I’m always trying to find ways to help students quickly come up with topic ideas and a path to cranking out their college application essays.

Typically, I advise them to start with their defining qualities or characteristics, and then find real-life stories or moments to illustrate one of these, and go from there.

(Use How to Write Your Common Application Essay in 3 Steps for that approach. It’s also spelled out in greater detail in my popular writing guide, Escape Essay Hell!, available on Amazon.)

There are many ways to find unique topics. I wrote this Cheat Sheet Slideshare (a glorified Powerpoint below) to help students who are feeling stuck and aren’t excited about my “defining qualities approach.”

In this short-and-sweet Slideshare, I encourage students to first root around their past (stick to high school years) for something that happened to them—an experience, interaction, moment or “time.”

And then I step them through developing that mini-story (anecdote) into an essay that also helps them showcase their character—what they think, believe and care about. This is the heart of a great college application essay.

If you are feeling stuck in your essay writing, give this a shot.

You still focus your essay on one defining quality or characteristic, but you come at it from a different angle.

It might be a lot simpler than you think!

(Make sure to click on the little boxes in the Slideshare that bring you to more detailed tips and advice on my blog!)

Good luck! And let me know in comments if you have questions.