A reflective essay topic can be challenging, as it forced the author to look at a pivotal moment of their life and analyze it objectively. Choosing the right topic can even be an emotional experience, which clouds the process of creating an essay that connects with the reader in a meaningful way. It helps to review a series of topics and reflect on which ones can mean something important to you as well as the potential to inspire or encourage the reader to reexamine their own perspectives on the experience.
Ideally, you want to choose an experience that occurred a significant amount of time in the past. This will make it easier for you to examine the experience as objectively as possible, while also being able to offer up a fresh perspective without being swept up in latent emotions. The goal is to choose a topic experience that leads to greater wisdom, or some type of lesson learned that you are passing along to the reader.
What to Write About?
With a reflective essay, you should write in the first person. Just bear in mind that it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in the emotions of the experience. Just like a personal narrative you want to write from the first-person point of view. It’s important to keep the tone of the paper focused on the wisdom gained from the experience without it becoming an emotional catharsis. It’s best to speak from a confident, objective tone to help encourage the reader to connect with a shared experience or the wisdom they can apply to their own life.
Developing a Reflective Essay
Structuring a successful reflective essay starts with developing a plan. If you simply choose a topic and start writing from a stream of consciousness, chances are good that you have chosen a topic that still has too much emotional energy for you to effectively reflect on.
Once you have an experience that you feel you can deliver on with at least a modest amount of objectivity, then you can start asking yourself key questions.
- What did I learn from the experience?
- What caused the experience?
- Was there something else I could have done at that moment?
- Did the relationships I had with people change after the experience?
- What do I want the reader to learn?
These are just some of the questions you should press yourself to answer. It’s good to give yourself time, you might even want to research people in history or people you know who have had a similar experience. Is there a common thread that you share?
Elements of a Reflective Essay
With a reflective essay, you can follow the typical 5 paragraph format used by a lot of successful essays. Though you might need to expand the number of paragraphs depending on the length requirements of the assignment.
The introduction of your reflective essay needs to set the scene succinctly. You need to resist the temptation to offer up too much “Backstory.” If your essay is about the death of your pet, you should start with their final moments, rather than telling the reader a long history that starts with the first day you brought them home. Not only will this put the reader in your shoes, but it will help you to maintain an air of objectivity on the subject.
The thesis statement of your reflective essay’s introduction needs to clearly state the challenge of the experience or the wisdom you gleaned from it. The goal is to connect with the reader by finding a potentially shared thread, rather than releasing it in catharsis.
The end of your introduction should include a sentence of two that leads toward the first body paragraph. The goal is to make it clear that you are transitioning to a distinct point, that will support the introduction and thesis, rather than feeling like a continuous stream of consciousness.
Your first body paragraph is descriptive in that it “Reports” or “Relates” to the reader. The goal is to make a connection with your reader via a shared experience or a common response to an experience. This helps set up the expectations, while also relating to the original thesis statement. The end of the first paragraph needs to help transition to the second paragraph in a way that keeps the essay from sounding like a stream of consciousness narrative.
The second body paragraph is your “Reasoning” paragraph. If possible try to cite sources outside of your own experience. This might be a new psychology study, literature, research studies, or other supporting evidence. This also helps the reader to understand that you are making a concerted effort toward being objective about what might otherwise be a personal experience.
The third body paragraph of your reflective essay is where you start “Reconstructing.” This might come in the form of more supporting evidence that affirms the lesson learn or the wisdom you gleans through the experience. You might also use the third body paragraph to explain how you would do things differently the next time.
The conclusion of your reflective essay needs to use an affirmative tone of voice. This is where you assert the lesson learned by the experience while connecting to the original thesis statement via a summary of your supporting evidence. In the end, you want the reader to feel that they can draw wisdom from your experience should they ever find themselves in a similar situation.
125 Reflective Essay Topic Ideas
It can be hard to choose a topic for your reflective essay. If you are having a hard time thinking of one, or you are concerned about the emotional impact of an experience, you might want to first review some of the reflective essay topic ideas on this list. Ideally, you final one you choose should be based on an experience that is in the past, in a way that you can present a level of objectivity in your writing.
- In your parent’s divorce did you find yourself having a closer relationship with one parent more than the other?
- In a divided family dynamic did one house feel more like “Home” than another, and if so why?
- Was living in a blended family a benefit or a strain on your childhood experience?
- Did you feel that you should have more say in the parenting time schedule at a certain age?
- Do you feel as close to your step-siblings as your blood-related siblings?
- If you had same-sex parents, did it affect your friendships or enhance them?
- Did you feel a closer connection with your same-gender parent?
- How did the birth of a younger sibling affect your relationship with your parents?
- Have you donated an organ to a family member, how did it affect your relationship with them?
- Has having a special needs family member made you more aware of social discrimination against people with special needs.
- A family reunion that motivated you to take more of an interest in a subject.
- Meeting a long-lost relative that you connected with.
- Your parent’s separation and learning to cope with being a member of two different families.
- A funny family story that happened during a pivotal time in your family’s history.
- The last time you saw a family member before they left for college or to join the military.
Death & Grieving Topics
- How did the death of your first pet affect your willingness to get a second pet?
- Do you feel there are enough grief resources for children who have experienced a death in the family?
- How did the death of a grandparent affect your relationship with your parents?
- Did the death of one of your parents bring you closer to your other parent?
- Did the death of a loved one inspire you to live a more meaningful life?
- Has the loss of a loved one to a preventable illness affected your lifestyle choices?
- Has the death of a loved one to substance abuse changed your perspective on substance use?
- Have you ever had to have a pet euthanized because you couldn’t afford its medical treatment, if so, did it affect your financial choices in the future?
- Have you lost a family member to cancer, and did it encourage you toward activism?
- Was it a relief to see a family member pass away after a long battle with a serious illness?
- How did the ending of your first love impact your willingness to engage in a new relationship in the future?
- Did your first serious relationship alienate you from your friends?
- Did the ending of your first relationship make it easier or harder to reconnect with your friends?
- Did your first serious relationship affect your relationship with your parents?
- Did your siblings help or make it harder to have an enriching relationship with your significant other?
- Apologizing to a significant other after an argument.
- Making amends for sayings something in the heat of the moment.
- Choosing to end a relationship for your own reasons.
- Losing the trust of someone you are in a romantic relationship with.
- Restoring the trust of someone you are in a romantic relationship with.
- Did the terrorist attacks of 9/11 2001 affect your sense of personal safety and security?
- Has the rash of school shootings affected your sense of personal safety and security?
- Did the events of January 6th, 2020 affect your faith in our government?
- Has the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic affected your social connections with friends and family members?
- Has experienced a natural disaster made you more sensitive to the topic of climate change?
- How did the first COVID-19 lockdown affect your lifestyle?
- How did COVID-19 quarantine affect your important relationships
- Have terrorist attacks around the world changed your mind about travel?
- How did the Me Too revolution affect your perspective on relationships?
- The effects of Brexit.
Personal Growth Topics
- How has pet ownership given you a stronger sense of responsibility?
- Did having a younger sibling gives you a stronger sense of responsibility toward others?
- Did your first car give you a better understanding of pride in ownership?
- Did your first loan give you a deeper appreciation for pride in ownership?
- Which was the harder transition from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school?
- Did growing up in a house or an apartment affect your acceptable standards of living?
- Would a change in your economic class change your values?
- Has caring for a handicapped family member made you more aware of the rights of disabled individuals?
- What vacation-inspired you to make a life change?
- Has volunteering for a good cause changed your worldview?
- Has a negative experience with an ethnic group in the past influenced your social kin bias today?
- Has a positive experience with a minority group influenced your social kin bias today?
- How did an unexpected gift inspire you?
- What was an impulsive choice that changed your life for the better?
- What impulsive choice changed your life for the worse?
- How did your first job influence your sense of responsibility?
- How did the money from your first job affect your spending habits?
- Have your spending habits improved in the last five years, if so, what inspired that change?
- How getting fired from a job affected your sense of self-worth.
- How quitting a job affected your sense of self-worth.
- What was a Christmas or birthday present that changed your worldview?
- Have you ever been lost in nature; how did it make you feel?
- The emotions you felt when hunting and killing your first animal.
- The emotions your felt catching and eating your first fish.
- How you coped with moving to a new town.
- How you coped with changing to a new school.
- How trying out for a new sport-inspired a change in your life.
- The bravest moment in your life.
- A trip to a museum that inspired you.
- Your first-time public speaking.
- Your first-time staying overnight away from home.
- Your first time at a concert.
- Winning tickets to something you wanted to go see.
- Your first trip to a museum.
- The first time you flew in a plane and had the “Overlook” experience.
Health and Medical Topics
- Having seen a loved one die from a smoking-related illness made it easier for you to quit smoking or kept you from starting smoking.
- Has seeing a loved one die from substance abuse changed your perception of substance use?
- Has a past health crisis changed your lifestyle habits?
- Has seeing a loved one deal with a health crisis changed your lifestyle habits?
- Have medical costs from a past health crisis affected your financial habits today?
- Has lost a significant amount of weight changed your eating habits for life?
- Has losing a significant amount of weight changed your social life?
- How a broken bone changed your lifestyle in the long term.
- How a health crisis changed your lifestyle habits.
- How an athletic injury caused you to give up a sport you love.
- Getting hurt in a car accident.
- Getting in a car accident when a family member was injured and you were not.
- Getting stitches for the first time.
- Dealing with a severe burn.
- Losing an eye, finger, or another body part.
Education and Mentorship Topics
- Your first day in a new school.
- The influence of an important teacher in your life.
- The influence of an important mentor in your life.
- How learning to play a musical instrument influenced you.
- Your first time being exposed to classical music.
- A school field trip that inspired you.
- How learning a foreign language changed your perception of another culture.
- Overcoming the struggles of a difficult subject.
- Your first time engaging in a team sport.
- Choosing an elective class that didn’t like.
- Discovering a new book you love.
- A favorite teacher moving away or changing jobs.
- A favorite place to read or write in school.
- What you loved about your favorite class.
- Underperforming on an SAT, ACT, or another standardized test.
Experiences in Nature
- The first time you climbed a mountain.
- The first time you saw the ocean.
- The first time you were in a desert.
- Getting lost in the woods.
- Going on an eco-tourism vacation.
- Seeing a national park for the first time.
- Seeing a dead animal.
- A fort you built when you were a child.
- A camping trip you will always remember.
- Learning to deal with a drought.
- Seeing a tornado
- Living through the aftermath of a hurricane.
- Dealing with the aftermath of a wildfire.
- Running out of water on a long hike.
- Encountering an aggressive animal.
Writing a reflective essay is not easy, especially when you don’t have an idea of what you should write about. So our list should come in handy.