Reflective Essay Prompts For College

As a college consultant, I have become intimately familiar with numerous supplemental college essay questions. While many prompts seem doomed to elicit responses that are conventional clichés, others are bound to spark creativity, and hopefully evoke genuine self-discovery, for the motivated applicant.

In no special order, here are ten of my “faves”, with musings about how I might try to respond to these thought-provoking questions:

1. Imagine that you have the opportunity to travel back through time. At what point in history would you like to stop and why?(Swarthmore College) How fun is this? It’s like Peabody & Sherman’s WABAC Machine! I want to apply to Swarthmore myself, just to write this essay. Would I wish to be among the crowd on the Via Dolorosa that fateful Friday afternoon, two millennia ago? Stand as a spectator on the Tower Green as Anne Boleyn forgives her executioner, the swordsman from France? Be aboard the ill-fated Titantic that freezing night in April, deciding whether to step into a lifeboat or remain on deck with my husband? In my family, filled with history buffs, this essay prompt could be an exciting after-dinner game.

2. Select a creative work — a novel, a film, a poem, a musical piece, a painting or other work of art — that has influenced the way you view the world and the way you view yourself. Discuss the work and its effect on you. (New York University)

My choice would have to be David O. Selnick’s epic film that brought to life Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, Gone with the Wind. I have always admired survivors of civilizations that were totally disassembled and reconstructed in a new way, such as my parents and in-laws living through the Great Depression. I occasionally wonder how I would fare if today’s way of life was suddenly forever changed. Further, Mitchell’s insightfully crafted immortal characters are archetypes that offer wisdom into the human condition; they have become lifelong tools for analyzing my own motivations and the roles others play in my life.

3. If you were to describe yourself by a quotation, what would the quote be? Explain your answer.(Dartmouth College) As a fantatical “quotaphile,” I would find this choice overwhelmingly difficult. It would be tough to select from the wise and witty sayings of Shakespeare, Churchill, Einstein, or Wilde. But since the quotation has to describe oneself, as a lover of the mysteries of the psyche, I would probably choose  Carl Jung‘s observation: “Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

4. If you could go back and change one day in your life, what would you change and why?(Santa Clara University) This prompt brings to mind the intrguing award-winning movie, Sliding Doors, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, which explores the concept of whether we make our fate by specific actions, or whether there is a destiny dynamic at work that prevails despite our actions. In my 56 years on the planet, I have come to subscribe to the latter view, so it would be difficult for me to answer this question. I would probably choose to discuss my ideas about free will, random events, serendipity and destiny.

5. If you had a day to spend as you wish, how would you use your time?(Carleton College) Wow. An applicant’s answer to this question would be truly revealing. I remember watching a Twilight Zoneepisode as a kid (“Time Enough at Last”), in which a bookworm is the sole survivor of a nuclear apocalpyse, finally having time enough to pursue his passion: reading (and of course, in Rod Serling‘s nightmare world, his Coke bottle thick spectacles break on the steps of the library). I would spend my “day” similarly (without the broken glasses!), either reading or writing, and I guess that reveals quite a bit about me. How your student would describe his or her perfect day would reveal much as well.

6. If you were to develop a Mt. Rushmore representing the 20th century, whose faces would you select and why?(College of William and Mary) This question reveals one’s philosophy of life, ideas on leadership and heroism, value system, and perhaps, one’s politics. Not to mention a knowledge of American history. For me, the four heroic leaders, Democrat and Republican, black and white, would be:

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, whose bold brilliance as the architect of D-Day turned the tide of the war against Hitler; President John F. Kennedy, whose leadership during the Cuban missile crisis may have saved the world; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose non-violent leadership of the civil rights movement ushered in a great step forward for racial equality in our nation; and President Ronald Reagan,whose assertion of his passionate beliefs in American exceptionalism, personal liberty and limited government led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and decades of U.S. economic prosperity and innovation. Whom would you choose?

7. Recall a compliment you received that you especially value. What was it? From whom did it come? (Yale University) A dear and wise old friend, whom I greatly respect, met many of my long time friends at my fiftieth birthday party a few years ago. After the soirée, she observed, “All your friends that I met told a story of how you had helped them with something, like the courage to start a new business, or the strength to get through a personal tragedy.” Thank God. This meant more to me than any compliment on raw talent or professional accomplishment, because it affirmed my own values about helping others to find their way. If I can accomplish this goal, I will feel that my life has been a success.

8. If you founded your own college or university, what topic of study would you make mandatory for all students to study and why? What would be the values and priorities of your institution and why?(Lehigh University) Several years ago, one of my clients answered this prompt by calling her institution “Altruism University,” requiring that all students learn about compassion and engage in community service. This exceptional young woman was of Indian descent and was a fervent adherent of Jainism, the non-violent, altruistic religion of Mohandas Gandhi. Her essay revealed much about her inspiring value system. What admissions officer wouldn’t want a student like this in the campus community?

9. “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” – Miles Davis. What does this quote mean to you?(University of Chicago) I believe this question is about uniqueness. A student’s contribution to the world is not about doing something no one else has ever done before; it is about doing what perhaps many people have done, but in one’s own special way.

10. Why did you do it?(Tufts University) Tufts always takes the prize for the most amazing, thought-provoking questions. How would you answer that?

My rule of thumb for “fave-ing” a college essay prompt is: would I myself be eager to roll up my sleeves and answer that question? Would it really make me think, look within myself, and respond from the heart? Or would I simply roll my eyes and start typing a perfunctory response, immediately knowing what the “right” answer is to a simplistic, stereotypic question?

Your teen may not be interested in applying to  schools that happen to write the most provocative essay questions. But it might be a thought-provoking exercise to kick around some of these questions on a long family drive, to stimulate reflection for your high school student (and everyone else in the family). Future essay writing may be easy after taking on these challenging questions!

If you have come across a provocative essay prompt you would like to share, please feel free to comment.

On November 5, 2011   /  12th Grade, College Admissions, College Essays  

All people remember some remarkable events in their life. It sometimes happens that a particular situation or moment may change our whole life. It should be noted that any item may have a significant influence on you. It can be a picture, a place, or even your memories. Such issues are usually explored in reflective papers. We would like to help you choose a great subject for your work. That is why we have made a list of superior reflective essay topics. We are sure that you will find them useful.

Basic Topics

“What is a reflective essay?” Students, who have never written such type of paper before, often ask this question.  If you take the following list into consideration, you will select a suitable subject for producing your work. Thus, you will not encounter any difficulties with writing a thesis statement. By the way, do not forget to provide detailed information about the matter when preparing your piece of writing.

  1. What did you learn from a particular situation that happened in your life? Did it help you avoid making the same mistakes?
  2. Talk about a significant event in your life.
  3. Have you ever been impressed with something?
  4. Talk about the skills you need to do something.
  5. Has something changed your thinking? What was it?
  6. Do you like reading books with deep philosophical content?
  7. Have any dramatic events caught your attention? What were they?
  8. Talk about the turning point in your life. Describe your feelings.
  9. How can you apply knowledge gained at college to your job.
  10. Explain how something has changed your future plans.
  11. What do you often think about? Why does this issue provoke a lot of thoughts?
  12. Analyze the problem of religion, race, and gender in society. It is necessary to admit that this is rather an interesting topic for your reflective essay.
  13. Talk about the ways you can help people sharing your experience.
  14. Have you ever participated in different activities? What did you learn from such experience?
  15. Has anything ever deeply affected you?
  16. Has anything ever aroused profound emotions? What was it?
  17. Would you like to change anything in your life?
  18. Do you want to change yourself in any way?

Memorable Moments

Top-notch reflective essays can be produced when describing some events. It does not matter whether these are everyday events or some solemn occasions. It is a great way of preparing an original paper no matter whether you are experienced writer or not. It is very interesting to describe birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, etc. When writing about some precious moments, you can show how something has changed your life.

  1. Talk about your everyday life. Describe the process of studying, making breakfast, cleaning the house and other activities.
  2. Describe your feelings when creating a design for your house.
  3. A memorable play.
  4. A visit to the zoo or theater.
  5. The importance of celebrating Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and other holidays.
  6. Have you ever lived in the regions suffering from floods, storms, or hurricanes? Describe your feelings.
  7. Moving to a new city.
  8. Talk about marriage. Why is this event considered remarkable?
  9. Describe a terrifying nightmare or a pleasant dream.
  10. Tell about a memorable trip.
  11. Have ever taken care about a sick person? Share your experience.
  12. Your first salary, car, apartment.
  13. Receiving a valuable gift.
  14. The day when there was no electricity, water, or gas.
  15. Undertaking special activities. Describe any kind of sports.
  16. Voting for the first time.
  17. Defending the rights of another person.
  18. Preparing for an important event.
  19. Describe your birthday party or that of your friend.
  20. Talk about the day you have skipped a school.
  21. Do you go to church. Talk about your feeling after the religious ceremonies.
  22. The day when you have surprised somebody. Has anybody ever surprised you greatly?
  23. Have you ever lost precious things, i.e. wallet, jewelry, etc.?
  24. Describe how you got lost in a strange place.
  25. A party organized by your neighbors. By the way, there are a lot of useful reflective essay prompts on writing a paper on this topic.
  26. Talk about the time spent at the hospital. Describe your experience of visiting a dentist.
  27. Have you ever been proud of yourself for doing anything?
  28. Eating something you do not like.
  29. The first day at new school. Describe an occasion when have been robbed.

Broad Topics

  1. The favorite perfume.
  2. Swimming in the ocean.
  3. A hiking tour.
  4. Climbing the mountains.
  5. A hunting trip.
  6. Going to the cinema.
  7. Watching the ocean.
  8. A memorable walk in the valley full of beautiful flowers.
  9. How to survive during a hurricane or another natural disaster.
  10. A rainy day.
  11. Meeting a bear or snake.
  12. Walking in the jungles.
  13. Climbing a rock.
  14. Playing with your pet.
  15. A tornado is moving to the city.
  16. Have you ever thought about crossing the desert?
  17. Walking on the seashore.
  18. Playing in the mud. A good reflective essay can be produced on this topic.
  19. Describe the feelings of watching the sunset.
  20. Gathering mushrooms and berries in the forest.
  21. The dunes of sand in the desert.
  22. Describe how the birds build their nests.
  23. Visiting a historical place.
  24. Looking down from a high rock.
  25. Running outdoors.
  26. Meeting a wild animal.
  27. Looking into the water from a high bridge.
  28. A successful expedition to the mountains.
  29. Skiing from high hills.
  30. Watching the birds flying.

Topics Related to Places

It is known that some places may arouse deep emotions. People can think about them again and again. If you want to write a paper about a certain place, you should consider the following reflective essay ideas. They will help you start your work.

  1. The best place where you had a vacation.
  2. Talk about your favorite shopping center.
  3. Would you like to visit a coffee shop?
  4. You native town. Describe the arousing feelings when visiting it.
  5. Talk about your favorite ice skating rink.
  6. Going to an amusement park.
  7. Your school. What do you feel when talking about it?
  8. Your favorite online resource, i.e. website, blog, social network, etc.
  9. Describe your working place.
  10. A great bookstore. Why do like going to it?
  11. Tell about your bedroom. Does it look like that in your childhood?
  12. Your grandparents’ house or that of your friends.
  13. Talk about your working area no matter whether it is a house or office.
  14. Your favorite restaurant. Why do you like it most of all?
  15. The playground from your childhood.

Topics Examining Relationship

It is obvious that relationships evoke the most pleasant or painful memories. That is why exploring this issue can be a fascinating reflective essay topic. Besides, writing papers on this subject may help us understand ourselves better. Consider the following ideas for your academic work:

  1. Falling in love. Describe this precious moment.
  2. A stressful situation. Tell how you helped your friend feel better (or describe how your friends helped you relieve stress).
  3. Describe the moment when someone has talked about your positive qualities.
  4. Adopting a daughter, son, or sister. Express your opinion about adoption.
  5. Going on a pleasant journey with the best friend.
  6. A heated discussion. Is it easy to make you feel nervous?
  7. Being afraid of someone. Describe your feelings.
  8. Saying “sorry”. Is it hard to admit being wrong?
  9. Describe a moment of being punished unfairly by your parents.
  10. Have you ever wanted to own anything that did not belong to you?
  11. Talk about the period of life when something or someone has disappointed you greatly.
  12. An argument with your teacher or boss.
  13. Discuss an embarrassing situation in your life. Describe your feelings.
  14. The funniest moment in your life. Describe it in details.
  15. Being a child. What are the sweetest memories in your childhood?
  16. The first time of going out with friends without parents.
  17. Talking about the mistakes made by your relatives, i.e. parents, grandparents, friends, etc.
  18. Describe your feelings when helping people (or when people help you).
  19. Keeping secrets. Have you ever revealed somebody’s secret?
  20. Analyze your first public speech.
  21. Have you ever lied to anyone? Talk about the moment when the truth has come out.
  22. Losing memory. Describe the situation when your friend’s brain has been affected by dementia.

Key Steps to Writing Unique Papers on Reflective Essay Topics

  1. Take a close look at the list of subjects for producing works. Choose the one that you are interested in.
  2. Start the paper with describing your personal experience. Make readers fell themselves participants of your narration.
  3. The above-mention item is going to be your thesis statement.
  4. Remember to structure your work properly.
  5. Write a logical conclusion. You need to show what lesson you have learned from your personal experience. Tell whether experience helps succeed in life.
  6. It sometimes happen that students do not know how to continue to write their works. In case some difficulties arise, you may always use a handy sample paper. It will help you understand how to move on.

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