- humility, compassion, the need to stand up for what you believe in -- will affect your future.

Soheila Battaglia is a published and award-winning author and filmmaker. She holds an MA in literary cultures from New York University and a BA in ethnic studies from UC Berkeley. She is a college professor of literature and composition.