There are four components of the college essay to think about before beginning:
- Purpose: What is the college essay? Who am I writing it for? Why?
- Structure: What should it look like? How long is it? How should it be structured?
- Content: What should I write about? What do I “fill it” with?
- Quality: How polished should the essay be when I turn it in?
- Purpose of the College Essay:
There are two basic reasons college admissions officials want to see a piece of formal writing from you before they accept you into their school. First, they want to get to know who you are as a person. Therefore, it is important to be specific, and the best way to do this is to tell a story about yourself. Do not simply list your accomplishments. Instead, think of one specific experience that you can reflect on in detail. This will help them to accomplish the first part of the purpose, which is to get to know you and to understand your character.
The second part of the purpose is to glean, from the quality and sophistication of your writing, if you are ready for the rigors of college. Do you possess the skills necessary to be able to thrive in an academically challenging environment? Your essay is their first glimpse into you as a potential student and scholar.
- Structure of the College Essay:
If you think of the college essay as telling a story about yourself, then the structure should be that of a well-‐told story. It should have a beginning, middle, and end. It should also be short, tight, and to the point. Before you begin writing, you should find out how long your story has to be. If it is 650 words, then plan on dividing the word count relatively equally between the beginning, middle, and end.
The beginning of your essay should bring us into the scene you are describing. Where were you? What were you doing? Why were you doing it? The middle of the essay should focus on the point of telling the story in the first place. What happened? What was the outcome?
The final part of your essay should be for reflection and explaining why you are telling this story in the first place. What did you learn as a result of the experience? How did this change you as a person? How did it improve your character?
- The content of the College Essay:
The content of the essay depends on the prompt, but in general, every prompt is asking you to share something about yourself. When they read your essay, it needs to be so specific to you that it could not have been written by anyone else.
Do not worry about trying to please them or trying to figure out what they want to hear. Instead, focus on something specific that means something to you. Remember, they want to get to know you through your writing and find out what you care about. The best way to do this is to tell a story about yourself. In the essay “Just Keep Folding,” the author tells the story about how she was determined to create 1,000 origami cranes before the end of high school. This essay impressed the admissions committee because it showed them who she was, and from that, they got a sense that she could contribute positively to their school community.
- Quality of the College Essay:
The college essay should be technically perfect. There should not be any grammatical mistakes, such run-‐on or fragmentary sentences, poor or inappropriate word usage (such as trying to impress them with a ‘big word’ but then using it incorrectly), subject-‐verb disagreements (like “washing dishes were a great experience for me”), or misuses of punctuation. The spelling should also be perfect.
Using proper transitions to help the reader move from one subject or thought to another and the use of paragraph breaks to break up differing ideas are also important. Overall, the quality of your essay depends on the interplay of the technical skill you possess as a writer (and re-‐writer) and the ideas you have decided to include in your essay.
If you are already applying for colleges, and have the essay prompts for those schools, you may use those prompts for this essay assignment. Otherwise, choose a topic that comes out of the brainstorming you will do for this assignment. If you aren’t sure where you are applying, or are going to community college, a trade school, or into the military, or just have other plans (such as working), please choose one of the following prompts from the Common Application.
All essays for this assignment should be at least 500 words, and the limit is 650 for the Common Application Essay.
- Complete the brainstorming handouts associated with the assignment. (1-‐2 days)
- Write a draft of the essay for peer editing day. (2-‐3 days)
- Revise your draft for the final due date. (2-‐3 days)
Take a look at the example essay.