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How to Outline and Write Your College Essay

Last updated September 28, 2020

Just like how no two people are exactly alike, no two examples of a “good college essay” are alike. The key is finding a way to express who you are through good organizational structure, original story-telling, and self-reflection.

COVID-19 has dramatically impacted the 2021 college application cycle - your application essays, now more than ever, are a critical component in getting accepted to college. So take time, be careful, and be wary about the fact that every student in the US might be writing about their experience during COVID-19 (originality is important, you want to stand out!). Here’s our breakdown of what colleges look for in a great college essay. 

Showing off your personality in your writing helps your essay stand out.

Your response should tell a story and give the reader insight into your personality, what fascinates and excites you, what are you curious about intellectually, and more. Include an example of an experience or two that has shaped how you view life. 

Use a 5-paragraph structure

For your standard 1.5 page college application essay or personal statement, it’s important to use an effective organizational structure. The 5-paragraph essay structure serves this purpose well. Here’s a quick outline of how it works:

  1. Intro paragraph (Your thesis statement) - your introductory paragraph addresses what prompt, question, or topic you’ll be discussing, and includes your thesis statement. A thesis statement is a declarative sentence wherein you’ll state the main point (or argument) of your essay, and outline the 3 main points or examples you’ll be discussing to support that point.
  2. Body Paragraph 1: Corresponds to the first example or point in your thesis statement. It includes specific examples that support this main point, and reflections that make it personal and show how you’ve grown.
  3. Body Paragraph 2: Corresponds to the second example or point in your thesis statement. It follows the same structure as body paragraph one - specific example/anecdote + reflections.
  4. Body Paragraph 3: Corresponds to the third example or point in your thesis statement. It follows the same structure as body paragraphs one and two.
  5. Conclusion: This is a place to wrap up the points and examples you’ve discussed, and potentially, show the reader what now lies ahead for you in the future in light of the information or reflections presented. You can talk about how you’ve grown, what you’ve learned, etc. 

Keep your essay focused

Your goal should be to answer the prompt you choose completely. You want your essay topic to be an inch wide and a mile deep. Focus on a specific event, experience, musing—anything that reflects who you are—and hone in on it. Make sure this response suits the essay question. You will need to respond to every part of the prompt.

Write about a topic that you find interesting

Choosing a topic that excites you is an amazing way to infuse energy and life into your essay. When you're writing about something you're hyped about, your personality will shine through naturally. This will help your essay stand out from the thousands many college admissions reviewers are reading. Remember, your essay really can be about anything as long as you fully address the question posed in the prompt!

Now that you know what goes into a great college essay, it's time to start writing. And when you finish, let us help you review and offer feedback on it! You can submit your personal statement, college essays, and scholarship essays.

Give yourself the best chance to stand out on your college essays. Submit your essay for review.

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