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45 Custom Personal Essay Topics Ideas

45 Custom Personal Essay Topics Ideas

Published by on 2021-07-09 09:34:34

If you like talking about yourself, a personal essay is a perfect assignment for you. It’s a pity you can’t fill the paper with random ramblings you direct at your family, friends, or classmates. 

The assignment should follow the same guidelines any other essay would, but the subject can be much closer to home than usual. On the plus side, research is mostly unnecessary. On the downside, you’ll have to do some careful navel-gazing and take a trip or two down memory lane to come up with an idea good enough to meet the word count requirements.

We’re here to help you devise a topic with a list of hand-picked ideas to choose from.

The Best Personal Essay Topics to Inspire You

Personal essays are such a broad category it can be difficult to find the perfect idea for your paper among the sea of generic suggestions. To help you navigate the options, we’ve divided our ideas into three categories that have a distinct feel and tone.

A Moment in Time Personal Essay Topics for College

Let’s start with the easiest topics. The ‘moment in time’ ideas let you describe a memory or an experience that had a strong impact on your life. It can be either positive or negative, a cherished memory or something you’d rather forget. Luckily, no one can read your mind to check whether you’re 100% honest, so you can embellish some parts and avoid others. It’s up to you which parts of the story to focus on and what moral you want to finish with.

  1. A difficult choice you made that turned out wrong (or right).
  2. The fear you overcame and how it affected your life afterward.
  3. The most memorable first meeting of your life.
  4. Describe the time you felt like you didn't fit in.
  5. The time you disappointed a loved one, or they disappointed you.
  6. The scariest thing that happened to someone in your life and how it affected you.
  7. The most surprising twist in your life worthy of an award-winning movie adaptation.
  8. The first money you earned and what you spent it on.
  9. The one moment in your life you wish to do over.
  10. The words that helped you see the light during the darkest hour.
  11. Your personal ‘Eureka!’ moment.
  12. The first or the fondest memory of a family celebration.
  13. Your most embarrassing moment and how it feels looking back at it.
  14. The most valuable lesson you learned outside of class.
  15. The gradual change you didn’t see coming until it was too late.

What to Write a Personal Essay About


This category of personal essay topics can easily turn into a narrative paper. Resist the urge to turn in a short story about something that happened to you in the past. Instead, focus on the internal changes the event caused within your worldview or character. Otherwise, the professor may deduct points for not meeting the assignment requirements.

Outside Influence Topics for Personal Essays

None of us live in a vacuum. People, technology, ideas surround us, influencing us in a million subtle and not-so-subtle ways. That’s why we devoted a whole section of this post to topics that showcase your personality through the lens of things and people that affect you. As long as you remember to keep your focus on telling a personal story and your relationship with the outside influence, your essay will be top-notch.

After some thought, we came up with these ideas for you:

  1. A family member who is your hero and role model.
  2. Teacher, coach, or tutor who’s been your biggest motivator.
  3. What book or movie impressed you the most?
  4. What book or movie would you like to enjoy for the first time again?
  5. How do your friends define your behavior and character?
  6. Who convinced you to go to college (choose your major)?
  7. What do your Instagram subscriptions say about you?
  8. What does your Netflix history say about you?
  9. What do your videogame preferences say about you?
  10. Who taught you the most valuable of your skills?
  11. Who was beside you throughout the best (worst) times of your life?
  12. What convinced you to trust your friend (partner)?
  13. What would your closest friends say about you to strangers?
  14. How do you introduce yourself to different people?
  15. Which book (movie or possession) would you take with you to Mars?

As always, this list is far from exhaustive. You can use any of the topics as we’ve listed them, or you can tweak and alter the ideas to fit your class and assignment requirements better. You can also use these topics as inspiration to come up with a personal story you wish to share.

What-if Personal Essays Ideas

This is an endless category that encompasses every idea you’ve ever had or can come up with. It’s like writing a fantasy or sci-fi short story with you as the main character. While almost any “what if” question can become a topic for your paper, we suggest avoiding meaningless and obscure questions, like “What would my life be if the skies were green?” or “What would I do if Star Wars never came out?”. Instead, think of deeper questions that you can answer with meaningful reflection within the required word count.

Here are some examples to get your imagination going:

  1. What if you were born with a different gender?
  2. What if you had a sibling (if you don’t)?
  3. What if you were born in another country?
  4. What if you were born 100 years in the past?
  5. What if you didn’t have one of your senses?
  6. What if you never met your best friend?
  7. What if you skipped college?
  8. What if you chose a different major?
  9. What if you went to study abroad?
  10. What if you never watched TV shows and movies?
  11. What if you had a superpower?
  12. What if you could change one thing about your past?
  13. What if you didn’t know how to read?
  14. What if you had to live without the Internet for a year?
  15. What if you never said no to anything?

As you see, most topics on our list are related to significant changes in your life, not the world around you. That’s because you need to tie the “what if” plot to your current life. Otherwise, your essay will be just a work of fiction, not an academic essay. Go too far off script, and you may lose all the points for the paper if your professor decides you did not meet the requirements of a personal essay. If you aren’t sure the “what if” topic is suitable for the assignment, run it by your professor.

What to Write a Personal Essay About?

You can pick the first topic that catches your eye and gets the wheels turning inside your head. But that’s not the strategic thing to do. If you want to secure the top grade, you have some thinking to do. 

Look back at your previous assignments and answer two questions:

  1. What essays did you enjoy writing the most?
  2. What essays got the highest grades and professor’s praise?

If you love writing narrative essays and get them right every time, choose a topic from the ‘Moment in Time’ category.

If you prefer descriptive writing, and so does your professor, ‘Outside Influence’ topics will be the best for you.

If you like cause and effect or compare and contrast papers, ‘What if’ ideas should get you the high grade you deserve.

However, if you’re more interested in developing your writing skills than getting the short-term benefits of high grades, consider another strategy. Instead of writing what you know and love, choose the essay type you’re struggling with. After all, you won’t get better at narration if all you ever write are descriptive essays.

Regardless of your choice of personal topics to write about, keep yourself at the center of the story, follow the classic three-part structure, and clean up the errors and typos before submission to improve your chances of a good grade.