College Essay Writing 101: A Step-by-Step Guide


The college application essay is, arguably, the most important part of your college application—it’s what colleges judge you on first and foremost, even before they begin reading your transcript or considering your extracurricular activities. When you think about it, that’s an awful lot of pressure! But don’t worry—if you’re wondering how to write a college essay (or how to be a better essay writer in general), this guide will walk you through everything from brainstorming ideas to writing your rough draft to submit your final copy.

Your introductory paragraph

In your introductory paragraph, include some of these things: introduce yourself and tell us why you’re writing. It doesn’t matter what you write here; just make sure it flows naturally from your thesis statement and grabs a reader’s attention. Next, tell us about yourself and what school you plan on attending. When should essays be submitted? Then, end your introductory paragraph with your thesis statement. This is also called an introduction hook or lead-in sentence (see above). Not only will you have grabbed a reader’s attention right off, but they’ll also feel like they know what they’re in for.

You can’t lose! Finally, avoid making statements that don’t apply to you. If someone reads through your essay and notices a few mistakes along the way, the chances are that he or she won’t think as highly of you as someone who has put time into perfecting his/her essay.

The body paragraphs

Many students struggle with writing effective body paragraphs for their college essays. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Many students have never been asked to take such a long and critical look at themselves. They thus may feel uncomfortable or unable to express themselves fully in an essay format. Keep in mind that college essays are not like other papers. If you were given a book to analyse in school, your teacher would want a three-paragraph essay that answered the question What did you think of it? Followed by two supporting paragraphs explaining why.

In contrast, a college essay asks you to make an argument about yourself. It doesn’t matter what others think of you; rather, it matters how you see yourself and others. To answer these questions effectively, use concrete examples from your life experiences that show who you are beyond just words on paper (or screen).

The concluding paragraph

The conclusion is where you bring your essay full circle. It’s often shorter than other parts of your essay, and it should serve as a summary of everything you discussed. In your conclusion, give a final overview of what has been said to wrap up your essay effectively. The conclusion may also offer an outlook for future events; it gives insight into how things will play out or how something will change going forward. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to conclude an essay; you have many options for bringing one to a close, so consider writing a couple of different conclusions and deciding which feels best based on what you want to emphasize.

Editing your essay

You should always review your essay for mistakes and errors before handing it in. Try reading it aloud if you’re nervous about giving your first draft a once-over. Sometimes errors will be obvious to you if you read it aloud—mainly any grammatical or formatting mistakes that could trip up a reader (or a grader!). Reading an essay aloud can also help you find portions of text that don’t flow, aren’t clear, or just sound awkward. Fixing these problems might require another rewrite, but they can make a big difference in how well readers receive your essay. If you have time and are comfortable doing so, ask someone else to proofread your work before handing it in.