How to Write a College Essay

July 04, 2016
How to Write a College Essay

This happens all the time. You are in the middle of a marathon session playing Overwatch. You’re two cans of Mountain Dew and two hours in, and you’re on a streak. It’s 9 p.m. and that essay your professor assigned 4 weeks ago (the one you forgot about) is due in three hours. The one with all those stupid MLA guidelines, the one on the book you never bothered to read. You remember too suddenly, and there is a moment of panic: how do I write this essay in three hours? Can I have someone write my essay?

Writing a College Essay in a Record Time

Being an unadjusted college student, you’ve been entirely focused on the freedom of college as of late - the fact that you can sit on your couch living off of Cheetos and video games has yet to lose its novelty, but that means you’re not doing your work until the last minute. You are rethinking your admission to this program, wondering how you ever finished your application. This is when my students usually send me a frantic email: Ashley, how much money would I have to pay you to write my college essay for me?
It’s never an easy let down when I tell them that no, I will not write the essay for them. They can’t download one online, or crowdsource one from the University Facebook page. They have actually to write it. In three hours.
So here’s the speed rundown on how to do it.

Write a Map for Your Essay

Think about it first. Draw a map, or a Venn diagram, or write an outline in your gross ketchup stains, I don’t care. But make yourself some plan. I suggest Google Docs; it saves your progress. Thank you, the Internet. Consider the following: how long does your essay have to be? What are your constraints? Do you need quotes? Does it need to be in MLA or APA format? Is this essay argumentative, rhetorical, persuasive or research? Then set up what you’re going to write about: what question are you going to ask and attempt to answer?

Ask Something Important

The question is your main focus, and this is where people trip up. This is why it takes 800 years to write your first few essays in college. Often people try to just “wing it” from the beginning without bothering to ask themselves what it is they’re trying to accomplish. If you know your question, you at least have a general idea of what you will do in your attempts to either A) support and answer the question or B) explore and research the origins of the question.

Avoid Giant Paragraphs

Once you know what your question is, break down the components into sections. Here’s something else that trips people up: you do need clear sections and a clear thought progression in your essay, but each section does not need to be its paragraph. Shorter paragraphs are better, so if you have one section that ends up being 3 paragraphs long, go with it. Trust me; it’s better than one block paragraph. Those are impossible to read without your eyes glazing over, even/especially for a professor.

Building Support Sections

So, you have your question. You have your sections. You have your ketchup diagram. The next step is to find support, find a few specific examples from the primary and secondary texts you’re using (if you need those), or specific bits of data and information (even if you don’t have any required texts). Highlight or write down your support and data so you don’t forget - preferably in an outline or something so you can keep track of what’s meant to be supporting which argument.

Sum up Your Essay and Chill

Alright, you’re almost there. Your research and the whole backbone of your essay is written, so all you have to do now is put in the actual words - scary, right? Nope. Stop stressing so much about sounding smart and go with the flow. Relax. Write as you would speak, as you would explain this topic to someone. Write what comes to you. Just get it out, get it down on the paper, find any online tools that will help you to write down thoughts. All the stopping and starting and biting your nails over each sentence doesn’t do you any favors. Tell your professor about your topic, and support your ideas with facts. It’s that simple.

Home Stretch: Questions to Ask Yourself

Okay so now your draft is finished, but you’re NOT DONE yet. Go back, read your essay. Read it aloud. It might sound fine in your head, even on the second read through, but unless you read it aloud, you have no idea how it’s going to sound to someone else. You’re the only one in your head, make your thoughts clear to the rest of us. Consulting a friend online for this part is fine - in fact, an extra pair of eyes is a good idea.

Things to consider while reading your essay aloud:

  • Did you pause while reading? If so, is there punctuation there? If there isn’t, you should probably put some there.
  • Did you put punctuation somewhere where it doesn’t belong? Did you not pause even though you typed a comma? If so, perhaps that comma doesn’t belong there.
  • How long are your sentences? If you’re out of breath, they’re probably too long.
  • How short are your sentences? If you sound like a creepy robot, your sentences are all probably too short. Try combining a few, or adding in some details or some more data.
  • How varied are your sentences? Parallel sentence structure is boring and totally stupid. Change it up. Otherwise, your reader will find themselves falling asleep without even realizing why it’s happening. Some short, some long. Give yourself some variety.
  • Have you said everything you need to say? If so, stop writing. Don’t add extra fluff. Your teachers will be able to tell. Tell us what’s on your mind, present and finish your argument, and then get the hell out of dodge. Your conclusion should not repeat your introduction - wrap up what you have learned through the facts you presented, don’t tell us what you already said at the beginning. No one wants that.

Alright, have you read it aloud? Have you considered all these options? Great. You’re done. Make sure it’s not plagiarized and get yourself back to those video games. Cheers.

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