Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
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If anything ever published on The Learning Network could be said to have “gone viral,” it is last February’s “200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing,” which we created to help teachers and students participate in our inaugural Student Editorial Contest.
We’ve now updated last year’s list with new questions and what we hope is more useful categorization.
So scroll through the 301 prompts below that touch on every aspect of contemporary life — from politics to sports, culture, education and technology — and see which ones most inspire you to take a stand. Each question comes from our daily Student Opinion feature, and each provides links to free Times resources for finding more information.
What issues do you care about most? Find something to write about here, or post a comment if you think we’ve missed a topic you would like to see us cover.
And if these 301 questions aren’t enough, the Room for Debate blog provides many, many more.
- Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
- Are You Distracted by Technology?
- Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smartphones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
- Will Wearable Technology Ever Really Catch On?
- Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful?
- Do You Worry We Are Filming Too Much?
- Would You Want a Pair of Google’s Computer Glasses?
- What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future?
- How Many Text Messages Are Too Many?
- Has Facebook Lost Its Edge?
- Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
- Would You Consider Deleting Your Facebook Account?
- Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired?
- Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?
- How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?
- Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive?
- Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?
- Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class?
- Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools?
- Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
- Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?
- How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays?
- Is TV Stronger Than Ever, or Becoming Obsolete?
- Do TV Shows Like ‘16 and Pregnant’ Promote or Discourage Teenage Pregnancy?
- Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?
- Does TV Capture the Diversity of America Yet?
- Is TV Too White?
- Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies?
- What Makes a Good TV Show Finale?
- What Makes a Good Commercial?
- Why Did a Cheerios Ad Attract So Many Angry Comments Online?
- What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
- Does Live Theater Offer Something You Just Can’t Get Watching Movies or TV?
- What Can You Predict About the Future of the Music Industry?
- What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time?
- What Artists or Bands of Today Are Destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
- What Artists Do You Consider ‘Sellouts’?
- What Musician, Actor or Author Should Be a Superstar, but Hasn’t Quite Made It Yet?
- Who Does Hip-Hop Belong To?
- Will Musical Training Make You More Successful?
- Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport?
- Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors?
- Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
- When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
- Can a Video Game Be a Work of Art?
- What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
- How Sexist Is the Gaming World?
- Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
- Does Reading a Book Count More Than Listening to One?
- To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
- Who Are the Characters That Authors Should Be Writing About?
- Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
- Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
- Do We Need Art in Our Lives?
- Does Pop Culture Deserve Serious Study?
- Where Is the Line Between Truth and Fiction?
- Should Society Support Artists and Others Pursuing Creative Works?
- Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
- Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
- Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
- How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
- Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks?
- Doctored Photos: O.K. or Not?
- Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
- Do We Need New Ways to Identify Gender and Sexuality?
- What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women?
- How Do You Feel About Rihanna and Chris Brown Getting Back Together?
- Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles?
- Why Aren’t More Girls Choosing to Pursue Careers in Math and Science?
- Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men?
- Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?
- Are Women Better at Compromising and Collaborating?
- Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?
- Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School?
- Is It O.K. to Refuse to Serve Same-Sex Couples Based on Religious Beliefs?
- Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription?
- Should the Morning-After Pill Be Sold Over the Counter to People Under 17?
- How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex?
- Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
- Is Hookup Culture Leaving Your Generation Unhappy and Unprepared for Love?
- Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?
- Could Following These Directions Make You Fall in Love With a Stranger?
- How Should Educators and Legislators Deal With Minors Who ‘Sext’?
- How Should Parents Address Internet Pornography?
- If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
- Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football?
- Should College Football Players Get Paid?
- Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots?
- Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense?
- Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players?
- Do Sports Teams Have a Responsibility to Hold Players to a Standard for Their Personal Conduct?
- Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals?
- Do Fans Put Too Much Pressure on Their Favorite Professional Athletes?
- Does a Championship Game Always Need to Have a Winner (and a Loser)?
- Should Sports Betting Be Legal Everywhere?
- Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports?
- Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights?
- Has Baseball Lost Its Cool?
- Is Cheerleading a Sport?
- How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay?
- Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community?
- How Young Is Too Young to Climb Mount Everest?
- Do You Trust Your Government?
- If You Were Governor of Your State, How Would You Spend a Budget Surplus?
- What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
- Should Rich People Have to Pay More Taxes?
- What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security?
- Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations?
- Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing?
- Is It Principled, or Irresponsible, for Politicians to Threaten a Shutdown?
- Should the U.S. Be Spying on Its Friends?
- When Is the Use of Military Force Justified?
- Should Countries Pay Ransoms to Free Hostages Held by Terrorists?
- Should the United States Stop Using the Death Penalty?
- When Should Juvenile Offenders Receive Life Sentences?
- What Do You Think of the Police Tactic of Stop-and-Frisk?
- Do Rich People Get Off Easier When They Break the Law?
- Should All Police Officers Wear Body Cameras?
- Will What Happened in Ferguson Change Anything?
- Should Felons Be Allowed to Vote After They Have Served Their Time?
- How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
- Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
- What Is Your Relationship With Guns?
- Where Do You Stand on Unconcealed Handguns?
- Should Guns Be Permitted on College Campuses?
- Did a Newspaper Act Irresponsibly by Publishing the Addresses of Gun Owners?
- Should Millions of Undocumented Immigrants Be Allowed to Live in the U.S. Without Fear of Getting Deported?
- Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education?
- How Much Freedom Should Parents Give Their Children?
- How Should Parents Discipline Their Kids?
- When Does Discipline Become Child Abuse?
- Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior?
- Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies?
- Are Adults Hurting Young Children by Pushing Them to Achieve?
- Is Modern Culture Ruining Childhood?
- How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior?
- Are ‘Dark’ Movies O.K. for Kids?
- Should Halloween Costumes Portray Only ‘Positive Images’?
- Are Parents Violating Their Children’s Privacy When They Share Photos and Videos of Them Online?
- Should Children Be Allowed to Compete on TV?
- How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone?
- Should Parents Limit How Much Time Children Spend on Tech Devices?
- How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?
- How Important Are Parent-Teacher Conferences?
- Who Should Be Able to See Students’ Records?
- Would You Want to Be Home-Schooled?
- Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool?
- How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?
- Does Keeping a Messy Desk Make People More Creative?
- What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
- Does Your Generation Have Too Much Self-Esteem?
- Is Your Generation Really ‘Postracial’?
- When Do You Become an Adult?
- When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars?
- When You Are Old Enough to Vote, Will You?
- Can Money Buy You Happiness?
- Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier?
- Are We Losing the Art of Listening?
- Do People Complain Too Much?
- Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?
- How Important Is Keeping Your Cool?
- When Should You Compromise?
- Is Your Generation More Self-Centered Than Earlier Generations?
- Do You Believe That Everything Happens for a Reason?
- How Much Control Do You Think You Have Over Your Fate?
- Can You Be Good Without God?
- How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion?
- Does Suffering Make Us Stronger and Lead to Success?
- Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble?
- When Is Looting Morally O.K.?
- Can Kindness Become Cool?
- Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
- What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
- What Words or Phrases Should Be Retired?
- Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?
- Should Newspapers Reprint Cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad That Some Deem Offensive?
- Is It Wrong for a Newspaper to Publish a Front-Page Photo of a Man About to Die?
- Do Teachers Assign Too Much Homework?
- Does Your Homework Help You Learn?
- What Are You Really Learning at School?
- Does Class Size Matter?
- Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
- Does Gym Help Students Perform Better in All Their Classes?
- Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
- What Are the Best Ways to Learn About History?
- What Is the Right Amount of Group Work in School?
- What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools?
- How Important Is Arts Education?
- Do Schools Provide Students With Enough Opportunities to Be Creative?
- Does the Way Your Classroom Is Decorated Affect Your Learning?
- What Are the Best Teaching Methods for Getting Students to Behave Well in Class?
- How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
- Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment?
- Is Cheating Getting Worse?
- Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards?
- Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
- Should Students Be Barred From Taking Cellphones to School?
- How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
- How Should Schools Address Bullying?
- How Should Schools Address Cyberbullying?
- What Should the Punishment Be for Acts of Cyberbullying?
- When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying?
- How Should Schools Respond to Hazing Incidents?
- Should the School Day Start Later?
- Is Your School Day Too Short?
- Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea?
- Should the Dropout Age Be Raised?
- Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School?
- Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
- Should Kids Head to College Early?
- Class Time + Substitute = Waste?
- Do Kids Need Recess?
- Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
- Does Your School Hand Out Too Many A’s?
- Do Girls Get Better Grades Than Boys in Your School?
- Does Separating Boys and Girls Help Students Perform Better in School?
- Why Do Boys Lag Behind Girls in Reading?
- Should Discomfort Excuse Students From Having to Complete an Assignment?
- How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
- How Seriously Should We Take Standardized Tests?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests?
- Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?
- Would You Rather Attend a Public or a Private High School?
- How Much Does It Matter to You Which High School You Attend?
- Are Small Schools More Effective Than Large Schools?
- Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports?
- Should All Students Get Equal Space in a Yearbook?
- Should School Newspapers Be Subject to Prior Review?
- Is Prom Worth It?
- Is Prom Just an Excuse to Drink?
- How Necessary Is a College Education?
- Is College Overrated?
- Should a College Education be Free?
- What Is the Perfect Number of College Applications to Send?
- Should Colleges Find a Better Way to Admit Students?
- Should Colleges Use Admissions Criteria Other Than SAT Scores and Grades?
- Do You Support Affirmative Action in College Admissions?
- Does It Matter Where You Go to College?
- Do College Rankings Matter?
- What Criteria Should Be Used in Awarding Scholarships for College?
- Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors?
- Do Fraternities Promote Misogyny?
- Should Colleges Ban Fraternities?
- Would You Quit if Your Values Did Not Match Your Employer’s?
- Should Employers Be Able to Review Job Applicants’ SAT Scores?
- Do You Worry Colleges or Employers Might Read Your Social Media Posts Someday?
- Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
- Is ‘Doing Nothing’ a Good Use of Your Time?
- Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers?
- Are Antismoking Ads Effective?
- Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers?
- Should Marijuana Be Legal?
- Should Students Be Required to Take Drug Tests?
- Why Is Binge Drinking So Common Among Young People in the United States?
- Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause?
- Should French Fries and Pizza Sauce Count as Vegetables?
- How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From?
- Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?
- Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?
- Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’?
- Should Sugary Drinks Be Taxed?
- Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
- How Should Schools Handle Unvaccinated Students?
- Should Physician-Assisted Suicide Be Legal in Every State?
- Should Texting While Driving Be Illegal in Every State?
- Should Terminally Ill Patients Be Allowed to Die on Their Own Terms?
- Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want?
- What Are Your Opinions on Cosmetic Surgery?
- Do ‘Saggy Pants’ Mean Disrespect?
- Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
- How Concerned Are You About Climate Change?
- How Should Nations and Individuals Address Climate Change?
- Should Developers Be Allowed to Build in and Near the Grand Canyon?
- Should Scientists Try to Help People Beat Old Age So We Can Live Longer Lives?
- Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate?
- When Is It O.K. to Replace Human Limbs With Technology?
- Should Fertilized Eggs Be Given Legal ‘Personhood’?
- Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
- Do You Believe in Intelligent Alien Life?
- Will Humans Live on Mars Someday?
- Would You Want to Be a Space Tourist?
- Should Certain Animals Have Some of the Same Legal Rights As People?
- Is It Unethical for a Zoo to Kill a Healthy Giraffe?
- Should You Go to Jail for Kicking a Cat?
- Should You Feel Guilty About Killing Spiders, Ants or Other Bugs?
- How Do You Think Dinosaurs Went Extinct?
- Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
- Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough?
- Should the United States Care That It’s Not No. 1?
- Is It Possible to Start Out Poor in This Country, Work Hard and Become Well-Off?
- Do Poor People ‘Have It Easy’?
- How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?
- Should Charities Focus More on America?
- What Causes Should Philanthropic Groups Finance?
- Is Teenage ‘Voluntourism’ Wrong?
- Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses?
- Is Amazon Becoming Too Powerful?
- Should Companies Collect Information About You?
- What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?
- How Long Is It O.K. to Linger in a Cafe or Restaurant?
Internet and Social Media
Technology in Schools
ART, FILM, BOOKS, VIDEO GAMES AND OTHER MEDIA
Movies, TV and Theater
GENDER AND RELATIONSHIPS
Dating and Sex
SPORTS AND ATHLETICS
POLITICS AND POLICY
Leadership and Politics
Police, Prisons and Justice System
PARENTS AND FAMILIES
Parenting and Childhood
Parents and School
House and Home
Becoming an Adult
CHARACTER AND MORALITY
Religion and Spirituality
Morality and Personal Responsibility
Language and Standards
Teaching and Learning
Discipline and School Rules
Time in School
COLLEGE AND CAREER
Jobs and Careers
HEALTH AND NUTRITION
Drugs, Cigarettes and Alcohol
Nutrition and Food
Appearance and Fashion
Science and the Environment
Rich and Famous
Charity and Philanthropy
Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.
Famed for its entrepreneurial spirit and laid back environment, Stanford University is a great option for students looking for a more science and engineering focused institution than Harvard, Yale, Columbia, or the University of Chicago. When combined with the (relatively) warm weather in California, it is little wonder that Stanford now takes the mantle as America’s most selective university, with an acceptance rate of 5.1% for the class of 2018.
Like many institutions, Stanford requires applicants to answer several short essays and questions. Unlike single-prompt supplements, supplements with multiple short prompts require you to utilize several different topics. Thematically, you should not write all of your essays about the same thing, whether that’s an extracurricular passion, or a particular facet of your personality that you wish to highlight. Instead, your essays should work like a portfolio, each one acting to highlight a different portion of your application or personality, with a collective effect that conveys what you want. The short answer questions also fit into this portfolio, because they allow you to reinforce key themes from your essay, or introduce additional components of your life or personality.
Briefly respond to the following seven inquiries so we can get to know you better. Do not feel compelled to use complete sentences.
- Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists. (50 word limit)
- What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy? (50 word limit)
- What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)
- How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)
- What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? (50 word limit)
- What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)
- What five words best describe you?
These short answer questions are nice in that they don’t necessarily have any wrong answers. For the most part, you are okay answering these questions truthfully, so long as you avoid potentially controversial or offensive responses. These questions are designed to give admissions officers a brief look at your personality, and each answer reflects a different portion of your personality or application. For the most part, your answers can be very straightforward and they convey straightforward things. For example, if you said that you wish you could have witnessed W.E.B Dubois’ “Talented Tenth” speech, then the Stanford admissions counselors will know that you are interested in history and in questions related to race and racial relations. Normally with short answer questions, you might want to avoid writing an extremely advanced work of literature or erudite publication down as your “favorite.” However, because you have 50 words to work with, you can afford to list out several different books, publications, and the like. If possible, try to strike a balance between things that are pure enjoyment and things that are educational. Also, if you decide to feature a particular theme for your application, you should try to make sure that some of your answers to these questions reinforce that theme.
Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)
This essay is similar to the extracurricular prompt that used to be on the Common Application. One option for writing this essay is to choose the most meaningful or in-depth extracurricular on your application and then write about that. However, if your Common Application essay significantly addresses this activity, you should try to move on to another on your resume. You can choose almost every activity, however you shouldn’t be writing about a superficial experience just because it fits with your major – focus on more meaningful ones. With regards to the content of the essay, your focus should be on specificity. Don’t just recount your accomplishments in that activity (that belongs on a resume) focus either on what you learned from it, what it says about you, or a specific event or project within that activity that illustrates your ability to execute key projects or your ability to work well with others. Another option is to write a descriptive anecdote about a particular moment or accomplishment during one of your extracurricular activities. This option doesn’t offer as much in the way of highlighting your accomplishment or skills, but instead allows you to show off your writing prowess.
What matters to you, and why? (100 to 250 words)
While it may seem as though this essay is asking you to discuss a social justice cause or some sort of “problem” with the world, the actual prompt is a lot broader. Basically, Stanford wants to know what’s at your core, the things that take up the majority of your mental desire. The focus of this essay should be on the “why” portion of the essay, the “what” is important, but your explanation of the “why” is ultimately what will convey something new about you. Pretty much any topic, so long as you can legitimately describe why it matters to you is fair game, though with potentially controversial topics such as religion and politics, your focus should be explicitly on yourself. It’s okay to discuss how Christianity, for example, helped you gain a new appreciation for the value of personal discipline, but you shouldn’t discuss your deep held desire to convert others to Christianity, because the idea of religious conversion could be offensive or controversial to some.
Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate — and us — know you better. (100 to 250 words)
This essay is as much about what not to say as about what you should say. The key thing to avoid in this essay is, anything that could disqualify you in the eyes of the admissions committee. While you don’t want to write something that’s bland and clichéd, you should avoid discussing illegal or unsavory activities (for example your passion for cabaret clubs and/or the consumption of marijuana). Conversely, you shouldn’t be afraid to explore your quirky side. Good topics are always unique hobbies or interesting personality quirks and it’s perfectly fine to get a little weird. You can also talk about your favorite experiences with friends and how you’d enjoy similar experiences with a hypothetical roommate. But you should probably stay away from things like politics. You can say you’re politically motivated if you are, but don’t indicate which party or ideology you tend to support. Also, try not to talk about specific political issues, especially if you hold a conservative viewpoint. It’s very easy to offend someone with politics.
Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. (100 to 250 words)
The focus of this essay should be how and why the idea impacted you, not necessarily discussion and explanation of the idea itself. If possible, you should spend maybe 50 words discussing the idea, and then the remainder of the essay analyzing its impact on your intellectual development. And with regards to the latter aspect, you should either discuss how the process gave you an important skill, or how it made you fall in love with a field (ideally one that’s tied to your major). For example, you could discuss the idea of quantitative easing (a monetary policy tool – more broadly an economics idea) to either discuss how it gave one the ability to be analytical or how it made you fall in love with economics (your major). Your idea need not be so academic. The term “intellectual development” can be applied loosely to almost anything you like. For example, you could talk about a type of dance move, and how your persistent perusal of the internet looking for tips on successfully performing said dance move inspired you to become a music major.
Zack was an economics major at Harvard before going on indefinite leave to pursue CollegeVine full-time as a founder. In his spare time, he enjoys closely following politics and binge-watching horror movies. To see Zack's full bio, visit the Team page.