5 Ways To Brainstorm College Essay Topics

Author: Sarah Holland

Sarah H

Notre Dame gives you the opportunity to showcase different aspects of personality in your application by asking you to write multiple essays. This is a great way to share something about yourself that wouldn’t otherwise be part of your application. Though the prompts focus on different questions, they all ask you to share something about yourself and your experiences. Here are some helpful ways to brainstorm specific moments or stories that you can include in your essays!


  1. Think outside of the classroom. What extracurriculars or community service opportunities have you engaged in during high school? Think about them as more than just a line on your resume. Did you choose to pursue a certain opportunity because you are passionate about it? Do you hope to continue one of your activities as a Notre Dame student? Your passions do not have to be academic. Use your essays as an opportunity to show what’s unique about you.
  2. Think about your family. You may have similar grades or extracurriculars as other applicants, but your family is totally unique to you. Think about the roles your family members have played in your life, the values that are most important to your family, and your most impactful family memories.
  3. Think about challenges you’ve overcome. Challenges can be as simple as a tough class, a family situation, or a difficult decision you had to make. Rather than just explaining the situation, focus on how you overcame the struggle or what you learned from the experience. 
  4. Ask the people that know you best. There is no one better to help remember your personal experiences than the people who experienced them with you! Ask your immediate family, or take the opportunity to reach out to extended family members and friends. In addition to inspiring you to write your essays, this can be an amazing time to reconnect with important people who have been there throughout your life as you are about to start a new chapter.
  5. “Why Notre Dame?” Though this is not an essay topic this year, it can be a guiding principle for approaching any essay. Rather than just thinking about the typical responses to this question, really think about what it would mean to you to be a Notre Dame student. What would you hope to accomplish during your four years? After your four years, what would you do to give back to the community? Think about what you are passionate about and how Notre Dame can help you pursue those passions.


My most important piece of advice is to always write about topics that are meaningful to you. Remember, there is no “right” thing to write about!