Exciting Scholarship Essay Topics

College application essays don’t have to be a drag – and these schools prove it. They’ve created some of the most outlandish, thought-provoking and original essay questions out there.

Here are the 15 schools that think outside the box, when it comes to admissions essay, with some examples of our favorite questions they’re asking on The Common Application this year.

Now, it’s up to you to impress admissions officers with a response that measures up.

Amongst the schools with the most create assortments were Lehigh University, Tufts University and Wake Forest, though we’ve decided to remain (sort of) impartial and list the schools with the most creatively candid questions in alphabetical order.

The following 15 schools had some of our favorite imaginative college admissions essay questions begging the question: how would you answer?

1. Brandeis University

“You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?”

Leave it to the liberal arts colleges to come up with something thought-provoking. This private research university, located in Waltham, MA, is sure to get your creative juices flowing!

Learn more about Brandeis University.

2. Bucknell University

“Pick a movie or novel where the protagonist makes a difficult choice. Do you agree or disagree with the decision he or she made?”

Another private liberal arts university, Bucknell is located in the central part of Pennsylvania in the town of Lewisburg. If you’re looking to bring unique perspectives to a university, this may be the one for you.

Learn more about Bucknell University.

3. Hampshire College

“Create two questions that drive you.”

This private liberal arts school, located in Amherst, MA, is so outside of the box, they got rid of the box (i.e. questions) all together. If you’re up for the creative challenge, seize it!

Learn more about Hampshire College.

4. Kalamazoo College

“Let’s go back to a time when learning was pure joy. Please tell us your favorite childhood book and why.”

Also dubbed “K College” or “K,” this Kalamazoo, Michigan school produces more Peace Corp volunteers than any other U.S. academic institution!

Learn more about Kalamazoo College.

5. Lehigh University

“What is your favorite riddle and why?”
“Describe your favorite \”Bazinga\” moment.”
“You’ve just reached your one millionth hit on your YouTube video. What is the video about?”
“If your name were an acronym, what would it stand for and how would it reflect your strengths and pesonality?”

When it comes to originality, Lehigh definitely took the cake. Believe it or not, we had to narrow our choices down to the above questions! But this Bethlehem, PA, university is also known for academics and landed on the Top Party Schools list. Talk about well rounded!

Learn more about Lehigh University.

6. Stanford University

“What matters to you, and why?”

Stanford left the essay open to interpretation for the scholars applying to the university, which is considered to be one of the most prestigious in the United States and the world.

Learn more about Stanford University.

7. Texas Christian University

“Take a blank sheet of paper. Do with this page what you wish. Your only limitations are the boundaries of this page. You don’t have to submit anything, but we hope you will use your imagination.”

This optional “assignment” from the university, located in Forth Worth, TX, must leave a blank stare on students faces all the time. Who else wonders what types of submissions (and how many paper airplanes) they get?

Learn more about Texas Christian University.

8. Tufts University

“Celebrate your nerdy side.”
“What makes you happy?”
“What does #YOLO mean to you?”

Competing with Lehigh, Tufts University had quite the array of unique questions, so we had to pick favorites. Tufts is known as a Little Ivy and a “New Ivy,” so we imagine that those applying to this school, which ranks amongst the top in the nation, appreciate the chance to speak their minds via the college application essay. Learn more about Tufts University.

9. University of Chicago

“Winston Churchill believed ‘a joke is a very serious thing.’ Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.”
“How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared?”

The University of Chicago cleverly takes essay questions suggested by students. So if you find the questions a little too peculiar, blame your peers. If you can take on the essays, you can join the nearly 15,00 students that attend the school – which is another ranked as one of the most prestigious, both nationally and worldwide.

Learn more about University of Chicago.

10. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

“What do you hope to find over the rainbow?”

This public research university is consistently ranked among the highest in the United States and is one of eight original Public Ivy schools. Perhaps the answer to the essay question should be: an Ivy League education with public university tuition prices?

Learn more about University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

11. University of Notre Dame

“By the end of the college application process, you will have probably written dozens of essays and responded to a multitude of questions. Use this opportunity to try something new.”

If you want to become one of the 8,000 undergraduates who identify as the Fighting Irish, you’ll need to plan and strategize to impress admissions officials at this private Catholic research university.

Learn more about University of Notre Dame.

12. University of Virginia

“To tweet or not to tweet?”
“What’s your favorite word and why?”
“Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.”

Located in Charlottesville, VA, this public university was conceived and designed by U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. We cannot help but wonder, which side of the “tweet” or “not to tweet” spectrum do you think he’d land?

Learn more about University of Virginia.

13. Villanova University

“What sets your heart on fire?”

Founded in 1842, this private university is the oldest Catholic university in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It was named for Saint Thomas of Villanova, but we’d advise against answering in any way that may suggest he sets your heart ablaze. That’s just …awkward.

Learn more about Villanova University.

14. Wake Forest University

“Some say social media is superficial, with no room for expressing deep or complex ideas. We challenge you to defy these skeptics by describing yourself as fully and accurately as possible in the 140-character limit of a tweet.”
“Give us your top ten list.”

Wake Forest is a private university with its main campus located in Winston Salem, NC. The original location was in Wake Forest, hence the name. What would be on our top ten list? How about these school facts? The school has 93 percent retention rate and an 85 percent four-year graduation rate – not bad!

Learn more about Wake Forest University.

15. Yale University

“You have been granted a free weekend next month. How will you spend it?”
“What is something about which you have changed your mind in the last three years?”

You may have heard of Yale University – it’s a private Ivy League research university in Connecticut? It’s also the alma mater of five U.S. presidents, among countless other scholars. With a retention rate of 99 percent, we’re guessing most students don’t answer, “Going to Yale,” as what they’ve changed their minds about.

Perhaps which side of a legal issue you fall on would be a safer answer, especially since Yale Law School is the most selective within the United States.

Learn more about Yale University.

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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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