Colleges Love Your Stories
Especially Those That Seem Almost Ordinary!


I’ve read several news articles in recent weeks featuring college admissions officials sharing what they liked about college application essays they read over the last year.

This feedback can be invaluable for students just starting to think about their essays and brainstorming topic ideas.

The admissions staffers at some of the best schools in the nation talked about the types of topics they enjoyed, and why they found them effective in learning more about the student applicants, and connecting with them (and admitting them!).

What the articles didn’t include, however, were ideas on exactly how you can find your own unique topics, and craft them into engaging and meaningful essays.

But don’t despair!

I have loads of tips and useful advice on how to not only find these awesome types of topics, but how to find your real-life stories and use those to power your essays—just like these bright students.

I’ve extracted some of the feedback from 3 of the top colleges featured in a U.S. News article on Top Colleges Share Notes on Great Application Essays and will share my tips on why they worked—along with links where you can learn to write your own.


1. Williams College

The admissions counselor from Williams shared an essay she read about a student’s love of language, according to the US News piece.

The student explained in the essay how he developed this passion from sharing stories with his grandmother, who had dementia. And how he went on to join a neuroscience lab to help understand her disease.

My Related Tip: Notice how how the student didn’t just write about how much he loved languages. Instead, he used his real-life experiences of sharing stories with his grandmother to SHOW the reader what inspired his passion.

HOW YOU CAN DO THIS: Learn to Find Your Stories

2. Johns Hopkins

The dean of undergrad admissions at Johns Hopkins noted one memorable essay a student wrote about his role reading the morning announcements at his high school, according to the US News article.

The dean pointed out that the essay gave him an idea of the student’s personality beyond just his accomplishments, and got a sense of how the applicant would contribute to the college’s community.

My Related Tip: Notice that the writer’s topic was not something impressive, but something everyday and simple? I call those “mundane” topics and they often make the best essays, hands down.

HOW YOU CAN DO THIS: A Lesson in Mundane Topics

3. Middlebury University

In the US News article, the Middlebury University admissions counselor enjoyed an essay a student wrote about his Pez dispenser collection.

The counselor noted that the humorous writing not only caught his attention, but allowed him to see the student’s quirks and personality traits.

My Related Tip: Writing about something as everyday as candy also falls into that magic topic camp of the mundane. Also, the student apparently featured real-life moments (“a hilarious take on people’s odd reactions”) in his essay, which were entertaining and brought the piece to life.

Turning real-life moments and incidents into “anecdotes” is one of the most powerful writing devices you can use to power your essay. Take the time to learn how to do this with your stories!

HOW YOU CAN DO THIS: Learn how to turn your own real-life moments into engaging “hooks” for your essays.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire U.S. News article to see the other examples from schools, such as Swarthmore, CalTech and Dartmouth.

See for yourself how the topics that made the biggest impression on the admissions staffers were those that used everyday topics, including Legos (even though that is way overused!), working behind the scenes in drama and being a sensitive “Bro.” (Learning topics other students wrote about is a great way to inspire your own ideas!)


Still not convinced that everyday topics can get you into your dream school? Read how one Girl Got Into Yale After Writing About Papa John’s Pizza.

In all of these essays and topics, the students were about to reveal both their personality and character. This is the magic combination of a winning essay. Learn more about this in Start Your Personal Statement the Right Way.

Ready to find your own unique topic? Read more on my Five Top Topic Tips!

You got this! Good luck!