For more than 20 years, the magazine Vanity Fair has collected provocative and memorable details from the most famous people on the planet using their version of what is called the Proust Questionnaire.

The famous French writer didn’t actually pen these questions—although he did answer the questions twice in his life—but they were used in 19th century Parisian salons to entertain the bourgeois. It was one of the first personality tests.

There’s a reason they are still used to gather the most interesting and revealing facts, feelings and opinions from people.


I think these 20 or so questions would be perfect to help you brainstorm a topic for your college application essay.

The main reason is that the best essays reveal something personal about you, and this list can help shake loose some of your unique qualities, interests and personality traits.

If nothing else, it’s kind of fun.

There’s even a Facebook app that lets you share your answers with friends.

Here are David Bowie’s answers, and Amy Poehler’s, and Louis CK, and Tina Fey.

Notice how the more honest they are, and the more details they share, the more entertaining and meaningful their answers.

Shoot for that authenticity and specifics in your answers, and in your essay, as well, to power your stories and writing.

And don’t try to impress with your answers.

Stick to your honest responses, and you will capture your unique teenage voice—which is imperative to writing an effective college application essay.

In a Vanity Fair article about the Proust Questionnaire, the writer shared some of the more memorable answers:

When asked to name the one thing she would change about herself, Jane Fonda responded, “My inability to have a long-term intimate relationship.”

When asked how she would like to die, Hedy Lamarr revealed, “Preferably after sex.” (She was 85 when she gave that reply.)

When asked in 2003 about his greatest extravagance, the soon-to-be governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, admitted in one of the more authentically witty questionnaires we have received, “I am a major shoe queen.”

 (His greatest fear? “I am petrified of bikini waxing. I had a very bad experience in 1978.”)

When it comes to sheer effrontery, there’s little doubt that comedians have been the most facile players.

Martin Short’s greatest achievement: “My invention of cold fusion.” The trait David Steinberg most deplores in others: “Outing a C.I.A. agent because you’re pissed about something else.”

On occasion, there has even been some consensus.

Eight contributors said they were smitten with Paris.

Two said they identified with Jesus, two with Moses, and one with Robert Moses (Donald Trump). The person most frequently cited as most admired? Nelson Mandela (mentioned nine times).

The virtue considered most overrated? Virginity—in a landslide. Over the years, we’ve noticed, virtually everyone has had at least one or two moments of pure, unbridled candor.

What would Karl Rove change? “[I’d] be more patient.” (I’ll say.) Ted Kennedy? “I’d have won in 1980,” so the senator said, in his 2006 entry. And several, naturally, admitted that death was their darkest fear. “Trust me,” insisted Larry King, who survived a heart attack in 1987, “I saw no lights, no angels—nothing.”

Amid the tumult and the dread, amid these many attempts to tackle the overarching issues of love and death and the meaning of life, there have been flashes of Proustian poetry.

Walter Cronkite once confided that, if he could be reincarnated, he would choose to return as “a seagull—graceful in flight, rapacious in appetite.”

Allen Ginsberg’s most marked characteristic, he said, was his “incriminating eloquence.” While Julia Child most abhorred “a dreadful meal badly served,” William F. Buckley Jr. claimed to hate “lousy logic, tempestuously waged.”

Joan Didion, when asked “When and where were you happiest?,” referred to a character in a passage from her novel Democracy: “She recalled being extremely happy eating lunch by herself in a hotel room in Chicago, once when snow was drifting on the window ledges.”

And Johnny Cash offered this six-word description of paradise: “This morning, with her, having coffee.”