Tag Archives: college essay writing

How To Organize Your College Essay Properly

how to organize college essay
College freshman may get a rude awakening when they hand in their first college paper. What would have earned them high marks in high school is simply not acceptable anymore. High school papers, namely the five-paragraph essay, were your training wheels for more in-depth writing. Instead of looking at facts and pointing out general themes and concepts, college writing asks you to take a deeper look into logic, reasoning, context and analysis and structure your college essay well.

Ok, fine. But how do you accomplish that exactly? What does it look like? Here are some basic guidelines for how to organize your college essays:

Introduction

Your introduction should accomplish several things:

  • Introduce the topic you will be writing about.
  • Make the reader care about the topic.
  • Give them important information about the topic.
  • Convey your position on the topic in your thesis statement.

You can accomplish these with a few different introduction styles:

  • Offer a compelling example.
  • Quote statistics.
  • Use a knock-out quotation.
  • Tell a relevant anecdote.
  • Pose an intriguing question.

Tips on getting your introduction right:

  • Try writing it last. Sometimes, the introduction is the hardest part to write. After you’ve written your supporting paragraphs, you may have an easier time finding the right way to introduce them
  • Don’t be too broad. The “Since the dawn of time humanity has…” introduction should be eliminated. Give some of the above examples a try. Overly broad introductions are a waste of words. Get to the point.

Thesis statement

Your thesis statement defines your take on the subject you’re writing about. It guides the rest of the paper’s arguments. Ask yourself the following questions about your thesis statement:

  • Is it polemical? Can someone argue for or against this statement? If not, it’s weak and needs to be reworked.
  • Does it answer the question or prompt proposed by the professor?
  • Is it contained in a sentence or does it sprawl? A thesis statement is one sentence long and usually comes at the end of the introduction paragraph. Don’t use the introduction paragraph to write a long sprawling thesis statement. Instead, make it concise, specific and packs a punch.

Body paragraphs

This is where your essay will differ from high school writing the most. Body paragraphs will be developed in order to support your thesis statement, just like in a five-paragraph essay. However, the type of research and analysis you will use will be different. In the five paragraph essay, it was okay to write a paper on MacBeth by providing plot point summaries. But in a college paper, you can skip the summary.

You’re not proving to the professor that you read MacBeth. You’re proving that you did research and have developed an interesting and original analysis of it. Same goes with high school history papers where you basically listed events in your supporting paragraphs to prove your thesis statement. That’s no longer acceptable. Instead, you’ll be analyzing why and how certain events occurred, not affirming that they occurred.

Good body paragraphs should contain the following:

  • Well-researched evidence. Use credible sources from experts in the subject. Don’t quote dubious sources or statistics. Forget Wikipedia or someone’s personal blog (unless it’s a professor’s blog). Look for academic publications from known authorities on the subject.
  • In-depth analysis. This is where you start to develop critical thinking skills. Go beyond “who,what,where,when” and start to answer “why and how.” Consider historical context. If you’re writing about an artist, what was the political era in which his work was produced? What were his influences? How did he come to develop his particular style? Why was it important then and why should we care about it now?
  • Contain counter-arguments. It’s not enough to support your thesis statement. That alone doesn’t make for a strong essay. If you wrote a great thesis statement, that means there should be a strong counter-argument to be considered. Your research should reflect not only why you chose the side you chose, but the scope of your choices. What does the opposition think? Why do they feel that way? What is the basis of their argument? Your essay will be all the more convincing if you show the reader that you’ve considered all sides of the subject, and chose the position presented in your thesis statement.

Conclusion

In high school, your conclusions were a summary of the main points in your essay. College essays require a more elaborate conclusion that goes beyond summary and shows reflection, analysis and synthesis of the ideas presented. Here are some ideas for how to conclude a college paper:

  • If you introduced your essay with an anecdote or example, revisit it at the end to close the circle. How have your arguments shed new light on this story?
  • If you didn’t use a quote in your introduction, consider using one at the end. Especially if it seems to capture the essence of your arguments.
  • Suggest ideas for next steps in this area or further research needed in order to make advances and solve problems.
  • Indicate why this issue is relevant and why people today should care about it.

Edit

After you’ve written your first draft using the guidelines from above, it’s a great practice to do a reverse outline. A reverse outline provides a thorough review of your essay draft by checking for flow and helping you spot gaps in your logic as well as spelling and grammar mistakes.
After you’ve written your draft:

  • Read and take notes on your draft. Does it make sense? Is there a better example you could have used? Have you stayed close to your thesis statement or did you start to stray?
  • Number your paragraphs. Sometimes you may find that reordering your paragraphs will help the essay flow better. Numbering them will make it easier for you to reorganize it later.
  • Make your outline. Dissect your draft by using it to make a basic outline. What are the main points of each section? Then take a look at your outline and analyze which areas need to be reworked for coherence and flow.

Let’s Write a Winning College Application Essay!

writing a college application essay

Why is it that most students freeze up when it comes to writing the college application essay? It’s an essay about a topic you know very well: yourself.

Many students think that in order to write a great essay, they have to be a straight-A student or a star athlete or have done volunteer work in a Nicaraguan orphanage over the summer. In fact, the beauty of the college application essay is that it’s not about what you’ve done – it’s about how well you’re able to write about yourself. Anyone can write a great essay if they focus on the right things.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to writing the best college application essay you can:

Brainstorm

The essay is a chance for the college application officers to get to know you better. Think about something that you wish to communicate about yourself. If you already know what you want to write about, great! If not, sit down and make a list of your personality traits, activities, strengths and passions. Talk to your friends, teachers, coaches or parents and ask them if they would add anything to the list. Sometimes an outside perspective can help you see things you weren’t aware of.

Identify your strengths

If you are a star athlete, straight-A student, class president, or some other form of superlative, then the essay will probably be made infinitely easier. But most people aren’t stars. You’ve got to work with the strengths you do possess. Maybe you’re not the best athlete at your school. Maybe you’re a middle ranking one. But, maybe you started out at the bottom of the pack and worked your way up. Instead of quitting, you now secure your position on the team and support the star athletes who couldn’t do it without you. Maybe you never missed a practice. Maybe you also have strong leadership skills or have a knack for boosting team morale and were voted player of the year. Those things are worth mentioning to a college application officer. Don’t think about generic ideas of strengths. You don’t have to be number one. You just have to recognize what’s great about you.

Tell them about your passions

What do you enjoy doing with your time? Are you an artist? An IT fanatic? Do you enjoy leadership positions and participate in the student body? Are you a musician? An actor? An environmentalist? Are you an introvert who sits quietly in the library during lunch and writes poetry? What’s your thing? If you have a calling, write about it. Describe how that activity makes you feel. Have you earned any accolades or awards, officially or unofficially for your talent? Include them.

Don’t be boring

Admissions counselors will love you if you write something creative and original. Do you have any idea how many essays they have to read each year? A lot of students are afraid to say something that the counselors won’t like and end up taking the safe route instead of daring to be different. Be creative, look at the question or subject from a different angle. Explore an uncommon point of view. Just don’t be boring!

Don’t be afraid of controversy

Don’t be afraid to tackle controversy in your essay. If there’s a specific issue that you feel strongly about, express it. Maybe you’re anti-war and feel that the past two presidential administrations spent too much time and energy fighting wars abroad. Maybe you’re pro-war and you feel that the nation’s military programs need to be expanded. Whatever your stance on the subject you choose, make sure you allow time to consider counterarguments and give examples of why you feel so strongly and how this particular issue affects you.

Don’t make a list

Don’t write a resume or make a list of your accomplishments. There should be plenty of space to list them on the rest of your application. The application essay should have a specific theme that you identify in the beginning and carry through to the end. Don’t try to talk about a bunch of different topics and experiences. It will sound muddled and it’s not the point of the essay. The point of the essay is for the college application officers to see how well you can express yourself and to get to know your personality, not just your test scores. They want to see the student behind the grades and numbers.

Write in your own voice

If you had some assistance from someone else, especially if it’s an adult, in crafting your essay, please make sure that the final outcome has your own voice. Admissions counselors will be able to tell if the essay was mainly written by a parent or if it reflects a student’s viewpoint. Remember, they don’t want a perfect paper. They want to get to know you better. And hiding behind the sophisticated language of adults isn’t going to allow them to accomplish that. By trying to craft the perfect essay, you will end up robbing the readers of the opportunity to find out who you are.

Ask for feedback

You may want to show your essay to a trusted teacher or your college counselor or a parent or your friend. Or all of the above. Getting someone else’s feedback may help you identify weaknesses in your essay that you could address before submitting it. But remember that the essay is yours and if you don’t agree with the advice, don’t take it.

How to self-edit

Read it through several times out loud. Reading out loud is a much more effective way to spot awkward phrasing and errors than reading to yourself. If you find yourself stumbling over your words, go back and edit. Keep editing and re-reading out loud until it comes out smoothly. Rigorously submit it to spelling, grammar and punctuation checks. If those things aren’t your strong suit, let someone else with better editing skills read it.

Good luck on your college applications!