The Options Team takes on the Common App


Every year at Options, we help students brainstorm ideas for their university application essays, and it’s always rewarding to hear about their experiences, interests, and successes. When our students file out at the end of workshop, it’s not unusual for Options staff to discuss our hypothetical essay topics. If we could go back, we think, what would we write? Below, you’ll find our topic ideas for the Common Application Essay.

Monika, educational consultant: “One night, when I was around 14, I was in the middle of reading Gone with the Wind, and I didn’t want to stop. The house was dark and my parents were asleep. So I just kept reading, right through until morning. When my parents woke up, I was already up. I’m sure I suffered for it the next day, but this is the first time I remember truly realizing that I could do things that my parents would never know about and that I was an independent person.”

Marisa, writing coach: “When I was in high school, I worked for a municipal program in which I cleaned houses for seniors a few times a week. While I definitely vacuumed and dusted, I spend much more time eating cookies, watching Coronation Street, and talking about everything with my seniors, who remain some of the loveliest, funniest, and wisest women I’ve ever met.” 

Edwin, educational consultant: “Tennis ball, volleyball or the shuttle? Although I served my way to the BC high school tennis provincials and captained a team-spirited school volleyball squad to win gold at the BC provincial championships, badminton was the sport that best shaped me into a versatile athlete of power and finesse. I would therefore write about how badminton taught me drive and dedication and that intensive training and practice could yield great achievements, such as winning the Vancouver Island Championships in Doubles in U19 in Grade 12 and securing a coveted spot on the UBC Badminton Team.” 

Melinda, president and educational consultant: “In high school, I worked as a waitress in a diner in my tiny hometown. I loved the people I worked with, my favourites being Madeleine, our 65-year-old cook, and Vicky, my supervisor, who knew all the tricks of the trade. My favourite shifts were Friday fish fry night and my 6:30 am Sunday breakfast shift. My much older co-workers treated me with respect and taught me all sorts of valuable life skills (like how to poach the perfect egg!).”  

Alyssa, writing coach and educational consultant: “I don’t remember a time when my childhood house had finished walls. From the time we moved in when I was seven, my house was in a state of almost constant construction at the hands of my father, but despite my mother’s opinion, we all grew to love the exposed innards of our home. We tracked our height on a stud in the kitchen, left heartfelt messages along the internal beams, and hung pictures and frames from the places where a wall should have been. Best of all, I got to spend time with my father learning about the intricacies of our home and the power my two hands had to build it.”

Megan, writing coach: “When I was in grade 8, my family went on a road trip to Montana—a trip I spent entirely taking notes. While my siblings played I-Spy or listened to the Shrek soundtrack, I diligently recorded the weather, landscape, and wildlife I saw out my window. Based on these observations, I spent the next few months writing my ‘novel.’ Through this terribly embarrassing piece of writing, I first discovered exhilaration and autonomy in the process of translating the world around me into language. That book, inexplicably titled “The Seahorse and the Elephant,” remains one of my proudest accomplishments.”  

Melodie, South Surrey office manager: “I would write about a memory from when I was twelve years old. I was near a lake with my grandfather. He couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Japanese. A dragonfly was drowning in the lake; my grandfather found a long stick, reached out and saved it by transferring it to a dry rock. We looked at each other and smiled, realized we shared a deep respect for nature and life.”

If you need help coming up with interesting essay ideas (for your Common App essay or any other supplement), we can help! We have a series of university supplement writing workshops, scheduled from September to January, where you can receive guidance and editing support from experienced writing coaches. You can also book one-on-one appointments with a writing coach at any of our office locations. Can’t wait to hear your stories!


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