If you are a student, you can expect to encounter the compare and contrast essay. Your assignment may overtly ask you to compare and contrast two topics or it may use other language, such as asking you to point out similarities and differences or to explore how two or more different things treat or approach a particular concept or theme.
You may also be asked only to compare or only to contrast. You may also be asked to compare and contrast and then use that information to support a third concept. Therefore, before you start your essay or pick your topic, be sure you thoroughly understand your assignment so you can pick the perfect topic.
The foundation of a great compare and contrast essay is the topic. For a comparison essay, you want to pick two things with significant similarities, but that are not so similar that their similarities are obvious or uninteresting.
For a contrast essay, you want to pick two things that are different, but that are not so fundamentally unalike that you contrasting them becomes difficult. For an essay that asks you to compare and contrast, you want to choose topics that offer a mix of similarities and differences, but do not be afraid to point out similarities between things that many people consider opposites or to highlight differences between things that many people consider very alike.
In this article, we will give you a number of great comparison/contrast essay topics. For each topic, we will list three points of comparison and three points of contrast, to give you a good start on your own essay.
Compare & Contrast Essay Topics
Topics For College Students
Cohabitating and getting married
Similarities: Living with a partner in a presumed monogamous romantic relationship; sharing responsibility for bills; and seen as a significant step in a relationship.
Differences: Have to divorce in order to separate; financial obligations for your partner’s debts incurred during the relationship; and the presumption that a child born during the marriage belongs to both partners.
Online and traditional classes
Similarities: Curricula are the same in online and traditional classes; students participate in both venues; and students are responsible for managing their own time and handling deadlines.
Differences: Online classes allow greater flexibility; online forums encourage student participation; and online classes lack the friendship-building properties of traditional classes.
Marijuana and alcohol
Similarities: Safe for most people if used in moderation; some medical benefits with moderate usage; and negative cardiovascular impact from heavy usage.
Differences: Marijuana is illegal in most states and federal drug policy means it remains uncertain whether state efforts to legalize marijuana will be valid; although possible it is exceedingly difficult to have a lethal overdose on marijuana while many people overdose on alcohol; and alcohol is more likely to interact with other drugs than marijuana.
Graduate school and starting work immediately after college
Similarities: Both graduate school and starting career-specific work after college require degrees; graduate school and starting work both require more initiative than undergraduate work; and transition from student housing situations like dorms or fraternity/sorority houses to more independent living scenarios.
Differences: Although they may be paid, graduate students make less money than people who start their careers; people who attend graduate school may increase lifelong learning potential; and graduate students do not have the same flexibility in locations or programs as those entering the workforce.
United States and North Korea
Similarities: Both have Constitutions; both have three-branch governments consisting of executive, judicial, and legislative branches; and both have universal suffrage
Differences: The U.S. is a federalist republic, while North Korea is a communist dictatorship; the United States is substantially larger than North Korea; and the U.S. has guaranteed freedom for the press while North Korea has a limited press.
Domestic terrorists and radical Islamic terrorists
Similarities: Use violence and fear to try to effectuate political change; express fundamentalist religious beliefs; and take a regressive view of women in society.
Differences: Radical Islamic terrorists come from an Islamic religious background while domestic terrorists have come from a Christian background; domestic terrorists tend to have links to white nationalist groups; and domestic terrorists have committed far more attacks on U.S. soil than radical Islamic terrorists.
Murder and suicide
Similarities: Both involve killing a person; both are difficult for survivors; and the rates of both are increased by access to weapons.
Difference: Suicide results in the death of the actor, while murder results in the death of a victim; murder is a crime but it is rare for anyone to face criminal charges for a suicide; suicide is almost always rooted in mental illness but murder has a number of different causes.
Edward Snowden and Julian Assange
Similarities: They were both responsible for helping spread confidential information; both fled to avoid prosecution; both used Wikileaks to spread their information.
Differences: Snowden was a source for confidential information, while Assange was a publisher; Assange is accused of sex crimes; and Snowden is in Russia.
Bill Cosby and Bill O’Reilly
Similarities: Both are elderly men with a long career in show business; both had a large fan base; and both have a number of accusations of sexual misconduct.
Differences: Public outcry against Cosby was much more vigorous than outcry against O’Reilly; Cosby is accused of sexual assault while O’Reilly is accused of sexual harassment; and O’Reilly lost custody of his children due to allegations of domestic violence.
Tomi Lahren and Rachel Maddow
Similarities: Both are newscasters; both are popular with a political base; both are pro-choice.
Differences: Lahren is very right wing while Maddow is a left-leaning moderate; Maddow has a doctorate in Politics from Oxford while Lahren holds a bachelor degree from the University of Nevada; Lahren is supportive of the alt. right while Maddow is critical of the alt-right.
Physical abuse and emotional abuse
Similarities: Both physical and emotional abuse can have lifelong consequences; children who witness both types of abuse experience significant troubles; both are cyclical in nature.
Differences: Physical abuse is easier to recognize than emotional abuse; emotional abuse takes longer to treat than most physical abuse; physical abuse can be criminally prosecuted while emotional abuse of adults usually cannot.
Being compulsive and being conscientious
Similarities: Both compulsive and conscientious people want to finish things to a particular standard; compulsive and conscientious people are more likely to finish tasks; both refer to a desire to do things thoroughly.
Differences: Compulsiveness is about meeting one’s own standards while conscientiousness is about meeting others standards; compulsive people may experience discomfort or anxiety if unable to complete a task; and compulsive behavior may actually prevent a person from finishing a task.
Love and lust
Similarities: Love and lust both play a role in the creation and maintenance of families; romantic love and lust both begin around puberty; and both can make you feel very happy to see the object of your desire.
Differences: Love is an intense feeling of affection and care, while lust refers to sexual desire; love is signified by mutual commitment; love is a foundation for a long-term relationship while lust is a foundation for a short-term relationship.
Topics for High School Students
Small and large universities
Similarities: Curricula are similar at large and small universities; admission requirements are similar at both types of universities; and both offer a variety of extracurricular activities for students.
Differences: Class sizes at small universities are usually smaller than at large universities; large universities are better able to attract the best and brightest professors in their fields; and students have a greater opportunity to stand out at small universities.
Being single and being in a relationship
Similarities: Relationship status can impact self-esteem; some people who are in the other relationship status will be jealous of your status; and you will sometimes experience loneliness, regardless of your relationship statute.
Differences: Being in a relationship involves cooperation; being single
Star Wars and Star Trek
Similarities: Both are huge science fiction franchises; both have large fanbases; both are set in space.
Differences: Star Wars depicts a broad good versus evil story while Star Trek does not have a single “bad guy”; Star Wars incorporates fantasy elements as well as sci-fi elements; Star Trek began as a successful television franchise.
Having children as a teen and having children late-in-life
Similarities: Both young parents and older parents are parents; children and parents change and grow over a child’s lifetime; and both younger and older parents make mistakes.
Differences: Young parents tend to have more energy for children; older parents tend to have better financial resources; and older parents may rely more on their children as they enter old-age.
Slavery and indentured servitude
Similarities: Both involved unpaid work for a master; both practices involved transport from one country to another; both systems failed to protect people.
Differences: Indentured servants intentionally entered into those relationships; the children of slaves were born into slavery; and slavery evolved into a race-based system.
Buying a car and leasing a car
Similarities: You are securing the use of a car; your creditworthiness impacts the offers available to you; you have to put money down to purchase or lease.
Differences: You can buy a used car but opportunities to lease a used car are limited; you do not own a car at the end of a lease; you have mileage limits for a lease.
Macklemore and Eminem
Similarities: Both are white artists who have been accused of appropriating black cultures; both are musicians; and both are Grammy winners.
Differences: Eminem is 11 years older than Macklemore; Eminem has a history of misogynist lyrics; and Macklemore is known for his pro LGTQB stance.
Introverts and extraverts
Similarities: Both describe ways that people get their emotional energy; introverts and extraverts both need alone time sometimes; and introverts and extraverts both enjoy some social interactions.
Differences: Introverts recharge their energy through alone time; extraverts recharge their energy through social interactions; and society has traditionally been biased in favor of extraverts.
William Shakespeare and Stephen King
Similarities: Both were extremely popular authors; both were extremely prolific writers; and both incorporated the supernatural in their story lines.
Differences: William Shakespeare wrote in Elizabethan England while Shakespeare writes in the modern United States; there is controversy about whether Shakespeare wrote all the works attributed to him but no controversy over King being the author of his works; and Shakespeare wrote plays and poems while King primarily writes prose.
Children of divorced parents and children of married parents:
Similarities: Both types of children have two biological parents; both types of children may have siblings; both types of children may have complicated family situations.
Differences: Children of divorced parents are more likely to experience financial difficulties; children of divorced parents may have stepparents and stepsiblings; and children of divorced parents may have limited or no access to one biological parent.
Humans and chimpanzees
Similarities: Both evolved from a common ancestor; both use tools; and neither naturally reproduces with other great apes.
Differences: Humans are less hairy than chimpanzees; humans have 46 chromosomes while chimpanzees have 48; the human brain capacity is three to four times larger than chimpanzee brain capacity.
E.L. James and J.K. Rowling
Similarities: Both are female authors; both are British; and both have written best-selling series.
Differences: James writes erotica geared towards adults while Rowling writes young adult fiction; Rowling maintains a strong Twitter presence; and Rowling’s work has been praised as strongly feminist while James’ work has faced criticism as being misogynistic.
Body piercing and tattoos
Similarities: Both are forms of body modification; both use needles; and both face some lingering social stigmas.
Differences: Body piercing is removable while tattoos are permanent; most areas allow minors to get body piercings with adult permission but require those receiving tattoos to be adults; and some body piercings may be done at accessory shops while tattoos are not done in that environment.
Topics for Middle School Students
Dress code and school uniforms
Similarities: Both restrict what students can wear at school; both have pros and cons; and both focus on modest clothing.
Differences: School uniforms eliminate some of the competition that comes with clothing and brands; dress code enforcement tends to be gender-biased; and dress codes allow greater levels of expression.
Divergent and The Hunger Games
Similarities: Both are dystopian literature; both feature young female protagonists; and both were the starts of successful book and movie franchises.
Differences: In Divergent, people are separated into factions according to ability while people are separated into geographic districts in The Hunger Games; Tris is a soldier but Katniss is a rebellion leader; and Katniss experiences a love triangle while Tris’ forms romantic attachment to one person.
Texting and talking on the phone
Similarities: Both are forms of communication; both can be done from cell phones and other communications devices; and both can include two or more people in the conversation.
Differences: Talking on the phone uses voice communication; texting can be done in a greater variety of circumstances; and talking on the phone is a real-time communication while texting does not have to be real-time.
Books and movies
Similarities: Both can portray a range of genres; both allow the audience to experience a different time, place, or setting; and both can be very profitable.
Differences: Books allow can be written from a first-person perspective that is difficult in movies; movies are usually shorter than books; and movies can portray a scene in an instant while a book require readers to use their imagination.
Anorexia and bulimia
Similarities: Both are eating disorders; both stem from the sufferer’s perception that he or she is overweight; and both can be successfully treated if caught in time.
Differences: Anorexics use food restriction and exercise to limit calories; bulimics use vomiting or the use of diuretics to eliminate calories that have been consumed; a medical diagnosis of anorexia requires the sufferer to be 15% below ideal body weight.
Christianity and Islam
Similarities: Both are Abrahamic religions; both believe in Jesus; both are one of the world’s major religions.
Differences: Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, while Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet; Muslims believe in the prophet Muhammed; and Christians trace their religious ties to Abraham through Isaac while Muslims traces them through Ishmael.
Bullying and teasing
Similarities: Both may involve calling names; both have the potential to be harmful; and how the recipient interprets behavior helps define the behavior.
Differences: Teasing stops when the victim asks for it to stop; bullying is meant to hurt; bullying can have lasting negative repercussions.
Creationism and evolution
Similarities: Both theories attempt to explain the origins of man; both theories account for the origins of animals; and both theories use an appeal to authority to support them.
Differences: Evolution uses science to support it; creationism uses religion to support it; there is no scientific support for theories of young-Earth creationism.
Abstinence only sex-education and science-based sex-education
Similarities: Both teach fundamentals of human reproduction; both are targeted towards children before they begin having sex; and both have some success.
Differences: Abstinence-only sex education results in teens delaying the average age of first sexual experience; science-based sex education results in lower teen pregnancy rates; science-based sex education teaches STD prevention
Being an only child and having siblings
Similarities: Only children and children with siblings form important relationships with peers, both have parents, and both have to learn compromise.
Differences: Children with siblings have to share parental affection; only children tend to have greater access to resources; and only children tend to be more successful.
Parents and grandparents
Similarities: Both are ancestors; both have an interest in your well-being; and both engage in discipline and love.
Differences: Usually parents raise you; grandparents have less authority than parents; and parents have greater responsibility and rights than grandparents.
Unicorns and dragons
Similarities: Both are mythical animals; both are described in the Bible; and both have real-life animals that may have inspired stories of them.
Differences: Unicorns are described as mammals; dragons are described as reptilian; and dragons are obsessed with treasure.
Having a stay-at-home parent and having two parents who work outside of the home
Similarities: Parents are focused on the well-being of their family; parents have limited free time; and parents have to coordinate their activities with children’s activities.
Differences: Stay-at-home parent households have greater flexibility; households with two working parents tend to have greater financial resources; and households with a stay-at-home parent may have more rigid gender roles.
Harry Potter and Harry Dresden
Similarities: Both are wizards, both are named Harry, and both are orphans.
Differences: Harry Potter is a child and Harry Dresden is an adult at the beginning of their series; Potter fights a single bad guy and his minions while Dresden has multiple, distinct enemies; and Dresden does stupid things for women.
Camping and being homeless
Similarities: Both involve lack of structures; both can make it difficult to find food; and both involve limited access to showers and bathroom facilities.
Differences: Camping is intentional while homelessness is usually not intentional; camping is temporary and within the control of the camper; campers are usually better prepared for outdoor living than the homeless.
Werewolves and vampires
Similarities: Both are mythical monsters; both are based in real-life circumstances that led people to believe in their existence; and both continue to be popular with modern-day audiences.
Differences: Vampires are the living dead; werewolves are lycanthropes who change from human to wolf; and vampires are immortal while werewolves are not.
Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny
Similarities: Both are cartoons that iconized a brand; both are male; and both are brave.
Differences: Bugs Bunny is more sarcastic than Mickey Mouse; Mickey Mouse represents Disney; and Bugs Bunny represents Warner Brothers.
Sandpaper and toilet paper
Similarities: Both are types of paper with specific jobs; both comes in varying levels of coarseness; and both wear out after use.
Differences: Sand paper is used to sand surfaces; toilet paper is used for hygiene; and toilet paper is single-use while sand paper can be reused until worn.
Cartoon and live-action Beauty and the Beast
Similarities: Both feature the same core creatures; both show Gaston as a jerk; and both portray Belle as being earnest and loving.
Differences: In the live action movie Gaston attempts to kill Maurice; the beast is less menacing in the live-action version; and the live action version more thoroughly explores the relationship between the villagers and the castle.
Polyamory and infidelity
Similarities: Both involve additional partner(s) outside of a romantic duo; neither are fully accepted by society; and both can add additional complications to a primary romantic relationship.
Differences: Polyamory involves open communication while infidelity generally involves deception; polyamory is an agreed-scenario; and polyamory can be the foundation for long-term relationships.
New Orleans and Las Vegas
Similarities: Both are cities with party reputations; both cities have streets known for their nightlife; and both cities are top travel destinations.
Differences: New Orleans is more historic than Las Vegas; Las Vegas has more gambling opportunities than New Orleans; and while both cities are very hot in the summertime New Orleans is far more humid.
Dogs and Cats
Similarities: They are both mammals; both have been domesticated by humans; and both are kept as pets.
Differences: Dogs are easier to train than cats; cats are self-cleaning; and dogs tend to be more social.
Batman and Superman
Similarities: Both started in comic books; both have had TV shows; and both have been featured in several movies.
Differences: Superman is an alien while Batman is human; Batman is really wealthy; and Batman tends to be darker and more brooding than Superman.
Madonna and Lady Gaga
Similarities: Both are women pop singers; both are known for outrageous clothing choices; both are outspoken feminists.
Differences: Lady Gaga is an accomplished musician; Madonna has acted in several films; and their core fan bases come from different age groups.
Science fiction and fantasy
Similarities: They are both fiction genres, both are set outside of the reality of the modern world; and both often explore the greater conflict between good and evil.
Differences: Science fiction deals with scenarios that are possible or could be possible because of science; fantasy deals with magical elements that are not possible even with scientific advances; and fantasy is a much older genre than science fiction.
Comic books and graphic novels
Similarities: Both can be fiction or non-fiction; both use words and images to tell a story; and both tend to use third-person perspectives.
Differences: Graphic novels are longer and more complex than comic books; comic books use multiple issues for each story arc; and graphic novels predate comic books.
As a student, you are almost certain to encounter a compare and contrast essay assignment. Whether you are asked to tackle a serious topic or a silly one, we hope that our comprehensive list of compare and contrast essay topics has helped you choose one and given you a great start on your essay!
You can also take a look at a compare and contrast essay example, to help you better understand how your completed paper should look.