Essay Topic Questions

Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.” We also now have a PDF of these 200 prompts.

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What issues do you care most about? What topics do you find yourself discussing most passionately, whether online, at the dinner table, in the classroom or with your friends?

Our annual Student Editorial Contest invites you to write an evidence-based persuasive piece on an issue that matters to you. To help jump-start your brainstorming, we have gathered a list of 200 writing prompts from our daily Student Opinion feature that invite you to take a stand.

Though you won’t be limited to these topics for the contest, you’ll see that our list touches on every aspect of modern life, from politics to sports, culture, education and technology. We hope the range inspires you, and we hope the fact that each question links to at least one related Times article gives you a starting point for finding evidence.

So skim the list below to think about the topic you’d most like to take on.

For more information, here are links to our spring 2014 editorial-writing contest, a list of winners from that contest and a related lesson plan on argumentative writing.


Education

  1. Is Cheating Getting Worse?
  2. Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
  3. Does Your School Hand Out Too Many A’s?
  4. Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
  5. Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
  6. How Seriously Should We Take Standardized Tests?
  7. How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
  8. Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests?
  9. Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?
  10. Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School?
  11. Do Schools Provide Students With Enough Opportunities to Be Creative?
  12. What Are You Really Learning at School?
  13. How Important Is Arts Education?
  14. Does Gym Help Students Perform Better in All Their Classes?
  15. Who Should Be Able to See Students’ Records?
  16. Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education?
  17. What Is the Right Amount of Group Work in School?
  18. Is Your School Day Too Short?
  19. Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea?
  20. Should the Dropout Age Be Raised?
  21. Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
  22. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
  23. Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment?
  24. How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
  25. How Should Schools Address Bullying?
  26. Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards?
  27. What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools?
  28. Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
  29. Does Class Size Matter?
  30. Should All Students Get Equal Space in a Yearbook?
  31. Is Prom Worth It?
  32. How Important Are Parent-Teacher Conferences?
  33. Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool?
  34. Should Colleges Use Admissions Criteria Other Than SAT Scores and Grades?
  35. What Criteria Should Be Used in Awarding Scholarships for College?
  36. Do You Support Affirmative Action?
  37. Do College Rankings Matter?
  38. How Necessary Is a College Education?
  39. Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors?

  40. Technology and Social Media

  41. Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive?
  42. Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
  43. Are You Distracted by Technology?
  44. Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
  45. Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
  46. Has Facebook Lost Its Edge?
  47. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
  48. Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired?
  49. Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?
  50. What Should the Punishment Be for Acts of Cyberbullying?
  51. Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?
  52. Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?
  53. Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class?
  54. Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools?
  55. Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
  56. How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone?
  57. Should Companies Collect Information About You?
  58. Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
  59. Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful?
  60. Do You Worry We Are Filming Too Much?
  61. Would You Want a Pair of Google’s Computer Glasses?
  62. How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays?
  63. What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future?
  64. How Many Text Messages Are Too Many?
  65. How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?

  66. Arts and Media: TV, Music, Video Games and Literature

  67. Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies?
  68. Do TV Shows Like ‘16 and Pregnant’ Promote or Discourage Teenage Pregnancy?
  69. Does TV Capture the Diversity of America Yet?
  70. Is TV Too White?
  71. Is TV Stronger Than Ever, or Becoming Obsolete?
  72. Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?
  73. What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time?
  74. What Artists or Bands of Today Are Destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
  75. What Musician, Actor or Author Should Be a Superstar, but Hasn’t Quite Made It Yet?
  76. Will Musical Training Make You More Successful?
  77. Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport?
  78. Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors?
  79. Can a Video Game Be a Work of Art?
  80. Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
  81. When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
  82. What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
  83. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
  84. To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
  85. Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
  86. Where Is the Line Between Truth and Fiction?
  87. Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
  88. Do We Need Art in Our Lives?
  89. What Makes a Good Commercial?
  90. Why Did a Cheerios Ad Attract So Many Angry Comments Online?
  91. Does Pop Culture Deserve Serious Study?

  92. Gender Issues

  93. Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
  94. Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
  95. Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
  96. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
  97. Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks?
  98. Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
  99. What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women?
  100. How Do You Feel About Rihanna and Chris Brown Getting Back Together?
  101. Do Fraternities Promote Misogyny?
  102. Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles?
  103. Why Aren’t More Girls Choosing to Pursue Careers in Math and Science?
  104. Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men?
  105. Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?
  106. Are Women Better at Compromising and Collaborating?
  107. Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?

  108. Sports and Athletics

  109. If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
  110. Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football?
  111. Should College Football Players Get Paid?
  112. When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying?
  113. Has Baseball Lost Its Cool?
  114. Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense?
  115. Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots?
  116. Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights?
  117. Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports?
  118. Is Cheerleading a Sport?
  119. How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay?
  120. Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players?
  121. Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals?
  122. Should Sports Betting Be Legal Everywhere?
  123. Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports?
  124. Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community?

  125. Politics and the Legal System

  126. What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
  127. If You Were Governor of Your State, How Would You Spend a Budget Surplus?
  128. When Is the Use of Military Force Justified?
  129. What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security?
  130. Should the U.S. Be Spying on Its Friends?
  131. Do You Trust Your Government?
  132. What Do You Think of the Police Tactic of Stop-and-Frisk?
  133. Do Rich People Get Off Easier When They Break the Law?
  134. Should Rich People Have to Pay More Taxes?
  135. Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?
  136. Is It Principled, or Irresponsible, for Politicians to Threaten a Shutdown?
  137. Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations?
  138. Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing?
  139. How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
  140. Should Guns Be Permitted on College Campuses?
  141. Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
  142. What Is Your Relationship With Guns?
  143. Do You Support or Oppose the Death Penalty?
  144. When Should Juvenile Offenders Receive Life Sentences?

  145. Parenting and Childhood

  146. Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies?
  147. When Do You Become an Adult?
  148. When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars?
  149. Should the Morning-After Pill Be Sold Over the Counter to People Under 17?
  150. Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription?
  151. Is Modern Culture Ruining Childhood?
  152. Are Adults Hurting Young Children by Pushing Them to Achieve?
  153. How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior?
  154. What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
  155. Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior?
  156. How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex?
  157. Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
  158. How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?
  159. Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want?
  160. How Should Educators and Legislators Deal With Minors Who ‘Sext’?
  161. Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough?

  162. Health and Nutrition

  163. Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers?
  164. Are Antismoking Ads Effective?
  165. Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers?
  166. Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause?
  167. How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From?
  168. Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?
  169. Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’?
  170. Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
  171. Should Marijuana Be Legal?
  172. Should Students Be Required to Take Drug Tests?

  173. Personal Character and Morality Questions

  174. Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble?
  175. Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
  176. Can Money Buy You Happiness?
  177. Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier?
  178. Are We Losing the Art of Listening?
  179. Do People Complain Too Much?
  180. Can Kindness Become Cool?
  181. Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?
  182. How Important Is Keeping Your Cool?
  183. When Should You Compromise?
  184. Is Your Generation More Self-Centered Than Earlier Generations?
  185. Can You Be Good Without God?
  186. Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
  187. What Words or Phrases Should Be Retired in 2014?
  188. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
  189. Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?
  190. How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion?
  191. How Long Is It O.K. to Linger in a Cafe or Restaurant?
  192. Does Keeping a Messy Desk Make People More Creative?
  193. How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?

  194. Science

  195. Should Scientists Try to Help People Beat Old Age So We Can Live Longer Lives?
  196. Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate?
  197. When Is It O.K. to Replace Human Limbs With Technology?
  198. Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
  199. Should Fertilized Eggs Be Given Legal ‘Personhood’?
  200. How Concerned Are You About Climate Change?

  201. Other Questions

  202. Is It Wrong for a Newspaper to Publish a Front-Page Photo of a Man About to Die?
  203. What Causes Should Philanthropic Groups Finance?
  204. Should Charities Focus More on America?
  205. Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
  206. Did a Newspaper Act Irresponsibly by Publishing the Addresses of Gun Owners?
  207. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
  208. What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?
  209. Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses?
  210. How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?

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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