This is one of the most extensive and helpful posts I’ve read on how to write college admissions essays. My feeling is that most English teachers know their great literature, but are not as versed on teaching writing–especially narrative style pieces. I agree that the best place to get ideas for unique topics, as well as learn how to structure these more informal essays, is by reading what others have written. You have collected a wonderful assortment of sample essays. Reading excellent writing, especially the New York Times, is also very helpful, especially feature-style articles that use creative writing techniques, such as anecdotal leads and descriptive details. I try to share similar writing advice on my blog, Essay Hell.
The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between 2013 and 2016, but it's now back again for the 2017-18 admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them. Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content.