Whether you’re writing an essay for college admissions or one for a grade in college, these tips can get you well on your way to achieving better results! The whole game changes from high school and it makes me cringe when I still see my peers using the same writing strategies that only worked years ago.
In college, many of the standards and rules have changed. Each college, class or professor will have unique prompts and grading procedures. It is important to treat each one differently while maintaining some important guidelines for success!
Here are my personal guidelines for how to write a college essay! Let me know in the comments at the bottom if they helped or if you want more detail! Let’s begin!
Clearly Define The Assignment!
The first thing you should always do for any essay is clearly define the objective. What is the exact prompt or problem that you are writing to argue, explain, or create content for? You will need to write to answer exactly what the assignment is asking for, without going on any rambles or tangents about unrelated material. We want concise here; quality over quantity (more on this later).
Use any guidelines, or the rubric if one is given, to plan out the structure and basic content skeleton of your essay. Keep these guidelines in mind during the planning, writing and reviewing processes so that you do not go off course.
If the prompt is asking you to argue either for or against something, just choose a side and go for it. Do not waste time thinking about how much one might be better, or if you know more for one side. It doesn’t matter if you think the reader is going to feel a certain way about you based on the stance you took. Just choose a direction so that you can start working.
Always remember to answer the question, only the question, and nothing but the question. You don’t need to worry about what you think someone will want to read, but rather write the most quality essay you can with the proper articulation and support for your ideas!
Content is King and Research is Key!
The more you know, the more you can write. More research is always a good thing if time allows! Research will allow you to plan more effectively and write plenty of words without feeling like you need to make anything up. You can even look up similar college essay prompts or applications and find out how others responded. Anything about the topic and what others may have already found on the topic is only going to create more of an arsenal for you to attack the essay with.
However, tread lightly when using statistics. Statistics are easily skewed and come from thousands of sources. They are very useful to support a point or idea, but be careful of your source and of the fact that most of the time, someone can turn your own supporting statistic against you in some way (something to think about for more content). Knowing this will allow you to address all angles of a concept or idea, giving you the opportunity to research and write to disprove opposing points.
If the prompt is asking you write about something that is not research-able (or at least not easily) such as a leadership or teamwork event in your life where you had to do “X, Y, and Z”, plan it out as if you knew everything you needed to know. Many of the ideas will come to you and the holes will be filled in easily as you write IF you have the planned skeleton laid out.
For example, I started this post with the bolded headlines and some bullet points underneath them. As I began writing, I was easily able to figure out how I wanted the topics to flow and I rearranged the headlines accordingly. Let the ideas come naturally and write from both your brain and heart. The reader should be able to hear your voice in a professional manner.
You want quality content in your essay. Do not try to write to sound a certain way or to impress someone. Do not write to try to be funny. Focus on answering the assignment with as high of quality a response as you can manage! Nothing extra, which we will touch on now.
Fluff Should Be Left Back in High School, Cut It Out!
Great results came to me with my college applications and my college essays when I started using the “less is more” principle. I feel like most of the time in high school, the word count is such a big deal that we get trained to fluff up our essays. The rules like “a paragraph must be 6-8 sentences” or “your paper needs to be at least 5000 words” is literally creating an environment full of really great “fluffers”. I’m probably talking to you! Let me tell you some of my experiences…
Senior year of high school was when my Grandfather told me to focus on quality and not write so much. He was proofreading my essay because he was curious about what I had written on the topic of leadership. He crossed out the majority of my essay and left only a few sentences! I was shocked! Those sentences, however, were my main points.
Fast forward to my application essays for admittance to colleges, and I rarely met the word requirements. I wrote the most high quality essays I could and cut out anything extra that did not articulate or prove my points (usually resulting in only a few well-written paragraphs). Thankfully, I was accepting to every single school I applied to.
Later in college I was in a class that required a 10-page term paper. My girlfriend and I took the class together so that we could help each other out. It quickly became more of a competition for the grade, and we turned in completely different papers. Her paper was a long, fluffed-up, 12-page beauty. She got a nice grade and felt proud until I received nearly the same grade, a 94%, with a 6-page paper (one being the references page!). I wrote a paper that was half the page requirement and got an AMAZING grade because it was pure, quality content. It was full of information, ideas, and reference-based support.
An amazing quote that might help you understand is “A paper isn’t perfect when there is nothing left to add, it is perfect when there is nothing left to take away.”
Get Started Early and Crush It!
Research and plan, but don’t wait to start writing! Any chance you get, take the initiative to put some words on paper (or your screen). If you feel like you don’t know what to write, take the smallest step: write down one word. Boom. Now that you’ve done one, can you write two? How will you complete that? Maybe with three?
Most people look at a daunting task like a giant essay and get intimidated. Remember, it is only a collection of words. Little bundles of a few words followed by punctuation. You literally have to write the essay one word at a time, so you might as well get some words out of the way!
Getting started is often the most difficult part which is why you should always start the paper before or during your planning process. It’s fine if you want to change things later, but saving a file with some words written is an amazing start that is so easy to resume again later. Then conduct your research and crush the rest of your essay.
Once you have content down, it is so much easier to then connect the dots and make your essay flow. One idea will lead to another, and everything should be explained in a concise manner! Then, you can quickly review and revise the essay to really make it shine!
Make It Flow and Utilize Your Resources!
During your revising, ensure that there is plenty of variability with your sentence structure and diction! If all of your sentences are long and drawn out, you will be seen as trying too hard and the content will be boring or difficult to follow. Too many short sentences can seem childish and cause the reader to skip around your content searching for your points.
Avoid too much repetition and allow your ideas to flow from one to the other as if in conversation. The last thing you want to do is completely surprise your reader by talking about investing right after explaining your leadership experience as captain of a sports team. Link ideas together.
In the example above, your experience as captain of a sports team showed you that the diversity of the players allowed for greater performance. You decided to use this lesson while choosing stocks for your investment account where diversifying your portfolio can result in better performance as well. Now you have shown your leadership experience, understanding of people in society, and proper financial investing. With more explanation that could make for a very powerful essay.
Re-read your essay multiple times… slowly. Each time you read it, you will find something that could be improved if you do not read it too fast. Reading it too fast will cause your brain to receive the words as you meant to write them and you will miss the mistakes within. Get your peers or family to proof-read it as well! Other eyes reading something for the first time can bring a fresh perspective and see the little tweaks that can be made.
In addition to people you know, reach out to people that you don’t know as well! Maybe your guidance counselor or teacher from high school that you trust to give constructive criticism and help you into college. If you are in college already, most universities have a writing center with free help to review and revise! The first time I took a paper to the writing center was for extra credit in a course, but after finding out how helpful they were, I began to go frequently of my own accord.
Lastly, if you want professional help, go online! There are plenty of sites that will review your essays and help you to edit them for maximum performance! Some sites will even offer to write essays or papers for you, but I wouldn’t do that for a college application (it probably won’t make as much sense).
Don’t Forget To Be Yourself – In Your Writing and In Your Life!
In most essays and papers, you want to write naturally so that the reader can hear your personality. Not in a rash or disrespectful way, of course, but enough so that it doesn’t feel like isolated words in space. No matter who the reader is, we are all human and base many of our perceptions and actions on our feelings. Give your essay just enough feeling so that it is a living document while still being professional.
In college application essays, you can bring in a little more of your personality than a school assignment. Just a touch more, don’t get carried away. Reading the posts on this site, you can probably hear my voice. If you have checked out my About page you have probably pictured me saying the words.
Writing your paper like a professional conversation can help you to achieve great results and get better reactions from the reader. Just remember to keep it concise!
Let me know in the comments if the above information was helpful or if you have any questions that you would like for me to go into more detail about. I am here to help you achieve maximum success!
Conquer College and Dominate Life!
If you know of anyone that this post could help, then please share it with them (or any other post on this site). I will be honored!