My daughter will be a senior this year, and has started working on her college admissions essays. Like a lot of kids, she has a hard time just getting going–especially in the middle of summer!

We talked about how these essays are supposed to be a student’s “personal introduction” to the college she or he wants to attend. So the key is to make them genuine. (And obviously, answer the question posed in the prompt!)

To do that, though, take some time to explore what is most important to you. Then you can move on to choosing a compelling topic. I typed out a mini-assignment for my daughter to help jump-start the process. See if this works for you:

1. List 5-10 qualities you think you have and that are important to who you are: such as honesty, passion, kindness, determination, pride, humor, being driven, organized, idealistic, etc. Then put them in order of relevance. Do it quickly and don’t try to make it perfect…it’s just a place to start.
2. Now brainstorm some subjects, skills or experiences that you would like to develop while at college and possibly beyond. Some examples: painting, environmentalism, social activism, journalism, helping others, cross country running, graphic design, etc. List 10 things and put in order.

3. Then, take the top three qualities and the top three important things, and try to come up with any experiences, events, relationships, etc., that you have had that involve these qualities and subjects. Did you learn something new, work on a cause, meet an inspiring person, overcome a short-coming, face a fear, take on a unique challenge either personally, academically or even spiritually?

If you can zero in on something you have done or experienced that illustrates one of your unique qualities as well as explores a subject that means a lot to you, you could have found a strong essay topic.