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How your way of thinking makes for a unique Common App essay topic

When you are writing your Common App essay, it can be incredibly difficult to find a way to stand out. You may be racking your brain for impressive moments or experiences; however, the extraordinary element you are looking for doesn’t need to be external—your thoughts may be the key to a unique college essay.

One student I worked with (let’s call her Maria) had a plethora of experiences to explore: she was a tutor, peer counselor, student ambassador, mentor, and had several educational experiences to draw stories from. As we explored each one of them, I listened closely to find interesting themes or connections. No matter what she talked about, whether it was researching corporal punishment or tutoring a student in Mandarin, Maria returned to math: a subject she disliked as a child for fear of failure and punishment but gradually began to love.

How does tutoring Mandarin connect with math? I wondered. When I asked her to clarify the connection, she explained that to explain the meaning of an abstract Chinese character to her tutee, she drew a mathematical graph. She could have used a dictionary, she explained, but it was more fun to think outside of the box. She went on to explain how learning the way people think is very important, and suddenly, something clicked.

At many points in our conversation, I noticed our minds working in similar ways—we both enjoyed drawing unexpected connections between experiences and were both drawn to the ambiguity of abstract concepts and characters. At other points, Maria explained her ideas and experiences very logically, which stood out to me. I then asked her to define her way of thinking, and she explained that while other people think in pictures and colors, she thinks in a very methodical way. She liked bringing logic and structure into tutoring and creating while she enjoyed exploring the abstract side of subjects like math.

In her essay, Maria was able to stand out while staying true to herself. Rather than simply explaining the role of math in her life, she focused on how she used her mathematical way of thinking in seemingly unrelated situations. This story felt incredibly special—not only did it capture her creativity and critical thinking skills, but also demonstrated how math helped her grow into the person she is today.

So, if you are trying to find a unique and personal Common App essay topic, perhaps you want to write about your original thoughts and ideas. It can be difficult to pinpoint what makes your way of thinking unique. Ask your friends and family some thought-provoking questions and hold a discussion. Pay attention to the distinct thinking patterns you notice in others and ask yourself how this compares to your own way of thinking. Ask yourself:

  • How have I solved a problem in an unconventional way?

  • What strategies have I used to teach something to someone?

  • How do I think differently when I am discussing certain topics?

While other students might have the same academic or extracurricular experiences with you, no one shares your exact way of thinking. Only you can write about the way you think. And that makes for a personal and unique college essay.

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