My college roommate Vera used to do a remarkable thing. She’d sit down and write a paper. Not one paragraph. Not two paragraphs. The entire thing. Start to finish, introduction to conclusion.
And then there was me, writing my outline, then writing, revising and editing.
How could she do that so fast? (Okay, besides the genius factor. I mean, who sits down and writes an entire college paper from their head? ) Here’s the answer: She didn’t. While I wrote my outline, Vera was thinking. I wrote it down, but she didn’t. We did the exact same thing in two different ways. We both spent time thinking before we started. We organized our thoughts.
When people ask me what college admissions readers are looking for in an essay I say three things:
- How well you convey what’s unique and interesting about you
- How well you write
- How you structure and organize your thoughts
That’s the top three. If your thoughts are rambling and your ideas are scattered you might as well save the money for your application fee. So how do you organize your thoughts for a college admissions essay? The best way to start is with an outline.
If you need help getting starting, use this tried and true method: Divide your essay into three parts: introduction, body, and conclusion.
Your introduction needs to be compelling enough to propel the reader into the rest of your essay. For example, you can ask a question that needs to be answered, or present an event in a way that reveals itself as the essay unfolds. In the body you answer that question or reveal that information. This is where you present your facts, tell your story, and include your details. You end with your conclusion.
Don’t know where to start with your outline? I’m with you. It can be tough to get going. So brainstorm. Take a quiet moment and think about your topic. Write down all the thoughts that come to you. All of them. Don’t edit yourself. Be creative. Ask yourself questions, and answer them. Think about details and write them down. Think about humorous things or sad things or what people said, and write that down, too. Let your mind take you and go there. You’ll have a treasure trove, I promise you. Then edit and organize those thoughts, and you’ll have a starting place for your outline.
The work that takes place before you begin to write is the hard part. Work on your outline. Make sense of your essay. Organize your thoughts. You’ll be well on your way to success.