Big Question Essay Ideas For College

A word cloud created from all the questions compiled below.

We’ve posted a fresh Student Opinion question nearly every weekday for almost four years now. Here are the 182 we asked during the 2012-13 school year.

Each question is based on content from that week’s New York Times, and all are still open to comment by anyone 13-25 years old. Each linked Times article is also accessible without a digital subscription.

Teachers tell us they use these questions to help students practice writing persuasively; as inspiration for lessons; as jumping-off points for class discussions and debates; or just to encourage student engagement with current events and with young people from around the world.

This year, because of the emphasis on argument in the Common Core standards, we’ve divided the questions into two categories — those that easily lend themselves to classroom debate and persuasive writing, and those that are more suitable for creative, personal or reflective writing.

Tell us below how you use our Student Opinion feature in your classroom.


Questions for Debate and Persuasive Writing

  1. Is Cheating Getting Worse?
  2. If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
  3. Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
  4. Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing?
  5. Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
  6. Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
  7. Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
  8. Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ I.D. Cards?
  9. Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause?
  10. Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals?
  11. How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
  12. How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior?
  13. What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time?
  14. How Concerned Are You About Climate Change?
  15. Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful?
  16. Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea?
  17. Is It Wrong for a Newspaper to Publish a Front-Page Photo of a Man About to Die?
  18. Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors?
  19. When Should You Compromise?
  20. Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
  21. How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
  22. Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?
  23. Did a Newspaper Act Irresponsibly by Publishing the Addresses of Gun Owners?
  24. Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
  25. Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
  26. Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men?
  27. Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
  28. Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
  29. What Makes a Good Commercial?
  30. Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
  31. Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool?
  32. Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
  33. Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
  34. Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights?
  35. How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex?
  36. Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
  37. Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
  38. Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
  39. How Many Text Messages Are Too Many?
  40. Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier?
  41. Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior?
  42. Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
  43. Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
  44. What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women?
  45. Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough?
  46. How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion?
  47. How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays?
  48. Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players?
  49. Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports?
  50. Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles?
  51. Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble?
  52. When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars?
  53. How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay?
  54. How Do You Feel About Rihanna and Chris Brown Getting Back Together?
  55. Is Prom Worth It?
  56. Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription?
  57. Do People Complain Too Much?
  58. Would You Want a Pair of Google’s Computer Glasses?
  59. Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired?
  60. Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want?
  61. Should Marijuana Be Legal?
  62. What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future?
  63. Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers?
  64. Why Did a Cheerios Ad Attract So Many Angry Comments Online?
  65. Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community?
  66. What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools?
  67. Questions for Creative, Personal or Reflective Writing

  68. How Would the Presidential Campaigns Change if the Voting Age Were 13?
  69. What Are You Looking Forward To, or Dreading, This School Year?
  70. How Competitive Are You?
  71. What Music Inspires You?
  72. When Have You Ever Succeeded When You Thought You Might Fail?
  73. What ‘Back-to-the-Land’ Skills Do You Have, or Wish You Had?
  74. Would You Ever Go Through Hazing to Be Part of a Group?
  75. Is Trying Too Hard to Be Happy Making You Sad?
  76. What Are Your Sleep Habits?
  77. What Experiences Have You Had With Gender Bias in School?
  78. How Did You Start Doing Something You Love?
  79. To What Company Would You Write a Letter of Complaint or Admiration?
  80. Watching the First Presidential Debate: What Is Your Reaction?
  81. What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
  82. Are You Less Religious Than Your Parents?
  83. Do You Perform Better When You’re Competing or When You’re Collaborating?
  84. The Second Presidential Debate: Your Predictions and Reactions
  85. Do You Ever ‘Mix It Up’ and Socialize With Different People at School?
  86. What Are the Most Memorable Meals You’ve Ever Had?
  87. What Magazines Do You Read, and How Do You Read Them?
  88. Have You Ever Changed a Family Member’s Mind?
  89. What Are Your Reactions to the Final Presidential Debate and Predictions for Nov. 6?
  90. What Are the Best Souvenirs You’ve Ever Collected While Traveling?
  91. Do You Like Scary Movies and Books?
  92. What Are Your Experiences With Severe Weather?
  93. Has Anyone Ever Said That You Look Like Someone Famous?
  94. How Do You Help?
  95. Are You Distracted by Technology?
  96. When Have You Spoken Out About Something You Felt Had to Change?
  97. Who Do You Hope Wins the Election?
  98. What Is Your Reaction to the Results of the Election?
  99. Is Your Bedroom a Nightmare?
  100. Who Are the ‘Characters’ That Make Your Town Interesting?
  101. How Would Your Life Be Different If You Had Better Listening Skills?
  102. How Often Do You Cry?
  103. With Your Home in Danger, What Would You Try to Save?
  104. How Careful Are You Online?
  105. Have You Ever Been Scammed?
  106. Do You Sometimes ‘Hide’ Behind Irony?
  107. What Would You Invent to Make the World a Better Place?
  108. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings?
  109. How Much Can People Change?
  110. What’s Your Karaoke Song?
  111. How Do You Make Parenting Difficult for Your Parents?
  112. Have You Ever Been in Love?
  113. When Have You Seen Yourself and Your Life Reflected in a Book or Other Media?
  114. What Are Your Tips for Enjoying the Holiday Season?
  115. How Stressed Are You?
  116. The Newtown School Shootings: A Place to Post Your Thoughts
  117. What Will You Remember Most From 2012?
  118. How Will You Spend the Holiday Break?
  119. What Are Your Hopes for 2013?
  120. When Has a Teacher Inspired You?
  121. What Will People Wear at Costume Parties Celebrating the 2000s?
  122. How Often Do You Leave Your ‘Comfort Zone’?
  123. Do Adults Who Are ‘Only Trying to Help’ Sometimes Make Things Worse?
  124. What Were the Best Movies You Saw in 2012?
  125. Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
  126. What Have Your Parents Taught You About Money?
  127. If You Could Go Anywhere, Where Would You Want to Travel?
  128. Would You Want to Grow Up in the Public Eye?
  129. What Do You Do When You Encounter Obstacles to Success?
  130. Was There a Toy You Wanted as a Child But Never Got?
  131. How Do You Fight the Winter Blues?
  132. Who Will Win Super Bowl XLVII? Will You Be Watching?
  133. What Tech Tools Play the Biggest Role in Your Life?
  134. How Well Do You Know Your Pet?
  135. Does Being a Fan Help Define Who You Are?
  136. What’s the Most Memorable Thing You Ever Got in the Mail?
  137. What Food Would You Like to Judge in a Taste-Off?
  138. Does Your Life Leave You Enough Time to Relax?
  139. What Are Your Predictions for and Reactions to the State of the Union Address?
  140. Read Any Good Books Lately?
  141. Have You Ever Found Something Valuable?
  142. What Investment Are You Willing to Make to Get Your Dream Job?
  143. What Would You Wait in Line For?
  144. What Are Your Favorite Viral Videos?
  145. How Good is Your Grammar?
  146. What’s the Most Impressive Sports Moment You’ve Seen?
  147. Have You Ever Taken Something You Weren’t Supposed To?
  148. What Was Your Most Precious Childhood Possession?
  149. How Much Do You Know About Your Family’s History?
  150. Do You Ever Feel Guilty About What, or How Much, You Throw Away?
  151. What Makes You Happy?
  152. What Would Your Fantasy Spring Break Be Like?
  153. What Are Your Sources for Information About Colleges and Universities?
  154. What’s the Coolest Thing You’ve Ever Seen in Nature?
  155. How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
  156. Do You Ever Seek Advice on the Internet?
  157. What Would Your Ideal Summer Camp Be Like?
  158. Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests?
  159. Where Do You Want to Go to College?
  160. What Have Been Your Reactions This Week to News About the Boston Marathon Bombings?
  161. Would You Ever Consider Getting a Tattoo?
  162. What Six People, Living or Dead, Would You Invite to Dinner?
  163. What Would You Teach the World in an Online Video?
  164. What Were Your Favorite Picture Books When You Were Little?
  165. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Things You Used to Like?
  166. How Do You React When Provoked?
  167. What Kind of ‘Little Free Library’ Would You Create for Your Community?
  168. Do You Have Helicopter Parents?
  169. When Has a Sports Team Most Disappointed You?
  170. How Important Is Driving to You?
  171. What Would Your Dream Home Be Like?
  172. Do You Wish You Could Return to Moments From Your Past?
  173. How Much Slang Do You Use? What Are Your Favorite (Printable) Words?
  174. Do You Plan on Saving Any of Your Belongings for the Future?
  175. What Old Television Shows Would You Bring Back?
  176. How Careful Are You in the Sun?
  177. Do You Enjoy Reading Tabloid Gossip?
  178. What Are Your Favorite Names?
  179. What’s on Your Summer Reading List?
  180. What Are You Listening To?
  181. How Do You React to Strangers Having Private Conversations in Public?
  182. What Are the Most Important Innovations of the Last 50 Years?
  183. Have You Ever Stumbled Upon a Cool Public Performance?

Not Enough? Here are 163 Student Opinion questions from 2012, as well as 150 from 2011, 55 and another 40 from 2010.

Please note: From June 14 to Aug. 16, we’ll ask only one Student Opinion question: What Interested You Most in The Times This Week? Posting an answer any week will automatically enter anyone 13 to 19 years old in our Summer Reading Contest. On Aug. 19, our usual daily school-year questions will resume.

Questions about issues in the news for students 13 and older.

The essay: It’s one of the most important parts of your college application, and it can be the hardest. But it doesn’t have to be. Take a look at some of the most commonly asked essay questions and use them to prepare for your applications. Brainstorm ideas, do some research or create your own “stock” of application essays from the commonly used questions below.

Current Events and Social Issues
To test your skills at problem-solving and check how up-to-date you are on current issues, many applications include questions about problems and issues facing society.

  • What do you consider to be the single most important societal problem? Why?
  • Pick a controversial problem on college campuses and suggest a solution.
  • What do you see as the greatest threat to the environment today?

Personal Achievements
Colleges are looking for students who have achieved in some area of their lives. So you shouldn’t be surprised to find essay topics that ask you to brag a little.

  • Describe how you have demonstrated leadership ability both in and out of school.
  • Discuss a special attribute or accomplishment that sets you apart.
  • Describe your most meaningful achievements and how they relate to your future goals.

Background and Influences
Who you are is closely tied to where you’ve been and who you’ve known. To learn more about you, some admissions committees will ask you to write about your background and major influences.

  • Pick an experience from your own life and explain how it has influenced your development.
  • Who in your life has been your biggest influence and why?
  • How has your family background affected the way you see the world?
  • How has your education contributed to who you are today?

Future Plans and Goals
Colleges look for applicants with vision and motivation, so they might ask about your goals and aspirations.

  • Briefly describe your long- and short-term goals.
  • Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
  • Why do you want to get a college education?

Random Topics
Some essay questions don’t seem directly related to your education or life experience, but committees use them to test your creativity and get a better sense of your personality.

  • Choose a person or persons you admire and explain why.
  • Choose a book or books and that have affected you deeply and explain why.

While you can’t predict every essay question, knowing some of the most common ones can give you a leg up on applications.

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