Though written from a lived experience, personal essay topics can be tricky to come up with because they have to be universal enough for other people to relate to.
Since the skill of writing a good essay is being able to paint an image with words, students must choose a topic that will get others interested in the story and what it has to say about life, society, or themselves.
In essence, personal essays are written from a personal point of view and express a writer’s own insights, opinions, and feelings on a particular topic. Additionally, these types of essays lead to an overall point, lesson, realization, or revelation.
Most commonly, personal essays are written by high school students as part of their college applications. However, there are many other reasons that a personal essay may be assigned or written, including:
- Scholarship applications
- Job interview
- Writing contest
- Grad school admission
Students and others struggling with a valuable personal essay topic can choose from any of the 110 personal essay topics on this list to help them get started.
How to Write a Personal Essay
Writing a personal essay will require you to follow a traditional essay’s guidelines, structure, and format. However, you will also need to ensure that your essay is personal or tells a story about yourself rather than being entirely academic.
For example, you might want to explain an experience that changed how you saw the world or share an opinion on something important to you – even if the rest of the world doesn’t agree with it.
It often helps to make a list of experiences that you may want to share before starting with the writing aspect of the personal essay.
The introduction to your personal essay will set the scene for the reader. Therefore, your personal essay needs to start with a compelling hook that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.
This hook statement could be a humorous or poignant anecdote related to your topic or a line of questioning that the reader will be interested in following. For example, some possible opening lines for a personal essay could start with:
- “I remember exactly where I was when I first realized …”
- “What would you do if you knew the world was going to end tomorrow?
- “So, I once had this problem …”
These beginning lines will often create questions in the reader’s mind, which is an excellent way to capture their interest and keep them reading. Following this initial opening sentence, you can introduce other details as you build up the main point of the story.
Your introduction should end with a thesis statement that verbalizes the general direction the story will go.
Generally, a personal essay will have no less than three body paragraphs that detail your experience in chronological order. Each section should discuss one part of the story, including the events leading up to it, what happened during the experience, and what you learned from it.
Body paragraphs may also include examples of feelings, emotions, or arguments that support your experience. The goal of a personal essay is to share a compelling story and teach the reader something about life or themselves by using specific details and language.
Consider this formatting when creating the body paragraphs of your personal essay:
- Beginning of the story that answers questions related to “Who?” and “Where?”
- Initial attitudes, moods, feelings, and assumptions about the event or experience about to take place
- Middle of the story
- Details that show how the situation evolved over time, including any changes in mood or assumption on your part
- Ending of the story/resolution
- The final analysis on overall feelings, emotions, and mood
By sticking to this formatting for the body paragraphs, students can ensure that they are telling the story correctly and including every key detail as it happens.
The conclusion of a personal essay is optional and depends on what you want to accomplish with the telling of your story. If you want to leave the reader feeling inspired or emotionally moved, then focus on summarizing the main points in a short paragraph that ends on a positive note.
However, if this was a darker story, you may want to use the concluding paragraph to sum up your feelings after the experience has ended or explore any unanswered questions that remain.
In any event, your conclusion does need to include an overall moral or lesson of how the writer:
- overcame hardship
- rose to the occasion
- identified new traits or abilities that they never realized existed
- turned defeat into success
- followed their instincts and made the right choice
- came to appreciate something about life after the experience took place
Any of these statements can stand alone as a powerful lesson learned. However, when combined in one concluding paragraph, you will leave your reader with a profound impression.
110 Personal Essay Topics
Using any of these 110 personal essay topics will ensure that you have a strong and interesting story to tell.
Personal Essay Topics About Relationships
- What was a time when you made a friend?
- What would your worst enemy say about you?
- Talk about the death of a friend.
- How did it feel to be bullied in school?
- The time when you had to get along with a sibling despite being different ages
- What you learned from your first relationship
- Why marriage isn’t important to you
- How you discovered polyamory, and how it changed your view of relationships
- How your best friend made you a better person
- The lesson you learned from being catfished
- The first time you experienced heartbreak
- A funny story about how technology ruined a relationship.
- How did you learn to recognize love?
- Who would you consider your soulmate? What makes them that person specifically for you?
- What was your most embarrassing moment as a boyfriend or girlfriend, and what did you learn from it?
Personal Essay Topics About Hardships
- The worst thing that ever happened to me
- The roughest time in my family’s life
- The hardest challenge I’ve ever had to overcome
- How did you deal with the stress of moving?
- What was your most embarrassing moment as a kid?
- What are some reasons that I am grateful for my disability/illness/condition?
- When have you had an “Aha!” moment in life?
- What’s something terrible that happened to you that turned into something good?
- What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my failures?
- The time when it almost felt like the world was against me
- How did I handle/recover from a severe illness/injury/accident?
- When was the first time I realized that life isn’t fair?
- What was the biggest struggle I went through in my teens?
- The most challenging situation I faced in high school
- When was a time when I made a negative impact on someone else?
- The first time I got caught stealing
- The most embarrassing mistake I ever made with money
- What was the most challenging thing about getting sober/clean/overcoming addiction?
- When did I realize that life is short and that nobody is promised tomorrow?
- How did you learn to persevere through tough times?
Personal Essay Topics About Success & Achievements
- Best moment in my sports career
- My greatest success story
- The time I overcame my fear and found strength I didn’t know I had.
- What’s the happiest day of my life?
- How did I learn to overcome failure?
- The time I knew that dreams really do come true
- My greatest triumph over adversity – and what it taught me about myself.
- What made you realize that you have to work hard in order to achieve something meaningful in life?
- When did I know that I had made it in life?
- When was the first time you were acknowledged for your achievements?
- The night when my hard work truly paid off
- My most powerful moment after overcoming a setback
- How did I become successful?
- What are some defining moments in my career?
- How did I make it through a difficult time in college/university?
- What motivated me to become the person I am today?
Personal Essay Topics About Personal Growth & Self-Reflection
- Whose lifelong encouragement helped make me who I am today
- The first time I took responsibility for my own actions
- What gave me the courage to be myself?
- The most valuable life lesson I’ve ever received. Who taught it to me, and what was the context?
- How did I get through a difficult childhood/adolescence/teenage years?
- What did I learn from becoming a yoga master?
- How has meditation helped me overcome anger issues?
- How did I recover from using drugs and alcohol?
- What’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from quitting my job?
- When did I realize that life is too short to hate someone?
- The moment when I knew it was time for a change
- I made a mistake – and this is how I bounced back
- How did I overcome depression/anxiety/mental illness?
Personal Essay Topics About Passions & Hobbies
- How did learning a skill change my life?
- Why exercise makes me a better person
- My passion for writing
- What’s the best advice I’ve ever received? Who gave it to me, and in what situation?
- The moment when I realized my true calling in life
- The importance of keeping a journal and how it has helped me become a better person
- My biggest bucket list dream and why it’s so important to me
- What is my vision for the future?
- How did I find peace, contentment, and happiness?
- The time when I truly lived outside of my comfort zone
- When was the moment when I felt like I “got” meditation?
- My journey towards becoming vegan. What inspired me to make this change, and what were the challenges I faced?
- What lessons have been easy for me to learn, and which ones have been harder?
- The time when travel changed my life
Personal Essay Topics About Challenges & Failures
- The low point of my life and how I got through it
- How did an illness/injury/death in the family affect me?
- Why did I decide to stop going on blind dates?
- What were the consequences of losing my temper, and how did I make amends?
- The time when I was broken. What happened, who got hurt, and how did it affect me? How did I overcome this experience?
- When was the moment when I realized that my words carry weight?
Personal Essay Topics About Family & Childhood Memories
- The time when my family showed me what unconditional love means
- My most vivid childhood memory and how it has affected me as an adult
- How did I learn to be patient and kind?
- What was the moment that sparked a change in my life? What caused this change, and what happened after the changes took place?
- The moment when I realized the true meaning of friendship
- What lessons did growing up teach me about life?
- My childhood dream and what it taught me about myself
- How do I feel about my hometown after living in three different places?
- Why is it important to visit your birthplace/hometown during holidays/vacations?
- My family’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
- What was the moment when I realized that my parents had their own struggles?
- The time when I learned about my family history. What happened, why did this happen, and how did it affect me? How did things change after this event?
- What do I know about family traditions now that I didn’t understand as a child?
- Why are your family memories vital to you?
Personal Essay Topics About Cultural Heritage & Identity
- What does being bilingual/multilingual mean to me? Why is it unique?
- My first interaction with someone from another culture
- What’s wrong with cultural appropriation, and how did I learn to stop?
- The moment when I became aware of my race/ethnicity
- My culture’s most influential life lesson and how it has affected me
- How I learned to not be afraid of my cultural differences
- Why is diversity important in my community? In what ways do I contribute?
- The moment I realized that I am proud of my culture
- How has the immigrant/refugee experience shaped who you are today?
- How traditions have changed the way I view my family
Personal Essay Topics About Childhood Dreams & Aspirations
- What were my childhood dreams, and how have they changed over the years?
- How did I make peace with the fear of growing up?
Any of these 110 personal essay topics are perfect for students struggling to find a topic that will impress a college admission officer or any other person with whom you’re trying to connect with on a personal level through storytelling.