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13 Debate Topics for College Students to Try

13 Debate Topics for College Students to Try
Great debates begin with interesting, thought-provoking debate topics. But choosing a mind-tingling debate topic is not an easy feat. You have to rake your brain to find the right balance between your interests and what your audience would like to hear. Moreover, deciding on a debate topic because of its controversial aspect alone cannot deliver a heated, engaging discussion. You have to take other aspects under consideration, spend time researching the opposing ideas, and finding data and research studies to use to support your side of the argument. This way you will be able to make sure that your topic is capable of provoking a discussion that is long-lasting and interesting.

To get you started, we sat down to come up with some interesting debate topics that are highly contested in various fields. These include both ethical debates topics and political topics to debate. You can use these topics to come up with a theme of your own or as a springboard for topics related to your school’s assigned theme.

But first, let’s go back to the basics and start from there:

What Is a Debate?

A debate can be defined as a rather formal discussion about a given topic that involves two sides representing and talking about opposing viewpoints. Debates usually have a very specific standard structure: each side is allotted the same time to speak either in favour or against the topic assigned to them.
Many students take part in debate competitions in their school to work on their public speaking skills. As a debater, you have to master how to make a clear structure of your debate and present an argument related to it. The skills you develop when you talk about good debate topics can help you in a lot of surprising situations such as your college admissions’ interview to your job presentations.
However, before you select a topic, you need to know the types of debates. It can help you see where your true calling is and what format of debate suits you the best.

Types of Debate Topics

There are three major groups of debate. While people might argue that the main essence of a debate is to present a controversial issue, develop an opinion about it, and persuade the audience and opponent that your point of view is correct, there are some subtle differences:

Persuasive Debate Topics

Persuasive speaking and writing are different from the argumentative approach. In this approach, you convince your audience and your opponents that your opinion is the only right answer. Instead of studying all points of view and forming your objective opinion. You don’t necessarily need to talk about the opposing arguments but you can, however, you, instead, concentrate on your own take on the topic. Emotional appeals work the best for persuasive debate topics. They usually require you to specify your preference such as:

  • Who is the best villain in the history of fiction ever?
  • What is the one song every person must listen to at least once?
  • What is the worst job to do in the history of employment?

Argumentative Debate Topics

Argumentative debate topics require a speaker to be aware of all the possible opinions regarding a topic and account for the opposing opinions in his debate and rebuttals. The core of this approach is based on logical arguments with facts, numbers, and substantial evidence. You can’t build an argumentative topic on your favourite music band. Therefore, argumentative debate topics are easy to research for supporting evidence. These topics are usually in the form of a question such as:

  • Should convicts be allowed to affect the society via elections?
  • Does gap year improve or obstruct a student’s educational prospects?
  • Do we need libraries if no one reads paper books anymore?

Controversial Debate Topics

While a bit similar to argumentative topics, controversial debate topics come in between the spectrum. While you have to study the commonly accepted opinion on the given issue, you have to develop and support an alternative opinion that uses both emotional and logical appeals to back up your one-of-a-kind take. Controversial debate topics need to have a clear prevailing point of view and they should enable you to present and defend your opinion on the topic that differs from the standards and conventions of debating. Some examples of controversial debate topics are:

  • Separate institutes for female and male students.
  • Getting rid of all languages except English in workplaces.
  • Consuming fast food and junk food three times a day.

Are Debates Compulsory For College Students?

Debates were used as a way to teach students in ancient Greece. Few of its earliest pioneers were the Protagoras, Aristotle, and the Sophists. The modern education system also uses debates to improve learning especially when cognitive reasoning and critical thinking are needed.
For college students, good debate topics provide them an outlet to engage in verbal participation in which they can explore complex topics relevant to class discussions and use that knowledge to support their argument. Moreover, students get the opportunity to apply their knowledge and theories to evaluate complex topics via critical thinking.
The bottom line is that debates are an amazing way to expand students’ belief systems while also widening their intellectual horizons.

The Basic Rules of Debates

As mentioned before, debates have a specific, standard structure that you have to follow to maintain the communication flow. If you are a college student who wants to try his luck at debating, then remember the following rules:

  1. The side in favour is always the first one to speak up. A counter-response from the opposing side then follows. Each member of the negative team takes their turns speaking.
  2. Each debater is allotted a maximum of one minute to present their opinion. Once the time is finished, the speaker has to wrap it up or the speech can be halted.
  3. Interrupting a debater is strictly prohibited.
  4. The audience, who mostly acts as the jury, cannot take part in the debate.
  5. The voting or verdict from the audience is usually decided with a show of hands and the majority takes the win.

The Best Debate Topics for College Students

We have compiled some of the best debate topics for college students to try:

1. Renewable Energy Should Replace Fossil Fuels

Climate change is a universal problem. Environmentalists often say that we need to use renewable energy to curb CO2 emissions considerably. Another persuasive argument that they often cite is that clean energy can result in millions of jobs. However, there are some arguments against it too such as that renewable sources are not capable of delivering energy for everyone yet. Whichever side you choose, you will receive an equal opportunity to find evidence, prepare your argument, and then present it.

2. Free Speech Is Non-Negotiable

Free speech is a controversial topic because there have been attempts to silence free speech and a debate that free speech is everyone’s right can offend and provoke. It is a timely argument in an ever-polarized world where moral and religious beliefs clash with the right to speak. You can study the pros and cons of free speech and defend your viewpoint, whether you believe it is negotiable or not.

3. Sexual Education Should Be Mandatory

Sexual education has garnered a lot of attention and opposing standpoints. While people may say that sex education should begin from home, schools are a precious source of information for kids. Many people, however, think that it shouldn’t be compulsory. You can use this topic to challenge your analytical and critical thinking skills.

4. Death Penalty Should Not Be Acceptable In the Modern World

Society has come a long way, but there are some questionable conventional practices still in place including the death penalty. You can find convincing arguments from both sides, especially the opposing ones. Some think the death penalty is a deterrent to future crimes while others counter that it goes against human rights. However, are these opinions sufficient enough to abolish the death penalty? You can use this as the ground for your debate, and cite facts to support your case.

5. Social Media Brings More Harm Than Good

Social media is a two-edged sword. Even though it offers people a way to connect and communicate with each other, too much use of social media can cause problems in real-life relationships because people start preferring virtual connections. Plus, the issue of privacy encroachment and data gathering are also real concerns. No matter what side you choose, you can generate compelling arguments to support your stance and relay your evidence and reasoning to win the debate.

6. There Is No Justification for the War on Terror

The arguments surrounding the war on terror are another good place to start for students who want to practice refuting opposing rebuttals and forming their position. This topic, just like the others, brings different issues to the table but allows students to challenge each others’ viewpoints, and test their critical thinking skills. This topic would require you to conduct thorough research and present impressive evidence that would support your case.

7. Public Colleges Should Offer Free Tuition

Many people are now pushing to get a college degree but many low-income families are unable to fulfill that dream because of the fees at public colleges. Many school administrators have a stake in this debate, which could be tough for people in favour and against free college tuition. This problem also concerns students, their families, educational institutions, policymakers, and taxpayers. You can formulate compelling arguments regardless of the side you are on, to offer interesting realizations and insights for the class.

8. There Is a Need to Restore Internet Neutrality

The question of internet neutrality has been in discussion for quite long. Net neutrality means that businesses and consumers should get open access to content available online without the internet providers intervening. You can use this debate to raises specific issues, which will also make for insightful and interesting arguments

9. Euthanasia Should Be Permitted

This has always been the inspiration for heated debates. It provokes dynamic and complex debates around moral, legal, and ethical human rights as well as cultural, special, and economic cultural aspects. Whether you agree that euthanasia should be allowed or not, you can put forward some amazing arguments that will hone your critical thinking skills and your capability to formulate insightful arguments.

10. Plastic Should Be Banned

Though environmentalists and social workers and even normal citizens have hammered that plastic poses a grave danger to our planet, there are still so many compelling arguments against banning plastic. This topic will allow both sides of the argument to find evidence and facts to support their stance.

11. The Universal Basic Income Should Be Everyone’s Right

Recent events, especially with the Covid-19 have seen the rise in the issue of universal income or minimum wage. You can use the economic ramifications of this topic to make a strong point, this topic is a great way to make students learn how to gather facts, compile evidence, and put their strongest arguments forward. This topic, safe to say, does not have one single right answer but it can be used to come up with a compelling case to support your

12. All Animal Testing Should Be Banned

Animal testing has become a global concern, thanks to the hard work done by animal rights activists. This topic can not only be insightful but also act as a challenging point of argument capable of bringing out students’ analytical reasoning. It also covers a diverse array of specific problems, including their impact on human advancement while keeping technological and scientific practices morally and ethically acceptable. You can do in-depth research and find evidence to solidify your case.

Standardized Tests Should Be Abolished

In the last few years, debates regarding the standardized tests have been presented by stockholders, parents, and administrators. On one side, people argue that standardized tests are for the benefit of the students because these tests can be used as a metric for learning. Plus, the schools can also evaluate the assessments arranged to evaluate the students’ progress. But on the other side, the not-so-impressive results of these assessments also hurt the self-esteem and confidence of the students. Therefore, many people hold the opinion that standardized tests should not be used as the basis for evaluating a student’s abilities. You can use this as a debate topic, to bring important educational issues to the forefront while working on your critical and logical thinking skills.

Advantages of Incorporating Debates in Classes

Debates help students develop an influential and dynamic mindset while sharpening their learning skills such as creativity, verbal communication, teamwork, and critical thinking. They shape students’ presentational abilities and improve their cognitive capacity. Here are some more benefits of debates:

  • Debates help cultivate students’ comprehension of rational arguments, encourage them to expound their viewpoint, and exploit rhetorical eloquence. Debates enable them to keep their wits under pressure.
  • They let students take part and engross in interest-based learning activities. This enhances their capability to retain important information. After all, their brains get engaged more thoroughly during debates because they immerse themselves into complex topics and uphold their stance.
  • Debates teach college students the power of working and collaborating together as a team. A debate team often works together to do research and formulate blueprints that would help them win. Knowing that they have each other’s back boosts their morale and ends up forming a special bond as they work together.
  • Students’ analytical and problem-solving skills are honed. They are also able to work on their ability to structure and organize in order to present their argument in the best possible way.
  • Most importantly, college students also learn how to come up with informed arguments and use supporting evidence and reasoning to boost their standpoint.
Debates are extremely crucial for law and political science students because they help them develop vital delivery skills and speech composition, which are fundamental for their future careers. And even if you are not a law student, you can try easy debate topics to overcome your phobia of public speaking. Try taking part in competitions to expand your social network, meet like-minded people, and build your character.

How do you Prepare for a Debate?

Once you are sure of the topic that you want to talk about, then the next step for you to start is the preparation for your debate. You can follow the following steps to come up with strong arguments as you get ready to take the podium.

Read the Evidence

The first and the most important thing that you need to do to build your confidence in your debate is to get familiar with your evidence. Select reputable sources to gather your data and use the empirical data gathered effectively. Read your topic thoroughly. The more you read it, the better you’ll be at defending your case point and anticipate the opposing side’s arguments.

Anticipate the Opposing Side’s Arguments

As part of your debate, you will also have to rebut your opponent’s arguments and nullify them. To do that effectively, we advise you to prepare ahead of time so you can guess what they are going to talk about before they talk about it. By doing so, you will be able to bolster your own arguments because you will be dismantling what the opposing side is saying.

Plan to Fill Your Speech Time

As we have mentioned earlier, every speaker gets a specific amount of time to speak. Plan ahead of time to utilize every second to prove your point and present your evidence too. Make sure that you have thoroughly rehearsed your talking points so you can stay within the time frame.

Practice to Build Confidence

It can be quite daunting to go up to the stage and talk in front of a lot of people. But remember that practice is key here. Practicing for your debate will help you build your confidence. Plus, it also helps you understand your argument even better.

How Do You Choose Good Debate Topics?

Although it is daily simple and easy to find a nice debate topic, it is still important to consider some important factors. A good place to start would be to select the area you like. Keep the following tips in mind when choosing a debate topic.

  • Interest – Go for a topic you like. Plus, it should be according to your audience’s level of intellect. Because that will make your writing process more fun.
  • Argument Potential – Choose a debate topic with a strong argument potential for both the in favour and the against sides. If there is not sufficient data for one of the sides then it will be tough to come up with solid debate arguments.
  • Availability of Data – Valid data helps draft a solid and credible thesis. So, go for a popular debate topic with loads of empirical data.
After you have chosen your topic, all you need to do is prepare it and then impress your audience with your amazing debating skills while impressing them with your critical reasoning, analytical thinking, and defending abilities.

Final Thoughts

Debates are the perfect way to get rid of your public speaking phobia and hone your public speaking skills. Selecting a good topic can be challenging but once you nail that part there is no stopping you from defending your argument. Use these amazing debate topics for your college debate and amaze everyone!

And if you think you are not ready yet, then you do not need to lose hope or back down from the competition, all you need to do is keep practicing. Do not lose hope and keep working on your skills. You never know where the skills learned from debating come in handy in your future especially if your career requires a lot of public speaking.

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With over 3 years of experience in teaching, Chloe is very deeply connected with the topics that talk about the educational and general aspects of a student's life. Her writing has been very helpful for students to gain a better understanding of their academics and personal well-being. I’m also open to any suggestions that you might have! Please reach out to me at chloedaniel402 [at]