English Themes For Essays For Scholarships

Get help writing your college application essays. Find this year's Common App writing prompts and popular essay questions used by individual colleges.

The college essay is your opportunity to show admissions officers who you are apart from your grades and test scores (and to distinguish yourself from the rest of a very talented applicant pool).

2018-19 Common App Essays

Nearly 700 colleges accept the The Common Application, which makes it easy to apply to multiple schools with just one form. If you are using the Common App to apply for college admission in 2017, you will have 250–650 words to respond to ONE of the following prompts:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter  can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.  How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Tackling the Common App Essay Prompts

Prompt #1: Share your story.

Answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, facet of your personality, or experience that is genuinely meaningful and unique to you. Admissions officers want to feel connected to you and an honest, personal statement about who you are draws them in. Your love of superheroes, baking chops, or family history are all fair game if you can tie it back to who you are or what you believe in. Avoid a rehash of the accomplishments on your high school resume and choose something that the admissions committee will not discover when reading the rest of your application.

Prompt #2: Learning from obstacles.

You're trying to show colleges your best self, so it might seem counterintuitive to willingly acknowledge a time you struggled. But overcoming challenges demonstrates courage, grit, and perseverance! That’s why the last piece of this prompt is essential. The obstacle you write about can be large or small, but you must show the admissions committee how your perspective changed as a result.

Prompt #3: Challenging a belief.

Your answer to this question could focus on a time you stood up to others or an experience when your own preconceived view was challenged. Choose this prompt if you have a relevant—and specific!—experience to recount (and reflect on). A vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about YOU.

Prompt #4: Solving a problem.

This essay is designed to get at the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation or quandary and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want insight into your thought process and the issues you grapple with, so explain how you became aware of the dilemma and how you tackled solving it. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you!

Prompt #5: Personal growth.

Just like Prompt #2, the accomplishment or event you write about can be anything from a major milestone to a smaller "aha" moment. Describe the event or ccomplishment that shaped you but take care to also show what you learned or how you changed. Colleges are looking for a sense of maturity and introspection—pinpoint the transformation and demonstrate your personal growth. 

Prompt #6: What captivates you?

This prompt is an invitation to write about something you care about. (So avoid the pitfall of writing about what you think will impress the admission office versus what truly matters to you). Colleges are looking for curious students, who are thoughtful about the world around them. The "what or who do you turn to when you want to learn more” bit isn't an afterthought—it's a key piece of the prompt. Make sure you explain how you pursue your interest, as well.

Prompt #7: Topic of your choice.

This question might be for you if you have a dynamo personal essay from English class to share or were really inspired by a question from another college’s application. You can even write your own question! Whatever topic you land on, the essentials of a standout college essay still stand: 1.) Show the admissions committee who you are beyond grades and test scores  and 2.) Dig into your topic by asking yourself how and why. There isn’t a prompt to guide you, so you must ask yourself the questions that will get at the heart of the story you want to tell.

More College Essay Topics

Individual schools sometimes require supplemental essays. Here are a few popular application essay topics and some tips for how to approach them:

Describe a person you admire.

Avoid the urge to pen an ode to a beloved figure like Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has actually caused you to change your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you .

Why do you want to attend this school?

Be honest and specific when you respond to this question. Avoid generalities like "to get a good liberal arts education” or “to develop career skills," and use details that show your interests: "I'm an aspiring doctor and your science department has a terrific reputation." Colleges are more likely to admit students who can articulate specific reasons why the school is a good fit for them beyond its reputation or ranking on any list. Use the college's website and literature to do your research about programs, professors, and other opportunities that appeal to you.

What is a book you love?

Your answer should not be a book report. Don't just summarize the plot; detail why you enjoyed this particular text and what it meant to you. What does your favorite book reveal about you? How do you identify with it, and how has it become personal to you?

Again, be honest in answering this question—don't choose a classic from your literature class or a piece of philosophy just because you think it will make you seem smarter. Writing fluently and passionately about a book close to you is always better than writing shakily or generally about a book that doesn't inspire you.

What is an extracurricular activity that has been meaningful to you?

Avoid slipping into clichés or generalities. Take this opportunity to really examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something that was hard for you because you learned something than it is to write about something that was easy for you because you think it sounds admirable. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself.


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In the scholarship application process, essays give applicants the opportunity to showcase their strengths, abilities, and personalities in a compelling manner. A well-written essay can be the most persuasive part of a scholarship application, which is why much time and care should be put into its preparation.

Essays are often required for scholarship applications. Therefore, it is wise to have five to seven pre-written, edited essays before beginning to apply for scholarships. This will not only help speed up the application process, but will also allow you greater time and preparation to apply for more scholarships. Your pre-written essays may not exactly match the required essay topics; however, you can use what you have already written and adjust it to the topic required by the scholarship application. 

Some Possible Essay Topics:

  • General topics.
  • Tell us about yourself.
  • What traits do you have that will enhance your education and future employment?
  • Who or what inspires you? 
  • Tell us about a book or article you have read that has inspired you.
  • Why do you need this scholarship?
  • Why does education matter to your community?
  • Describe something you have done in the past year that has made a difference in your community.
  • What would you like to do to change the world for the better?
  • Do you consider yourself to be a leader? Why or why not?
  • Describe the solutions you would propose to improve or resolve a current issue, such as health care, the economy, discrimination, or a current topic of your choice. 

Besides the more general topics, scholarship applications may also ask essay questions regarding your field of study, personal achievements, background and influences, future goals, financial need, and other topics. In order to test your problem-solving abilities and check your knowledge of current issues, applications sometimes ask questions regarding current events and social issues. Most of these questions are designed for you to demonstrate your motivation, vision, and creativity. The questions will also give you the opportunity to communicate the qualities and abilities you most want to showcase.

More Examples of Essay Questions:

Field of Study

  • How will your study of _______ contribute to your immediate or long-term career plans?
  • Why do you want to be a _______?

Current Events and Social Issues

  • What do you consider to be the most pressing societal problem we face today? Why?
  • If you had the authority to change your community in a positive way, what specific changes would you make?

Personal Achievements

  • Describe how you have demonstrated leadership ability in your school, work, or community.
  • Discuss a special attribute or accomplishment that sets you apart.

Background and Influences

  • Pick an experience from your own life and explain how it has influenced your development.
  • Who has had the biggest influence in your life and why?

Future Plans and Goals

  • Briefly describe your long- and short-term goals.
  • Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Financial Need

  • From a financial standpoint, what impact would this scholarship have on your education?
  • State any special personal or family circumstances affecting your need for financial assistance.

While you cannot predict every essay question, knowing some of the most common ones can give you an advantage on applications. Start brainstorming now and you can prepare to write essays that will persuade scholarship committees of your deserving qualities.

See the articles "Scholarship Master Application" and "How to Strengthen a Scholarship Essay" for more information on the preparation and writing of scholarship essays.

For more information about scholarships, see the following:

Scholarship Sources

Finding Financial Aid on LDSjobs.org

Emphasizing Strengths in Scholarship Essays

Continuing Education 

Letters of Recommendation

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