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How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
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We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
Essay and dissertation writing skills
Planning your essay
Writing your introduction
Structuring your essay
- Writing essays in science subjects
- Brief video guides to support essay planning and writing
- Writing extended essays and dissertations
- Planning your dissertation writing time
Structuring your dissertation
- Top tips for writing longer pieces of work
Advice on planning and writing essays and dissertations
University essays differ from school essays in that they are less concerned with what you know and more concerned with how you construct an argument to answer the question. This means that the starting point for writing a strong essay is to first unpick the question and to then use this to plan your essay before you start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).
A really good starting point for you are these short, downloadable Tips for Successful Essay Writing and Answering the Question resources. Both resources will help you to plan your essay, as well as giving you guidance on how to distinguish between different sorts of essay questions.
You may find it helpful to watch this seven-minute video on six tips for essay writing which outlines how to interpret essay questions, as well as giving advice on planning and structuring your writing:
Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance.
However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features:
Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question. You might define specific terms in the introduction to show your engagement with the essay question; for example, ‘This is a large topic which has been variously discussed by many scientists and commentators. The principle tension is between the views of X and Y who define the main issues as…’ Breadth might be demonstrated by showing the range of viewpoints from which the essay question could be considered; for example, ‘A variety of factors including economic, social and political, influence A and B. This essay will focus on the social and economic aspects, with particular emphasis on…..’
Watch this two-minute video to learn more about how to plan and structure an introduction:
The main body of the essay should elaborate on the issues raised in the introduction and develop an argument(s) that answers the question. It should consist of a number of self-contained paragraphs each of which makes a specific point and provides some form of evidence to support the argument being made. Remember that a clear argument requires that each paragraph explicitly relates back to the essay question or the developing argument.
- Conclusion: An essay should end with a conclusion that reiterates the argument in light of the evidence you have provided; you shouldn’t use the conclusion to introduce new information.
- References: You need to include references to the materials you’ve used to write your essay. These might be in the form of footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography at the end. Different systems exist for citing references and different disciplines will use various approaches to citation. Ask your tutor which method(s) you should be using for your essay and also consult your Department or Faculty webpages for specific guidance in your discipline.
Essay writing in science subjects
If you are writing an essay for a science subject you may need to consider additional areas, such as how to present data or diagrams. This five-minute video gives you some advice on how to approach your reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your scientific audience – the video is available here:
A PDF providing further guidance on writing science essays for tutorials is available to download.
Short videos to support your essay writing skills
There are many other resources at Oxford that can help support your essay writing skills and if you are short on time, the Oxford Study Skills Centre has produced a number of short (2-minute) videos covering different aspects of essay writing, including:
- Approaching different types of essay questions
- Structuring your essay
- Writing an introduction
- Making use of evidence in your essay writing
- Writing your conclusion
Extended essays and dissertations
Longer pieces of writing like extended essays and dissertations may seem like quite a challenge from your regular essay writing. The important point is to start with a plan and to focus on what the question is asking. A PDF providing further guidance on planning Humanities and Social Science dissertations is available to download.
Planning your time effectively
Try not to leave the writing until close to your deadline, instead start as soon as you have some ideas to put down onto paper. Your early drafts may never end up in the final work, but the work of committing your ideas to paper helps to formulate not only your ideas, but the method of structuring your writing to read well and conclude firmly.
Although many students and tutors will say that the introduction is often written last, it is a good idea to begin to think about what will go into it early on. For example, the first draft of your introduction should set out your argument, the information you have, and your methods, and it should give a structure to the chapters and sections you will write. Your introduction will probably change as time goes on but it will stand as a guide to your entire extended essay or dissertation and it will help you to keep focused.
The structure of extended essays or dissertations will vary depending on the question and discipline, but may include some or all of the following:
- The background information to - and context for - your research. This often takes the form of a literature review.
- Explanation of the focus of your work.
- Explanation of the value of this work to scholarship on the topic.
- List of the aims and objectives of the work and also the issues which will not be covered because they are outside its scope.
The main body of your extended essay or dissertation will probably include your methodology, the results of research, and your argument(s) based on your findings.
The conclusion is to summarise the value your research has added to the topic, and any further lines of research you would undertake given more time or resources.
Tips on writing longer pieces of work
Approaching each chapter of a dissertation as a shorter essay can make the task of writing a dissertation seem less overwhelming. Each chapter will have an introduction, a main body where the argument is developed and substantiated with evidence, and a conclusion to tie things together. Unlike in a regular essay, chapter conclusions may also introduce the chapter that will follow, indicating how the chapters are connected to one another and how the argument will develop through your dissertation.
For further guidance, watch this two-minute video on writing longer pieces of work .
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12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
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Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
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Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?
There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.
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Course: college admissions > unit 4.
- Writing a strong college admissions essay
- Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
- Brainstorming tips for your college essay
- How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
- Taking your college essay to the next level
- Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
- Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
- Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
- Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
- Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
- Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
- Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
Writing tips and techniques for your college essay
Pose a question the reader wants answered, don't focus exclusively on the past, experiment with the unexpected, don't summarize, want to join the conversation.
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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a perfect "why this college" essay.
Did you think you were all done pouring out your blood, sweat, and tears in written form for your personal statement , only to be faced with the "why this college?" supplemental essay? This question might seem simple but is in fact a crucial and potentially tricky part of many college applications. What exactly is the "why us?" essay trying to understand about you? And how do you answer this question without falling into its many pitfalls or making any rookie mistakes?
In this article, I'll explain why colleges want you to be able to explain why you are applying. I'll also discuss how to generate and brainstorm topics for this question and how to make yourself sound sincere and committed. Finally, we'll go over some "why this school?" essay do s and don't s.
This article is pretty detailed, so here's a brief overview of what we'll be covering:
Why Do Colleges Want You to Write a "Why Us?" Essay?
Two types of "why this college" essay prompts, step 1: research the school, step 2: brainstorm potential essay topics, step 3: nail the execution, example of a great "why this college" essay.
College admissions officers have to read an incredible amount of student work to put together a winning class, so trust me when I say that everything they ask you to write is meaningful and important .
The purpose of the "why us?" essay goes two ways. On one hand, seeing how you answer this question gives admissions officers a sense of whether you know and value their school .
On the other hand, having to verbalize why you are applying gives you the chance to think about what you want to get out of your college experience and whether your target schools fit your goals and aspirations.
What Colleges Get Out Of Reading Your "Why This College?" Essay
Colleges want to check three things when they read this essay.
First, they want to see that you have a sense of what makes this college different and special.
- Do you know something about the school's mission, history, or values?
- Have you thought about the school's specific approach to learning?
- Are you comfortable with the school's traditions and the overall feel of student life here?
Second, they want proof that you will be a good fit for the school.
- Where do your interests lie? Do they correspond to this school's strengths?
- Is there something about you that meshes well with some aspect of the school?
- How will you contribute to college life? How will you make your mark on campus?
And third, they want to see that this school will, in turn, be a good fit for you.
- What do you want to get out of college? Will this college be able to provide that? Will this school contribute to your future success?
- What will you take advantage of on campus (e.g., academic programs, volunteer or travel opportunities, internships, or student organizations)?
- Will you succeed academically? Does this school provide the right rigor and pace for your ideal learning environment?
What You Get Out Of Writing Your "Why This College?" Essay
Throughout this process of articulating your answers to the questions above, you will also benefit in a couple of key ways:
It Lets You Build Excitement about the School
Finding specific programs and opportunities at schools you are already happy about will give you a grounded sense of direction for when you start school . At the same time, by describing what is great about schools that are low on your list, you'll likely boost your enthusiasm for these colleges and keep yourself from feeling that they're nothing more than lackluster fallbacks.
It Helps You Ensure That You're Making the Right Choice
Writing the "why us?" essay can act as a moment of clarity. It's possible that you won't be able to come up with any reasons for applying to a particular school. If further research fails to reveal any appealing characteristics that fit with your goals and interests, this school is likely not for you.
At the end of your four years, you want to feel like this, so take your "Why This College?" essay to heart.
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Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
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The "why this college?" essay is best thought of as a back-and-forth between you and the college . This means that your essay will really be answering two separate, albeit related, questions:
- "Why us?": This is where you explain what makes the school special in your eyes, what attracted you to it, and what you think you'll get out of your experience there.
- "Why you?": This is the part where you talk about why you'll fit in at the school; what qualities, skills, talents, or abilities you'll contribute to student life; and how your future will be impacted by the school and its opportunities.
Colleges usually use one of these approaches to frame this essay , meaning that your essay will lean heavier toward whichever question is favored in the prompt. For example, if the prompt is all about "why us?" you'll want to put your main focus on praising the school. If the prompt instead is mostly configured as "why you?" you'll want to dwell at length on your fit and potential.
It's good to remember that these two prompts are simply two sides of the same coin. Your reasons for wanting to apply to a particular school can be made to fit either of these questions.
For instance, say you really want the chance to learn from the world-famous Professor X. A "why us?" essay might dwell on how amazing an opportunity studying with him would be for you, and how he anchors the Telepathy department.
Meanwhile, a "why you?" essay would point out that your own academic telepathy credentials and future career goals make you an ideal student to learn from Professor X, a renowned master of the field.
Next up, I'll show you some real-life examples of what these two different approaches to the same prompt look like.
Clarifying why you want to study with a particular professor in a specific department can demonstrate to college admissions staff that you've done your research on the school.
"Why Us?" Prompts
- Why [this college]?
- Why are you interested in [this college]?
- Why is [this college] a good choice for you?
- What do you like best about [this college]?
- Why do you want to attend [this college]?
Below are some examples of actual "why us?" college essay prompts:
- Colorado College : "Describe how your personal experiences with a particular community make you a student who would benefit from Colorado College’s Block Plan."
- Tufts University : " I am applying to Tufts because… "
- Tulane University : "Describe why you are interested in joining the Tulane community. Consider your experiences, talents, and values to illustrate what you would contribute to the Tulane community if admitted." (via the Common App )
- University of Michigan : "Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?"
- Wellesley College : " When choosing a college, you are choosing an intellectual community and a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but it's a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and select two items that attract, inspire, or celebrate what you would bring to our community. Have fun! Use this opportunity to reflect personally on what items appeal to you most and why. "
In a "why us?" essay, focus on the specific aspects of the school that appeal to you and how you will flourish because of those offerings.
"Why You?" Prompts
- Why are you a good match or fit for us?
- What are your interests, and how will you pursue them at [this college]?
- What do you want to study, and how will that correspond to our program?
- What or how will you contribute?
- Why you at [this college]?
- Why are you applying to [this college]?
Here are some examples of the "why you?" version of the college essay:
- Babson College : " A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community. "
- Bowdoin College : "Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin's 'The Offer of the College.' ... Which line from the Offer resonates most with you? Optional: The Offer represents Bowdoin's values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you." (via the Common App )
In a "why you?" essay, focus on how your values, interests, and motivations align with the school's offerings and how you'll contribute to campus life.
No matter how the prompt is worded, this essay is a give-and-take of what you and the college have to offer each other. Your job is to quickly zoom in on your main points and use both precision and detail to sound sincere, excited, and authentic.
How do you effectively explain the benefits you see this particular school providing for you and the contributions you will bring to the table as a student there? And how can you do this best using the small amount of space that you have (usually just one to two paragraphs)?
In this section, we'll go through the process of writing the "Why This College?" essay, step-by-step. First, I'll talk about the prep work you'll need to do. Next, we'll go through how to brainstorm good topics (and touch on what topics to avoid). I'll give you some tips on transforming your ideas and research into an actual essay. Finally, I'll take apart an actual "why us?" essay to show you why and how it works.
Before you can write about a school, you'll need to know specific things that make it stand out and appeal to you and your interests . So where do you look for these? And how do you find the details that will speak to you? Here are some ways you can learn more about a school.
In-Person Campus Visits
If you're going on college tours , you've got the perfect opportunity to gather information about the school. Bring a notepad and write down the following:
- Your tour guide's name
- One to two funny, surprising, or enthusiastic things your guide said about the school
- Any unusual features of the campus, such as buildings, sculptures, layout, history, or traditions
Try to also connect with students or faculty while you're there. If you visit a class, note which class it is and who teaches it. See whether you can briefly chat with a student (e.g., in the class you visit, around campus, or in a dining hall), and ask what they like most about the school or what has been most surprising about being there.
Don't forget to write down the answer! Trust me, you'll forget it otherwise—especially if you do this on multiple college visits.
Virtual Campus Visits
If you can't visit a campus in person, the next best thing is an online tour , either from the school's own website or from other websites, such as YOUniversityTV , CampusTours , or YouTube (search "[School Name] + tour").
You can also connect with students without visiting the campus in person . Some admissions websites list contact information for currently enrolled students you can email to ask one or two questions about what their experience of the school has been like.
Or if you know what department, sport, or activity you're interested in, you can ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a student who is involved with that particular interest.
If you can't visit a campus in person, request a video chat with admissions staff, a current student, or a faculty member to get a better sense of specific topics you might write about in your essay.
If you have an interview , ask your interviewer questions about their experience at the school and about what going to that school has done for them since graduation. As always, take notes!
If you have a chance to go to a college fair where your ideal college has representatives, don't just attend and pick up a brochure. Instead, e ngage the representatives in conversation, and ask them about what they think makes the school unique . Jot down notes on any interesting details they tell you.
The College's Own Materials
Colleges publish lots and lots of different admissions materials—and all of these will be useful for your research. Here are some suggestions for what you can use. (You should be able to find all of the following resources online.)
Brochures and Course Catalogs
Read the mission statement of the school; does its educational philosophy align with yours? You should also read through its catalogs. Are there any programs, classes, departments, or activities that seem tailor-made for you in some way?
Pro Tip: These interesting features you find should be unusual in some way or different from what other schools offer. For example, being fascinated with the English department isn't going to cut it unless you can discuss its unusual focus, its world-renowned professors, or the different way it structures the major that appeals to you specifically.
Are any professors highlighted? Does their research speak to you or connect with a project you did in high school or for an extracurricular?
Sometimes alumni magazines will highlight a college's new focus or new expansion. Does the construction of a new engineering school relate to your intended major? There might also be some columns or letters written by alumni who talk about what going to this particular school has meant to them. What stands out about their experiences?
School or Campus Newspaper
Students write about the hot issues of the day, which means that the articles will be about the best and worst things on campus . It'll also give you insight into student life, opportunities that are available to students, activities you can do off campus, and so on.
The College's Social Media
Your ideal school is most likely on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. Follow the school to see what it's posting about. Are there any exciting new campus developments? Professors in the news? Interesting events, clubs, or activities?
Wikipedia is a great resource for learning basic details about a college's history, traditions, and values. I also recommend looking for forums on College Confidential that specifically deal with the school you're researching.
Another option is to search on Google for interesting phrases, such as "What students really think about [School Name]" or "[School Name] student forum." This will help you get detailed points of view, comments about specific programs or courses, and insight into real student life.
So what should you do now that you've completed a bunch of research? Answer: use it to develop connection points between you and your dream school. These connections will be the skeleton of your "why this college?" essay.
Find the Gems in Your Research
You have on hand all kinds of information, from your own personal experiences on campus and your conversations with people affiliated with your ideal school to what you've learned from campus publications and tidbits gleaned from the web.
Now, it's time to sift through all of your notes to find the three to five things that really speak to you. Link what you've learned about the school to how you can plug into this school's life, approach, and environment. That way, no matter whether your school's prompt is more heavily focused on the "why us?" or "why you?" part of the give-and-take, you'll have an entry point into the essay.
But what should these three to five things be? What should you keep in mind when you're looking for the gem that will become your topic?
Here are some words of wisdom from Calvin Wise , director of recruitment and former associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University (emphasis mine):
" Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you. Do your research, and articulate a multidimensional connection to the specific college or university. We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum). All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences. "
Time to find that diamond, amethyst, opal, tourmaline, or amber in the rough.
Check Your Gems for Color and Clarity
When I say "check your gems," I mean make sure that each of the three to five things you've found is something your ideal school has that other schools don't have.
This something should be seen from your own perspective. The point isn't to generically praise the school but instead to go into detail about why it's so great for you that they have this thing.
This something you find should be meaningful to the school and specific to you. For example, if you focus on academics (e.g., courses, instructors, opportunities, or educational philosophy), find a way to link them either to your previous work or to your future aspirations.
This something should not be shallow and nonspecific. Want to live in a city? Every city has more than one college in it. Find a way to explain why this specific college in this specific city calls to you. Like pretty architecture? Many schools are beautiful, so dwell on why this particular place feels unlike any other. Like good weather, beach, skiing, or some other geographical attribute? There are many schools located near these places, and they know that people enjoy sunbathing. Either build a deeper connection or skip these as reasons.
Convert Your Gems into Essay Topics
Every "why this college?" essay is going to answer both the "why us?" and the "why you?" parts of the back-and-forth equation. But depending on which way your target school has worded its prompt, you'll lean more heavily on that part . This is why I'm going to split this brainstorming into two parts—to go with the "why us?" and "why you?" types of questions.
Of course, since they are both sides of the same coin, you can always easily flip each of these ideas around to have it work well for the other type of prompt . For example, a "why us?" essay might talk about how interesting the XYZ interdisciplinary project is and how it fits well with your senior project.
By contrast, a "why you?" essay would take the same idea but flip it to say that you've learned through your senior project how you deeply value an interdisciplinary approach to academics, making you a great fit for this school and its commitment to such work, as evidenced by project XYZ.
Describing how project XYZ demonstrates your investment in a particular course of study that then happens to align with a specific program at the university is an effective approach to the "why you?" essay.
Possible "Why Us?" Topics
- How a particular program of study, internship requirement, or volunteer connection will help further your specific career goals .
- The school's interesting approach to your future major (if you know what that will be) or a major that combines several disciplines that appeal to you and fit with your current academic work and interests.
- How the school handles financial aid and the infrastructure setup for low-income students and what that means for you in terms of opening doors.
- A story about how you became interested in the school (if you learned about it in an interesting way). For example, did the institution host a high school contest you took part in? Did you attend an art exhibit or stage performance there that you enjoyed and that your own artistic work aligns with?
- How you overcame an initial disinterest in the school (be sure to minimize this first negative impression). Did you do more research? Interact with someone on campus? Learn about the school's commitment to the community? Learn about interesting research being done there?
- A positive interaction you had with current students, faculty, or staff, as long as this is more than just, "Everyone I met was really nice."
- An experience you had while on a campus tour. Was there a super-passionate tour guide? Any information that surprised you? Did something happen to transform your idea about the school or campus life (in a good way)?
- Interesting interdisciplinary work going on at the university and how that connects with your academic interests, career goals, or previous high school work.
- The history of the school —but only if it's meaningful to you in some way. Has the school always been committed to fostering minority, first-generation, or immigrant students? Was it founded by someone you admire? Did it take an unpopular (but, to you, morally correct) stance at some crucial moment in history?
- An amazing professor you can't wait to learn from. Is there a chemistry professor whose current research meshes with a science fair project you did? A professor who's a renowned scholar on your favorite literary or artistic period or genre? A professor whose book on economics finally made you understand the most recent financial crisis?
- A class that sounds fascinating , especially if it's in a field you want to major in.
- A facility or piece of equipment you can't wait to work in or with and that doesn't exist in many other places. Is there a specialty library with rare medieval manuscripts? Is there an observatory?
- A required curriculum that appeals to you because it provides a solid grounding in the classics, shakes up the traditional canon, connects all the students on campus in one intellectual project, or is taught in a unique way.
If the school can boast a cutting-edge laboratory where you dream of conducting research, that would be a strong focus for a "Why Us?" essay.
Possible "Why You?" Topics
- Do you want to continue a project you worked on in high school? Talk about how or where in the current course, club, and program offerings this work would fit in. Why will you be a good addition to the team?
- Have you always been involved in a community service project that's already being done on campus? Write about integrating life on campus with events in the surrounding community.
- Do you plan to keep performing in the arts, playing music, working on the newspaper, or engaging in something else you were seriously committed to in high school? Discuss how excited you are to join that existing organization.
- Are you the perfect person to take advantage of an internship program (e.g., because you have already worked in this field, were exposed to it through your parents, or have completed academic work that gives you some experience with it)?
- Are you the ideal candidate for a study abroad opportunity (e.g., because you can speak the language of the country, it's a place where you've worked or studied before, or your career goals are international in some respect)?
- Are you a stand-out match for an undergraduate research project (e.g., because you'll major in this field, you've always wanted to work with this professor, or you want to pursue research as a career option)?
- Is there something you were deeply involved with that doesn't currently exist on campus? Offer to start a club for it. And I mean a club; you aren't going to magically create a new academic department or even a new academic course, so don't try offering that. If you do write about this, make double (and even triple) sure that the school doesn't already have a club, course, or program for this interest.
- What are some of the programs or activities you plan to get involved with on campus , and what unique qualities will you bring to them?
- Make this a mini version of a personal statement you never wrote. Use this essay as another chance to show a few more of the skills, talents, or passions that don't appear in your actual college essay. What's the runner-up interest that you didn't write about? What opportunity, program, or offering at the school lines up with it?
One way to impress admissions staff in a "Why You?" essay is to discuss your fascination with a particular topic in a specific discipline, such as kinetic sculpture, and how you want to pursue that passion (e.g., as a studio art major).
Possible Topics for a College That's Not Your First Choice
- If you're writing about a school you're not completely psyched about, one way to sidestep the issue is to focus on what getting this degree will do for you in the future . How do you see yourself changing existing systems, helping others, or otherwise succeeding?
- Alternatively, discuss what the school values academically, socially, environmentally, or philosophically and how this connects with what you also care about . Does it have a vegan, organic, and cruelty-free cafeteria? A relationship with a local farm or garden? De-emphasized fraternity involvement? Strong commitment to environmental issues? Lots of opportunities to contribute to the community surrounding the school? Active inclusion and a sense of belonging for various underrepresented groups?
- Try to find at least one or two features you're excited about for each of the schools on your list. If you can't think of a single reason why this would be a good place for you to go, maybe you shouldn't be applying there!
Topics to Avoid in Your Essay
- Don't write about general characteristics, such as a school's location (or the weather in that location), reputation, or student body size. For example, anyone applying to the Webb Institute , which has just about 100 students , should by all means talk about having a preference for tiny, close-knit communities. By contrast, schools in sunny climates know that people enjoy good weather, but if you can't connect the outdoors with the college itself, think of something else to say.
- Don't talk about your sports fandom. Saying, "I can see myself in crimson and white/blue and orange/[some color] and [some other color]" is both overused and not a persuasive reason for wanting to go to a particular college. After all, you could cheer for a team without going to the school! Unless you're an athlete, you're an aspiring mascot performer, or you have a truly one-of-a-kind story to tell about your link to the team, opt for a different track.
- Don't copy descriptions from the college's website to tell admissions officers how great their institution is. They don't want to hear praise; they want to hear how you connect with their school. So if something on the college brochure speaks to you, explain why this specific detail matters to you and how your past experiences, academic work, extracurricular interests, or hobbies relate to that detail.
- Don't use college rankings as a reason you want to go to a school. Of course prestige matters, but schools that are ranked right next to each other on the list are at about the same level of prestige. What makes you choose one over the other?
- If you decide to write about a future major, don't just talk about what you want to study and why . Make sure that you also explain why you want to study this thing at this particular school . What do they do differently from other colleges?
- Don't wax poetic about the school's pretty campus. "From the moment I stepped on your campus, I knew it was the place for me" is another cliché—and another way to say basically nothing about why you actually want to go to this particular school. Lots of schools are pretty, and many are pretty in the exact same way.
Pop quiz: This pretty gothic building is on what college campus? Yes, that's right—it could be anywhere.
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When you've put together the ideas that will make up your answer to the "why us?" question, it's time to build them into a memorable essay. Here are some tips for doing that successfully:
- Jump right in. The essay is short, so there's no need for an introduction or conclusion. Spend the first paragraph delving into your best one or two reasons for applying. Then, use the second paragraph to go into slightly less detail about reasons 2 (or 3) through 5.
- To thine own self be true. Write in your own voice, and be sincere about what you're saying. Believe me—the reader can tell when you mean it and when you're just blathering!
- Details, details, details. Show the school that you've done your research. Are there any classes, professors, clubs, or activities you're excited about at the school? Be specific (e.g., "I'm fascinated by the work Dr. Jenny Johnson has done with interactive sound installations").
- If you plan on attending if admitted, say so. Colleges care about the numbers of acceptances deeply, so it might help to know you're a sure thing. But don't write this if you don't mean it!
- Don't cut and paste the same essay for every school. At least once, you'll most likely forget to change the school name or some other telling detail. You also don't want to have too much vague, cookie-cutter reasoning, or else you'll start to sound bland and forgettable.
For more tips, check out our step-by-step essay-writing advice .
Avoid cookie-cutter responses to "why this college?" essay prompts. Instead, provide an essay that's personalized to that particular institution.
At this point, it'll be helpful to take a look at a "why us?" essay that works and figure out what the author did to create a meaningful answer to this challenging question.
Here is a "Why Tufts?" essay from James Gregoire '19 for Tufts University :
It was on my official visit with the cross country team that I realized Tufts was the perfect school for me. Our topics of conversation ranged from Asian geography to efficient movement patterns, and everyone spoke enthusiastically about what they were involved in on campus. I really related with the guys I met, and I think they represent the passion that Tufts' students have. I can pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur by joining the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, pursuing an Entrepreneurial Leadership minor, and taking part in an up-and-coming computer science program.
Here are some of the main reasons this essay is so effective:
- Interaction with current students. James writes about hanging out with the cross-country team and sounds excited about meeting them.
- "I'm a great fit." He uses the conversation with the cross-country team members to talk about his own good fit here ("I really related with the guys I met").
- Why the school is special. James also uses the conversation as a way to show that he enjoys the variety of opportunities Tufts offers (their fun conversation covers Asian geography, movement patterns, and other things they "were involved with on campus").
- Taking advantage of this specialness. James doesn't just list things Tufts offers but also explains which of them are of specific value to him. He's interested in being an entrepreneur, so the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses appeal to him.
- Awareness of what the school is up to. Finally, James shows that he's aware of the latest Tufts developments when he mentions the new computer science program.
The Bottom Line: Writing a Great "Why This College?" Essay
- Proof that you understand what makes this college different and special
- Evidence that you'll be a good fit at this school
- Evidence that this college will, in turn, be a good fit for you
The prompt may be phrased in one of two ways: "Why us?" or "Why you?" But these are sides of the same coin and will be addressed in your essay regardless of the prompt style.
Writing the perfect "why this school?" essay requires you to first research the specific qualities and characteristics of this school that appeal to you. You can find this information by doing any or all of the following:
- Visiting campuses in person or virtually to interact with current students and faculty
- Posing questions to your college interviewer or to representatives at college fairs
- Reading the college's own materials , such as its brochures, official website, alumni magazine, campus newspaper, and social media
- Looking at other websites that talk about the school
To find a topic to write about for your essay, find the three to five things that really speak to you about the school , and then link each of them to yourself, your interests, your goals, or your strengths.
Avoid using clichés that could be true for any school, such as architecture, geography, weather, or sports fandom. Instead, focus on the details that differentiate your intended school from all the others .
Are you also working on your personal statement? If you're using the Common App, check out our complete breakdown of the Common App prompts and learn how to pick the best prompt for you .
If you're applying to a University of California school, we've got an in-depth article on how to write effective UC personal statements .
And if you're submitting ApplyTexas applications, read our helpful guide on how to approach the many different ApplyTexas essay prompts .
Struggling with the college application process as a whole? Our expert guides teach you how to ask for recommendations , how to write about extracurriculars , and how to research colleges .
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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.
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- Example of a great essay | Explanations, tips & tricks
Example of a Great Essay | Explanations, Tips & Tricks
Published on February 9, 2015 by Shane Bryson . Revised on July 23, 2023 by Shona McCombes.
This example guides you through the structure of an essay. It shows how to build an effective introduction , focused paragraphs , clear transitions between ideas, and a strong conclusion .
Each paragraph addresses a single central point, introduced by a topic sentence , and each point is directly related to the thesis statement .
As you read, hover over the highlighted parts to learn what they do and why they work.
Table of contents
Other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about writing an essay, an appeal to the senses: the development of the braille system in nineteenth-century france.
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.
In France, debates about how to deal with disability led to the adoption of different strategies over time. While people with temporary difficulties were able to access public welfare, the most common response to people with long-term disabilities, such as hearing or vision loss, was to group them together in institutions (Tombs, 1996). At first, a joint institute for the blind and deaf was created, and although the partnership was motivated more by financial considerations than by the well-being of the residents, the institute aimed to help people develop skills valuable to society (Weygand, 2009). Eventually blind institutions were separated from deaf institutions, and the focus shifted towards education of the blind, as was the case for the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, which Louis Braille attended (Jimenez et al, 2009). The growing acknowledgement of the uniqueness of different disabilities led to more targeted education strategies, fostering an environment in which the benefits of a specifically blind education could be more widely recognized.
Several different systems of tactile reading can be seen as forerunners to the method Louis Braille developed, but these systems were all developed based on the sighted system. The Royal Institute for Blind Youth in Paris taught the students to read embossed roman letters, a method created by the school’s founder, Valentin Hauy (Jimenez et al., 2009). Reading this way proved to be a rather arduous task, as the letters were difficult to distinguish by touch. The embossed letter method was based on the reading system of sighted people, with minimal adaptation for those with vision loss. As a result, this method did not gain significant success among blind students.
Louis Braille was bound to be influenced by his school’s founder, but the most influential pre-Braille tactile reading system was Charles Barbier’s night writing. A soldier in Napoleon’s army, Barbier developed a system in 1819 that used 12 dots with a five line musical staff (Kersten, 1997). His intention was to develop a system that would allow the military to communicate at night without the need for light (Herron, 2009). The code developed by Barbier was phonetic (Jimenez et al., 2009); in other words, the code was designed for sighted people and was based on the sounds of words, not on an actual alphabet. Barbier discovered that variants of raised dots within a square were the easiest method of reading by touch (Jimenez et al., 2009). This system proved effective for the transmission of short messages between military personnel, but the symbols were too large for the fingertip, greatly reducing the speed at which a message could be read (Herron, 2009). For this reason, it was unsuitable for daily use and was not widely adopted in the blind community.
Nevertheless, Barbier’s military dot system was more efficient than Hauy’s embossed letters, and it provided the framework within which Louis Braille developed his method. Barbier’s system, with its dashes and dots, could form over 4000 combinations (Jimenez et al., 2009). Compared to the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, this was an absurdly high number. Braille kept the raised dot form, but developed a more manageable system that would reflect the sighted alphabet. He replaced Barbier’s dashes and dots with just six dots in a rectangular configuration (Jimenez et al., 2009). The result was that the blind population in France had a tactile reading system using dots (like Barbier’s) that was based on the structure of the sighted alphabet (like Hauy’s); crucially, this system was the first developed specifically for the purposes of the blind.
While the Braille system gained immediate popularity with the blind students at the Institute in Paris, it had to gain acceptance among the sighted before its adoption throughout France. This support was necessary because sighted teachers and leaders had ultimate control over the propagation of Braille resources. Many of the teachers at the Royal Institute for Blind Youth resisted learning Braille’s system because they found the tactile method of reading difficult to learn (Bullock & Galst, 2009). This resistance was symptomatic of the prevalent attitude that the blind population had to adapt to the sighted world rather than develop their own tools and methods. Over time, however, with the increasing impetus to make social contribution possible for all, teachers began to appreciate the usefulness of Braille’s system (Bullock & Galst, 2009), realizing that access to reading could help improve the productivity and integration of people with vision loss. It took approximately 30 years, but the French government eventually approved the Braille system, and it was established throughout the country (Bullock & Galst, 2009).
Although Blind people remained marginalized throughout the nineteenth century, the Braille system granted them growing opportunities for social participation. Most obviously, Braille allowed people with vision loss to read the same alphabet used by sighted people (Bullock & Galst, 2009), allowing them to participate in certain cultural experiences previously unavailable to them. Written works, such as books and poetry, had previously been inaccessible to the blind population without the aid of a reader, limiting their autonomy. As books began to be distributed in Braille, this barrier was reduced, enabling people with vision loss to access information autonomously. The closing of the gap between the abilities of blind and the sighted contributed to a gradual shift in blind people’s status, lessening the cultural perception of the blind as essentially different and facilitating greater social integration.
The Braille system also had important cultural effects beyond the sphere of written culture. Its invention later led to the development of a music notation system for the blind, although Louis Braille did not develop this system himself (Jimenez, et al., 2009). This development helped remove a cultural obstacle that had been introduced by the popularization of written musical notation in the early 1500s. While music had previously been an arena in which the blind could participate on equal footing, the transition from memory-based performance to notation-based performance meant that blind musicians were no longer able to compete with sighted musicians (Kersten, 1997). As a result, a tactile musical notation system became necessary for professional equality between blind and sighted musicians (Kersten, 1997).
Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.
Bullock, J. D., & Galst, J. M. (2009). The Story of Louis Braille. Archives of Ophthalmology , 127(11), 1532. https://doi.org/10.1001/archophthalmol.2009.286.
Herron, M. (2009, May 6). Blind visionary. Retrieved from https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2009/05/blind-visionary/.
Jiménez, J., Olea, J., Torres, J., Alonso, I., Harder, D., & Fischer, K. (2009). Biography of Louis Braille and Invention of the Braille Alphabet. Survey of Ophthalmology , 54(1), 142–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.survophthal.2008.10.006.
Kersten, F.G. (1997). The history and development of Braille music methodology. The Bulletin of Historical Research in Music Education , 18(2). Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/40214926.
Mellor, C.M. (2006). Louis Braille: A touch of genius . Boston: National Braille Press.
Tombs, R. (1996). France: 1814-1914 . London: Pearson Education Ltd.
Weygand, Z. (2009). The blind in French society from the Middle Ages to the century of Louis Braille . Stanford: Stanford University Press.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.
In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.
Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.
The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.
The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.
Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:
- An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
- Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
- A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.
The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .
A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.
A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.
At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).
Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.
The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .
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Top tips for writing your first university essay
28 October 2021
Moving from A-level (or equivalent) standard of writing to the expectations required for a degree might seem a little daunting, so to help, UCL student Saumark Bhaumick lists her top tips for writing effective essays.
1. Set the standard
Understanding your academic discipline in relation to your year is the first step to writing a great university essay. A final-year history essay is going to be very different from a biology essay set for a first-year student.
You should identify what the basic requirements of essays in your field are. This includes common essay structure, tone, and referencing.
If you’re not sure on the answers to these, ask your module tutor for essay examples from previous first year students with similar work from relevant sources.
2. Understand structuring
Now that you’ve identified what the expectation is for your first essay, you can begin to think about your structure. To do this, consider what the word limit is. Using essay examples from step 1, allocate a rough percentage for each section in your structure.
For example, you may decide to give 20% of the word count for each main body paragraph, and 10% each to the introduction and conclusion.
3. Plan your essay
At this stage, creating a plan and allocating the appropriate time for each of the stages will really help you. Here’s an example:
- Research two points for my main argument (3 days)
- Research two points for my counter argument (3 days)
- Write the main argument (1 day)
- Write up the counter argument (1 day)
- Write my introduction and conclusion (1 day)
- Referencing and asking someone for feedback (1 day)
4. Research your sources
The research stage will most probably be the most interesting, and the most time-consuming. Here you should focus on learning and building up your notes, so that when it comes to writing, you can simply reword what you’ve already found.
To do this, know which websites to use for sources (journals, papers etc.) such as UCL Explore , Google Scholar , JSTOR . You can also do this by asking your Module Tutor for recommended sites and databases.
Make sure to read through sources efficiently and track what parts are relevant to your essay question by making your own notes from these sources.
5. Write from your sources and reference correctly
Now you can use the most relevant parts of your research notes to write the essay.
Make sure you don’t copy your notes (created from the sources) word for word! You don’t want to plagiarise for a number of reasons, and UCL’s Turnitin System will find out.
Add in the sources for each relevant idea to get references. You can reference properly at the end or as you go – both are fine – but make sure you have a rough way to keep track of which sources you’ve used!
Having identified which style of referencing you should use (e.g. Harvard, Vancouver etc.), you can use websites such as Mybib , Citethisforme or Mendeley to easily create a proper, error-free Bibliography and In-text citations.
Find out more about academic integrity at UCL
6. Get feedback
If you have enough time for this stage, you’ve done well! It would be wise to send your essay draft to your Module Tutor or Personal Tutor and ask for some feedback.
Nice job! You have written your first university essay. The good news? Every time you write one it gets easier, and you get better!
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As an undergraduate student at university, you will probably be expected to do some writing in most of your courses. Even if the course doesn't require you to submit a paper, it may require you to write an essay examination. Therefore, an important part of learning at university includes becoming familiar with the structure of an essay as well as achieving the level of competence in writing expected by university professors. Writing skills are emphasized in assignments at university because writing is an essential tool for communication in the working world; these assignments help you to develop the critical thinking and writing skills that will be important even after graduation.
Some students believe that writing ability is evaluated only in courses within English departments. This isn't true at the University of Guelph, where all faculty are directed by Senate to grade not only the content of the assignment but also "the student's ability to use correctly and effectively the language appropriate to the assignment." What this means is that no matter how well-chosen your topic, how well-researched your information, how innovative your ideas, or how brilliant your understanding of the material, your grade will suffer if you cannot convey all that to a reader through a well-organized, clearly written paper. Writing is an expression of your thoughts. If your writing isn't clear, a professor may assume that your thinking wasn't clear on that topic either.
Written assignments in university can vary in length from a one-page essay question on an examination to a 20 or 30 page research paper. They can also vary in the level of analysis as well as in the amount and type of research required. You may be asked simply to describe a process or event, or to analyze or evaluate how and why that process or event occurs. Some assignments will require you to read and discuss a single work assigned to you, while others will require you to conduct some kind of library research to ﬁnd out about your topic and to bring together in your paper information from a variety of sources. This is called secondary research, and requires you to learn to properly acknowledge your research sources when you write. Primary research occurs when you yourself make some observations on an experiment, survey or study, as is expected in science lab courses as well as in some social science and humanities research courses. But even those papers produced from primary research will usually involve the use of some kind of secondary research to discuss how your results compare to those of experts in the ﬁeld.
The term essay is used broadly for many different kinds of papers. Essentially, an essay is a written document that discusses, explains, analyzes, interprets, or evaluates a topic in an organized and coherent manner. The terminology used to refer to an assignment and the requirements for length, level of analysis, and amount of research vary not only between disciplines but also between courses within a discipline. Following are some examples of terminology which may be used in various disciplines.
In an introductory English literature course, you may be asked to write a literary essay or literary analysis which interprets a poem, short story or novel, and which uses only that piece of work and your own ideas as your sources. In more advanced English courses you may also be using the published opinions of other critics to support and expand your interpretation.
Some other words for essay include:
- Research essay
- Research paper
- Term assignment
- Term paper
The terminology is not necessarily consistent: a term paper may tend to be a longer paper written in advanced courses, but not necessarily. You may be assigned a speciﬁc topic or asked to choose your own from subjects relevant to the course; the assignment will require you to read up on a speciﬁc topic, using either books or journal articles, and to integrate those sources to inform or persuade a reader.
An assignment requiring a literature review may be asking you to choose a speciﬁc topic and then to read journal articles written by experts about their own research. In this kind of paper you will be summarizing and comparing the results of research conducted on that topic. In some advanced courses, you may also be required to do some critical evaluation of the kind and quality of research being done. The term ' literature', as it is used in this assignment, refers to published research material rather than English literature or ﬁction.
Although the word 'report' may occasionally be used for many of the assignments described above, it is most often used to describe a lab report or research report written in science, psychology, sociology, or business courses to report primary research.
A book review is usually a summary of your critical opinion of one or more books, possibly supported by research into what other critics have said.
Overall, the message here is not to worry about what the assignment is called, but instead to concentrate your efforts on reading and understanding every detail of what is asked of you in the assignment description. Some professors may include details about not only the length and due date, but also the number and kind of research sources to use, the kind of information to include, and even the method of organization to follow. Pay close attention to those instructions, because they are the professor's guidelines to you about what he/she will be looking for in evaluating the paper. Therefore, when you receive an assignment, the ﬁrst and most useful thing you can do is to read the assignment instructions carefully and make sure you understand what is required before proceeding. Check with the professor if you are uncertain about any of the requirements.
An essay may ask you to do one or more of the following:
- explain an idea
- persuade your reader
- analyze a concept or text
- argue a point
The specific purpose, length, and amount of research will vary from assignment to assignment.
Many essays will require you to support your ideas with information from other sources. Check out these other guides for help finding sources.
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Six top tips for writing a great essay
An essay is used to assess the strength of your critical thinking and your ability to put that thinking into an academic written form. This resource covers some key considerations when writing an essay at university.
While reading a student’s essay, markers will ask themselves questions such as:
- Does this essay directly address the set task?
- Does it present a strong, supported position?
- Does it use relevant sources appropriately?
- Is the expression clear, and the style appropriate?
- Is the essay organised coherently? Is there a clear introduction, body and conclusion?
You can use these questions to reflect on your own writing. Here are six top tips to help you address these criteria.
1. Analyse the question
Student essays are responses to specific questions. As an essay must address the question directly, your first step should be to analyse the question. Make sure you know exactly what is being asked of you.
Generally, essay questions contain three component parts:
- Content terms: Key concepts that are specific to the task
- Limiting terms: The scope that the topic focuses on
- Directive terms: What you need to do in relation to the content, e.g. discuss, analyse, define, compare, evaluate.
Look at the following essay question:
Discuss the importance of light in Gothic architecture.
- Content terms: Gothic architecture
- Limiting terms: the importance of light. If you discussed some other feature of Gothic architecture, for example spires or arches, you would be deviating from what is required. This essay question is limited to a discussion of light. Likewise, it asks you to write about the importance of light – not, for example, to discuss how light enters Gothic churches.
- Directive term: discuss. This term asks you to take a broad approach to the variety of ways in which light may be important for Gothic architecture. You should introduce and consider different ideas and opinions that you have met in academic literature on this topic, citing them appropriately .
For a more complex question, you can highlight the key words and break it down into a series of sub-questions to make sure you answer all parts of the task. Consider the following question (from Arts):
To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?
The key words here are American Revolution and revolution ‘from below’. This is a view that you would need to respond to in this essay. This response must focus on the aims and motivations of working people in the revolution, as stated in the second question.
2. Define your argument
As you plan and prepare to write the essay, you must consider what your argument is going to be. This means taking an informed position or point of view on the topic presented in the question, then defining and presenting a specific argument.
Consider these two argument statements:
The architectural use of light in Gothic cathedrals physically embodied the significance of light in medieval theology.
In the Gothic cathedral of Cologne, light served to accentuate the authority and ritual centrality of the priest.
Statements like these define an essay’s argument. They give coherence by providing an overarching theme and position towards which the entire essay is directed.
3. Use evidence, reasoning and scholarship
To convince your audience of your argument, you must use evidence and reasoning, which involves referring to and evaluating relevant scholarship.
- Evidence provides concrete information to support your claim. It typically consists of specific examples, facts, quotations, statistics and illustrations.
- Reasoning connects the evidence to your argument. Rather than citing evidence like a shopping list, you need to evaluate the evidence and show how it supports your argument.
- Scholarship is used to show how your argument relates to what has been written on the topic (citing specific works). Scholarship can be used as part of your evidence and reasoning to support your argument.
4. Organise a coherent essay
An essay has three basic components - introduction, body and conclusion.
The purpose of an introduction is to introduce your essay. It typically presents information in the following order:
- A general statement about the topic that provides context for your argument
- A thesis statement showing your argument. You can use explicit lead-ins, such as ‘This essay argues that...’
- A ‘road map’ of the essay, telling the reader how it is going to present and develop your argument.
"To what extent can the American Revolution be understood as a revolution ‘from below’? Why did working people become involved and with what aims in mind?"
Historians generally concentrate on the twenty-year period between 1763 and 1783 as the period which constitutes the American Revolution [This sentence sets the general context of the period] . However, when considering the involvement of working people, or people from below, in the revolution it is important to make a distinction between the pre-revolutionary period 1763-1774 and the revolutionary period 1774-1788, marked by the establishment of the continental Congress(1) [This sentence defines the key term from below and gives more context to the argument that follows] . This paper will argue that the nature and aims of the actions of working people are difficult to assess as it changed according to each phase [This is the thesis statement] . The pre-revolutionary period was characterised by opposition to Britain’s authority. During this period the aims and actions of the working people were more conservative as they responded to grievances related to taxes and scarce land, issues which directly affected them. However, examination of activities such as the organisation of crowd action and town meetings, pamphlet writing, formal communications to Britain of American grievances and physical action in the streets, demonstrates that their aims and actions became more revolutionary after 1775 [These sentences give the ‘road map’ or overview of the content of the essay] .
The body of the essay develops and elaborates your argument. It does this by presenting a reasoned case supported by evidence from relevant scholarship. Its shape corresponds to the overview that you provided in your introduction.
The body of your essay should be written in paragraphs. Each body paragraph should develop one main idea that supports your argument. To learn how to structure a paragraph, look at the page developing clarity and focus in academic writing .
Your conclusion should not offer any new material. Your evidence and argumentation should have been made clear to the reader in the body of the essay.
Use the conclusion to briefly restate the main argumentative position and provide a short summary of the themes discussed. In addition, also consider telling your reader:
- What the significance of your findings, or the implications of your conclusion, might be
- Whether there are other factors which need to be looked at, but which were outside the scope of the essay
- How your topic links to the wider context (‘bigger picture’) in your discipline.
Do not simply repeat yourself in this section. A conclusion which merely summarises is repetitive and reduces the impact of your paper.
Although, to a large extent, the working class were mainly those in the forefront of crowd action and they also led the revolts against wealthy plantation farmers, the American Revolution was not a class struggle [This is a statement of the concluding position of the essay]. Working people participated because the issues directly affected them – the threat posed by powerful landowners and the tyranny Britain represented. Whereas the aims and actions of the working classes were more concerned with resistance to British rule during the pre-revolutionary period, they became more revolutionary in nature after 1775 when the tension with Britain escalated [These sentences restate the key argument]. With this shift, a change in ideas occurred. In terms of considering the Revolution as a whole range of activities such as organising riots, communicating to Britain, attendance at town hall meetings and pamphlet writing, a difficulty emerges in that all classes were involved. Therefore, it is impossible to assess the extent to which a single group such as working people contributed to the American Revolution [These sentences give final thoughts on the topic].
5. Write clearly
An essay that makes good, evidence-supported points will only receive a high grade if it is written clearly. Clarity is produced through careful revision and editing, which can turn a good essay into an excellent one.
When you edit your essay, try to view it with fresh eyes – almost as if someone else had written it.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Have you clearly stated your argument in your introduction?
- Does the actual structure correspond to the ‘road map’ set out in your introduction?
- Have you clearly indicated how your main points support your argument?
- Have you clearly signposted the transitions between each of your main points for your reader?
- Does each paragraph introduce one main idea?
- Does every sentence in the paragraph support that main idea?
- Does each paragraph display relevant evidence and reasoning?
- Does each paragraph logically follow on from the one before it?
- Is each sentence grammatically complete?
- Is the spelling correct?
- Is the link between sentences clear to your readers?
- Have you avoided redundancy and repetition?
See more about editing on our editing your writing page.
6. Cite sources and evidence
Finally, check your citations to make sure that they are accurate and complete. Some faculties require you to use a specific citation style (e.g. APA) while others may allow you to choose a preferred one. Whatever style you use, you must follow its guidelines correctly and consistently. You can use Recite, the University of Melbourne style guide, to check your citations.
- Germov, J. (2011). Get great marks for your essays, reports and presentations (3rd ed.). NSW: Allen and Unwin.
- Using English for Academic Purposes: A guide for students in Higher Education [online]. Retrieved January 2020 from http://www.uefap.com
- Williams, J.M. & Colomb, G. G. (2010) Style: Lessons in clarity and grace. 10th ed. New York: Longman.
* Example introduction and conclusion adapted from a student paper.
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Welcome to the Purdue OWL
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.
The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.
This resource begins with a general description of essay writing and moves to a discussion of common essay genres students may encounter across the curriculum. The four genres of essays (description, narration, exposition, and argumentation) are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres, also known as the modes of discourse, have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these genres and students’ need to understand and produce these types of essays. We hope these resources will help.
The essay is a commonly assigned form of writing that every student will encounter while in academia. Therefore, it is wise for the student to become capable and comfortable with this type of writing early on in her training.
Essays can be a rewarding and challenging type of writing and are often assigned either to be done in class, which requires previous planning and practice (and a bit of creativity) on the part of the student, or as homework, which likewise demands a certain amount of preparation. Many poorly crafted essays have been produced on account of a lack of preparation and confidence. However, students can avoid the discomfort often associated with essay writing by understanding some common genres.
Before delving into its various genres, let’s begin with a basic definition of the essay.
What is an essay?
Though the word essay has come to be understood as a type of writing in Modern English, its origins provide us with some useful insights. The word comes into the English language through the French influence on Middle English; tracing it back further, we find that the French form of the word comes from the Latin verb exigere , which means "to examine, test, or (literally) to drive out." Through the excavation of this ancient word, we are able to unearth the essence of the academic essay: to encourage students to test or examine their ideas concerning a particular topic.
Essays are shorter pieces of writing that often require the student to hone a number of skills such as close reading, analysis, comparison and contrast, persuasion, conciseness, clarity, and exposition. As is evidenced by this list of attributes, there is much to be gained by the student who strives to succeed at essay writing.
The purpose of an essay is to encourage students to develop ideas and concepts in their writing with the direction of little more than their own thoughts (it may be helpful to view the essay as the converse of a research paper). Therefore, essays are (by nature) concise and require clarity in purpose and direction. This means that there is no room for the student’s thoughts to wander or stray from his or her purpose; the writing must be deliberate and interesting.
This handout should help students become familiar and comfortable with the process of essay composition through the introduction of some common essay genres.
This handout includes a brief introduction to the following genres of essay writing:
- Expository essays
- Descriptive essays
- Narrative essays
- Argumentative (Persuasive) essays
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3 Tips to Creating the College Essay
3 tips to creating the college essay:
- Give yourself enough time to work. You should brainstorm your essay idea and figure out how you want your essay to contribute to admissions committees' understanding of your application. You also want to work on a draft or two and get feedback on your drafts from a trusted source. It is very hard to do this work in a short amount of time.
- Write what you think you should write, not what you think the admission committee wants to hear. Writing and reading essays are subjective experiences. You want to make sure that you create an essay that you are proud of and that you feel expresses your point. Remember - the more passionate you are about your subject, the more engaging it is for the reader.
- Make sure the essay gives the reader a greater understanding of you – not about someone or something else. Oftentimes, when we try to describe what we value or what we care about, we do so by talking about someone or something that is a great example of those values and priorities. Be careful not to center the example in your essay and instead, explain why the example resonates with you.
This is a chance for you to share your voice. If you have any questions, reach out to your CU Boulder admissions counselor !
Written by CU Boulder Office of Admissions
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As a student or prospective student at CU Boulder, you have a right to certain information pertaining to financial aid programs, the Clery Act, crime and safety, graduation rates, athletics and other general information such as the costs associated with attending CU Boulder. To view this information visit colorado.edu/your-right-know .
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How to Write the University of Washington Essays 2023-2024
The University of Washington has two supplemental essays that are required for all applicants, and one optional, “additional information” prompt. While we typically encourage students to respond to any optional prompt, this one is actually optional, as you should only respond if there truly are unusual circumstances that have impacted your high school career. If you are applying to UW’s Honors Program, you will also have to write an additional essay.
UW is one of the top public universities in the country, with elite STEM programs and a location that offers unparalleled access to Amazon and Microsoft, among other influential companies, so you’ll want to make sure your essays truly shine. In this post, we’ll break down how to brainstorm for and write each one, so you can be sure you’re putting your best foot forward.
Read these University of Washington essay examples to inspire your writing.
University of Washington Prompts
Prompt 1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (650 words)
Prompt 2: Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the UW. (300 words)
Prompt 3 (optional): You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:
You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations, you have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended. (200 words), uw interdisciplinary honors program applicants.
We want to understand your desire to learn new things and to push your education outside of the areas of learning that you are most familiar with. Tell us why this type of learning interests you and which subjects you’re excited to explore in college. (450 words)
All Applicants, Prompt 1
Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (650 words).
This prompt is the first of the five options on the Coalition Application and is purposefully phrased nebulously to allow for a wide range of responses. You can relay any experience that reflects or shaped who you are.
To start, examine your many identities, and choose one that you want to highlight. All experiences are valid, whether they are traditional or unconventional. Focus on the things that make you different from others, and reflect on how they shaped you as a person. Remember that this is your main college essay, so be sure to pick an experience that was integral to your growth throughout high school.
This is a good chance to tell the story behind any major extracurriculars on your activity list. For example, you might write “debate team captain” as an extracurricular, but this essay is where you can recount the grit and dedication it took for you to reach that position, as you once were extremely shy. You can also use this space to explore identities that don’t appear elsewhere on your application, such as your role within your family. For example, you can write about how you tutor your younger brother in math, and how watching his face light up after understanding a new concept sparked your love of teaching.
A common theme across all college essays is “show, don’t tell.” This phrase is thrown around frequently, but is easier said than done. A few things to keep in mind when showing rather than telling are vividness and authenticity, which can be created by invoking imagery and specific details. For example, rather than saying “I like tennis and the game has always fascinated me,” try conjuring an image in the reader’s mind such as “At the start of my first official match, I gripped my trusted red racquet tightly, swaying ever so slightly from foot to foot in the ‘ready’ stance that I had practiced for years.” While the first response may be true, it is generic and can apply to any tennis aficionado. The latter response better authenticates your experiences than the former, and demonstrates your sincerity to readers.
All Applicants, Prompt 2
Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the uw. (300 words).
This question serves two purposes: it gives UW an opportunity to learn more about how you developed your values, and it allows them to consider how you might interact with others on campus. It is easy to get mired in focusing on describing your community, but remember, UW wants to learn about you through seeing how your community impacted you. Use a description of your community to frame your essay, but always remind yourself to connect the story back to how it changed you. Once you have framed the essay with a description of who you have become as a result of your community’s impact, be sure to extend this thread to your potential future influence on UW.
There are several ways to interpret community. You could interpret it in the literal sense by explaining how your hometown and family have guided your ambitions. For example, maybe growing up on your family’s farm inspired your appreciation for agriculture and working with your hands. You hope to share this appreciation with other students by working on the UW farm and organizing workshops where students can learn how to plant their own flowers or herbs.
Or, perhaps the community you want to highlight is less conventional, such as the coffeeshop you work at. You could discuss how your coworkers are from all walks of life, and how you’ve befriended a retired older couple that picks up weekend shifts. They offer you advice based on their many life experiences, showing you the importance of having an older mentor. This makes you want to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter at UW.
Regardless of what your community is, be sure to highlight how you’ll contribute to UW’s diversity, whether that’s through your perspective, actions, ideas, cultural traditions, etc.
All Applicants, Prompt 3 (optional)
You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. for example, you may use this space if:.
This portion of the application is optional, and while we recommend that you fill out most “optional” essays, this space is truly optional. If you don’t have any unusual circumstances, you can leave it blank without penalty. If feel that the parameters apply to you, you should fill this section out. This is your chance to explain anything that hasn’t been addressed in other parts of your application. Since the maximum is 200 words and the prompt is straightforward, you can (and should) also be totally straightforward in your response, rather than painting a picture with vivid imagery.
For the first prompt, an example of a response could be:
“In the sophomore year of high school, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and it profoundly affected multiple areas of my life, including my academic performance. For that reason, there is a significant dip in my grades in the spring semester of that year.”
For the second:
“Because my parents own a small restaurant, it is often my responsibility to watch my younger siblings while they are working, and even help out by doing the dishes or bussing tables in my free time. For that reason, I was unable to join as many extracurriculars as my after school time went towards helping ensure the family restaurant was running smoothly.”
For the last prompt, you can briefly state school-related limitations or opportunities, like if your school did not have an AP or IB program, or if it did have a special internship program that you participated in. Keep in mind that some universities designate admissions officers to research your region and know what programs your school has or doesn’t have – this might be something you want to look into before filling out this section. However, you might want to fill out this section if the school you’re applying to does not have regional admissions officers.
If there is a specific school program or opportunity that you wish to mention, we recommend doing so via your activity list or one of your essays, rather than in this short, 200-word window. If you find that you don’t have space in the rest of your application, then this section is fine.
Please reflect and respond to the following question, and in doing so explain your interest in the UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program. What is interdisciplinary learning and why is it important to you? (300 words)
While you might be tempted to approach this prompt in the way you would approach a traditional “Why This Major?” essay, hold on for a second and reread the prompt. Rather than being asked why you are pursuing a particular major or area of study, you’re being asked about why learning new things interests you and which “subjects you’re excited to explore in college”.
Although you will likely be most excited to study the topics relevant to your major, this prompt specifically requests that you “push…outside of the areas of learning that you are most familiar with.” UW admissions officers are hoping to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of your intellectual potential, so your response should focus on a topic other than your intended major.
However, be sure to discuss an area of interest that has some alignment with the rest of your application, so that it doesn’t feel totally out-of-the-blue. If you’ve never been a part of any music-related classes or activities, writing about your passion for songwriting may feel a little disjointed.
Of course, our identities are complicated, but remember that the people reading your applications don’t know you outside of what you tell them, which means it’s crucial that the various pieces of your application come together to form a cohesive unit. Otherwise, your readers may not understand who exactly you are.
To give an example of something you could write about, maybe your intended major is biology, but you’ve also studied Latin throughout high school. You could focus your essay on how you hope to read ancient and medieval scientific texts, to learn more about how human understanding of the world around us has evolved.
Another approach to this essay could be identifying a topic that has nothing to do with biology but ties into some aspect(s) of your identity. Perhaps growing up in a multilingual, bi-racial household, with parents from South America and East Asia, meant you were constantly participating in family gatherings and celebrating holidays with very different cultural contexts. In college, you hope to study anthropology and sociology, even though you have no direct experience with either of those subjects, so that you can not only understand your own identity better, but also be better prepared to engage with those who have their own complicated stories.
Note that the prompt asks you to not only describe one of your academic interests, but also explain “why this type of learning interests you,” with regards to interdisciplinary learning. To answer this part of the prompt, you’ll want to identify one or two of your goals for college, and how you see interdisciplinary learning in particular helping you reach them.
The second example given above already does this, as the student explains that they want to be able to better communicate with people from cultural backgrounds that differ from their own, and they clearly connect that goal to the subjects they are focusing on.
The student in the first example is starting to get to this component of their essay, but needs a little more personal connection. They could get that by, for example, writing about how they’re not sure how they can best utilize their skills within the vast field of biology–as a doctor, researcher, educator, or something else–and throughout college, hopefully exploring the history of the subject will give them a clearer idea of the right path ahead.
Here are some finals tips for you to consider when responding to this essay:
- 450 words is on the long side for a supplemental essay, so take the time to share an anecdote that integrates your interest in a specific topic with your background, personal values, and overall love of learning, rather than just stating your points in a direct, factual way
- Explain why the University of Washington specifically can help you reach your goals, by referencing a few course offerings, campus organizations, research opportunities, and so on that align with your interests
- Not to sound cheesy, but have fun! As we noted at the beginning of this breakdown, you have more freedom here than in a “Why Major?” essay, so highlight your curiosity, excitement, and any quirky connection you have to your topic, rather than worrying about whether or not you’ve taken enough APs or done enough extracurriculars related to your topic
Where to Get Your University of Washington Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your UW essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
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How To Write An Essay: Beginner Tips And Tricks
Many students dread writing essays, but essay writing is an important skill to develop in high school, university, and even into your future career. By learning how to write an essay properly, the process can become more enjoyable and you’ll find you’re better able to organize and articulate your thoughts.
When writing an essay, it’s common to follow a specific pattern, no matter what the topic is. Once you’ve used the pattern a few times and you know how to structure an essay, it will become a lot more simple to apply your knowledge to every essay.
No matter which major you choose, you should know how to craft a good essay. Here, we’ll cover the basics of essay writing, along with some helpful tips to make the writing process go smoothly.
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Types of Essays
Think of an essay as a discussion. There are many types of discussions you can have with someone else. You can be describing a story that happened to you, you might explain to them how to do something, or you might even argue about a certain topic.
When it comes to different types of essays, it follows a similar pattern. Like a friendly discussion, each type of essay will come with its own set of expectations or goals.
For example, when arguing with a friend, your goal is to convince them that you’re right. The same goes for an argumentative essay.
Here are a few of the main essay types you can expect to come across during your time in school:
This type of essay is almost like telling a story, not in the traditional sense with dialogue and characters, but as if you’re writing out an event or series of events to relay information to the reader.
Here, your goal is to persuade the reader about your views on a specific topic.
This is the kind of essay where you go into a lot more specific details describing a topic such as a place or an event.
In this essay, you’re choosing a stance on a topic, usually controversial, and your goal is to present evidence that proves your point is correct.
Your purpose with this type of essay is to tell the reader how to complete a specific process, often including a step-by-step guide or something similar.
Compare and Contrast Essay
You might have done this in school with two different books or characters, but the ultimate goal is to draw similarities and differences between any two given subjects.
The Main Stages of Essay Writing
When it comes to writing an essay, many students think the only stage is getting all your ideas down on paper and submitting your work. However, that’s not quite the case.
There are three main stages of writing an essay, each one with its own purpose. Of course, writing the essay itself is the most substantial part, but the other two stages are equally as important.
So, what are these three stages of essay writing? They are:
Before you even write one word, it’s important to prepare the content and structure of your essay. If a topic wasn’t assigned to you, then the first thing you should do is settle on a topic. Next, you want to conduct your research on that topic and create a detailed outline based on your research. The preparation stage will make writing your essay that much easier since, with your outline and research, you should already have the skeleton of your essay.
Writing is the most time-consuming stage. In this stage, you will write out all your thoughts and ideas and craft your essay based on your outline. You’ll work on developing your ideas and fleshing them out throughout the introduction, body, and conclusion (more on these soon).
In the final stage, you’ll go over your essay and check for a few things. First, you’ll check if your essay is cohesive, if all the points make sense and are related to your topic, and that your facts are cited and backed up. You can also check for typos, grammar and punctuation mistakes, and formatting errors.
The Five-Paragraph Essay
We mentioned earlier that essay writing follows a specific structure, and for the most part in academic or college essays , the five-paragraph essay is the generally accepted structure you’ll be expected to use.
The five-paragraph essay is broken down into one introduction paragraph, three body paragraphs, and a closing paragraph. However, that doesn’t always mean that an essay is written strictly in five paragraphs, but rather that this structure can be used loosely and the three body paragraphs might become three sections instead.
Let’s take a closer look at each section and what it entails.
As the name implies, the purpose of your introduction paragraph is to introduce your idea. A good introduction begins with a “hook,” something that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them excited to read more.
Another key tenant of an introduction is a thesis statement, which usually comes towards the end of the introduction itself. Your thesis statement should be a phrase that explains your argument, position, or central idea that you plan on developing throughout the essay.
You can also include a short outline of what to expect in your introduction, including bringing up brief points that you plan on explaining more later on in the body paragraphs.
Here is where most of your essay happens. The body paragraphs are where you develop your ideas and bring up all the points related to your main topic.
In general, you’re meant to have three body paragraphs, or sections, and each one should bring up a different point. Think of it as bringing up evidence. Each paragraph is a different piece of evidence, and when the three pieces are taken together, it backs up your main point — your thesis statement — really well.
That being said, you still want each body paragraph to be tied together in some way so that the essay flows. The points should be distinct enough, but they should relate to each other, and definitely to your thesis statement. Each body paragraph works to advance your point, so when crafting your essay, it’s important to keep this in mind so that you avoid going off-track or writing things that are off-topic.
Many students aren’t sure how to write a conclusion for an essay and tend to see their conclusion as an afterthought, but this section is just as important as the rest of your work.
You shouldn’t be presenting any new ideas in your conclusion, but you should summarize your main points and show how they back up your thesis statement.
Essentially, the conclusion is similar in structure and content to the introduction, but instead of introducing your essay, it should be wrapping up the main thoughts and presenting them to the reader as a singular closed argument.
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Steps to Writing an Essay
Now that you have a better idea of an essay’s structure and all the elements that go into it, you might be wondering what the different steps are to actually write your essay.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Instead of going in blind, follow these steps on how to write your essay from start to finish.
Understand Your Assignment
When writing an essay for an assignment, the first critical step is to make sure you’ve read through your assignment carefully and understand it thoroughly. You want to check what type of essay is required, that you understand the topic, and that you pay attention to any formatting or structural requirements. You don’t want to lose marks just because you didn’t read the assignment carefully.
Research Your Topic
Once you understand your assignment, it’s time to do some research. In this step, you should start looking at different sources to get ideas for what points you want to bring up throughout your essay.
Search online or head to the library and get as many resources as possible. You don’t need to use them all, but it’s good to start with a lot and then narrow down your sources as you become more certain of your essay’s direction.
After research comes the brainstorming. There are a lot of different ways to start the brainstorming process . Here are a few you might find helpful:
- Think about what you found during your research that interested you the most
- Jot down all your ideas, even if they’re not yet fully formed
- Create word clouds or maps for similar terms or ideas that come up so you can group them together based on their similarities
- Try freewriting to get all your ideas out before arranging them
Create a Thesis
This is often the most tricky part of the whole process since you want to create a thesis that’s strong and that you’re about to develop throughout the entire essay. Therefore, you want to choose a thesis statement that’s broad enough that you’ll have enough to say about it, but not so broad that you can’t be precise.
Write Your Outline
Armed with your research, brainstorming sessions, and your thesis statement, the next step is to write an outline.
In the outline, you’ll want to put your thesis statement at the beginning and start creating the basic skeleton of how you want your essay to look.
A good way to tackle an essay is to use topic sentences . A topic sentence is like a mini-thesis statement that is usually the first sentence of a new paragraph. This sentence introduces the main idea that will be detailed throughout the paragraph.
If you create an outline with the topic sentences for your body paragraphs and then a few points of what you want to discuss, you’ll already have a strong starting point when it comes time to sit down and write. This brings us to our next step…
Write a First Draft
The first time you write your entire essay doesn’t need to be perfect, but you do need to get everything on the page so that you’re able to then write a second draft or review it afterward.
Everyone’s writing process is different. Some students like to write their essay in the standard order of intro, body, and conclusion, while others prefer to start with the “meat” of the essay and tackle the body, and then fill in the other sections afterward.
Make sure your essay follows your outline and that everything relates to your thesis statement and your points are backed up by the research you did.
Revise, Edit, and Proofread
The revision process is one of the three main stages of writing an essay, yet many people skip this step thinking their work is done after the first draft is complete.
However, proofreading, reviewing, and making edits on your essay can spell the difference between a B paper and an A.
After writing the first draft, try and set your essay aside for a few hours or even a day or two, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to review it. You might find mistakes or inconsistencies you missed or better ways to formulate your arguments.
Add the Finishing Touches
Finally, you’ll want to make sure everything that’s required is in your essay. Review your assignment again and see if all the requirements are there, such as formatting rules, citations, quotes, etc.
Go over the order of your paragraphs and make sure everything makes sense, flows well, and uses the same writing style .
Once everything is checked and all the last touches are added, give your essay a final read through just to ensure it’s as you want it before handing it in.
A good way to do this is to read your essay out loud since you’ll be able to hear if there are any mistakes or inaccuracies.
Essay Writing Tips
With the steps outlined above, you should be able to craft a great essay. Still, there are some other handy tips we’d recommend just to ensure that the essay writing process goes as smoothly as possible.
- Start your essay early. This is the first tip for a reason. It’s one of the most important things you can do to write a good essay. If you start it the night before, then you won’t have enough time to research, brainstorm, and outline — and you surely won’t have enough time to review.
- Don’t try and write it in one sitting. It’s ok if you need to take breaks or write it over a few days. It’s better to write it in multiple sittings so that you have a fresh mind each time and you’re able to focus.
- Always keep the essay question in mind. If you’re given an assigned question, then you should always keep it handy when writing your essay to make sure you’re always working to answer the question.
- Use transitions between paragraphs. In order to improve the readability of your essay, try and make clear transitions between paragraphs. This means trying to relate the end of one paragraph to the beginning of the next one so the shift doesn’t seem random.
- Integrate your research thoughtfully. Add in citations or quotes from your research materials to back up your thesis and main points. This will show that you did the research and that your thesis is backed up by it.
Writing an essay doesn’t need to be daunting if you know how to approach it. Using our essay writing steps and tips, you’ll have better knowledge on how to write an essay and you’ll be able to apply it to your next assignment. Once you do this a few times, it will become more natural to you and the essay writing process will become quicker and easier.
If you still need assistance with your essay, check with a student advisor to see if they offer help with writing. At University of the People(UoPeople), we always want our students to succeed, so our student advisors are ready to help with writing skills when necessary.
How to Start an Essay: 7 Tips for a Knockout Essay Introduction
Sometimes, the most difficult part of writing an essay is getting started. You might have an outline already and know what you want to write, but struggle to find the right words to get it going. Don’t worry; you aren’t the first person to grapple with starting an essay, and you certainly won’t be the last.
Writing an essay isn’t the same as writing a book. Or writing a poem. Or writing a scientific research paper. Essay writing is a unique process that involves clear sequencing, backing up your positions with quality sources, and engaging language. But it’s also got one important thing in common with every other type of writing: You need to hook your reader’s attention within the first few sentences.
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Intriguing ways to start an essay
There are many different ways to write an essay introduction. Each has its benefits and potential drawbacks, and each is best suited for certain kinds of essays . Although these essay introductions use different rhetorical devices and prime the reader in different ways, they all achieve the same goal: hooking the reader and enticing them to keep reading.
To “hook” a reader simply means to capture their attention and make them want to continue reading your work. An essay introduction that successfully hooks readers in one essay won’t necessarily hook readers in another essay, which is why it’s so important for you to understand why different types of essay openings are effective.
Take a look at these common ways to start an essay:
Share a shocking or amusing fact
One way to start your essay is with a shocking, unexpected, or amusing fact about the topic you’re covering. This grabs the reader’s attention and makes them want to read further, expecting explanation, context, and/or elaboration on the fact you presented.
Check out these essay introduction examples that use relevant, engaging facts to capture the reader’s attention:
“More than half of Iceland’s population believe that elves exist or that they possibly can exist. Although this might sound strange to foreigners, many of us have similar beliefs that would sound just as strange to those outside our cultures.”
“Undergraduate students involved in federal work-study programs earn an average of just $1,794 per year. That’s just slightly more than the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in our city.”
Relevance is key here. Make sure the fact you choose directly relates to the topic you’re covering in your essay. Otherwise, it will feel random, confusing, or at best, shoehorned into the essay. In any case, it will undermine your essay as a whole by making it seem like you don’t have a full grasp on your topic.
If you’re writing an expository or persuasive essay , including a shocking or amusing fact in your introduction can be a great way to pique your reader’s curiosity. The fact you present can be one that supports the position you argue in the essay or it can be part of the body of data your expository essay explains.
Ask a question
By asking a question in your essay opening, you’re directly inviting the reader to interact with your work. They don’t get to be a passive consumer; they’re now part of the conversation. This can be a very engaging way to start an essay.
Take a look at these examples of essay openings that use questions to hook readers:
“How many times have you been late to class because you couldn’t find parking? You’re not alone—our campus is in desperate need of a new parking deck.”
“How frequently do you shop at fast fashion retailers? These retailers include H&M, Zara, Uniqlo and other brands that specialize in inexpensive clothing meant for short-term use.”
Asking a question is an effective choice for a persuasive essay because it asks the reader to insert themselves into the topic or even pick a side. While it can also work in other kinds of essays, it really shines in any essay that directly addresses the reader and puts them in a position to reflect on what you’re asking.
Dramatize a scene
Another effective way to write an essay introduction is to dramatize a scene related to your essay. Generally, this approach is best used with creative essays, like personal statements and literary essays. Here are a few examples of essay introductions that immerse readers in the action through dramatized scenes:
“The rain pounded against the roof, loudly drowning out any conversations we attempted to have. I’d promised them I’d play the latest song I wrote for guitar, but Mother Earth prevented any concert from happening that night.”
“Imagine you’ve just gotten off an airplane. You’re hot, you’re tired, you’re uncomfortable, and suddenly, you’re under arrest.”
Beyond creative essays, this kind of opening can work when you’re using emotional appeal to underscore your position in a persuasive essay. It’s also a great tool for a dramatic essay, and could be just the first of multiple dramatized scenes throughout the piece.
Kick it off with a quote
When you’re wondering how to write an essay introduction, remember that you can always borrow wisdom from other writers. This is a powerful way to kick off any kind of essay. Take a look at these examples:
“‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ —William Faulkner. In his novel Requiem for a Nun , our changing perspective of the past is a primary theme.”
“‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’ —Nelson Mandela. Before I joined the military, boot camp seemed impossible. But now, it’s done.”
Just as in choosing a fact or statistic to open your essay, any quote you choose needs to be relevant to your essay’s topic . If your reader has to perform a web search for your quote to figure out how it relates to the rest of your essay, it’s not relevant enough to use. Go with another quote that your text can easily explain.
State your thesis directly
The most straightforward kind of essay introduction is one where you simply state your thesis. Take a look at these examples:
“Fraternity culture is dangerous and contrary to campus values. Banning it is in the campus community’s best interest.”
“We can’t afford to ignore the evidence any longer; we need climate action now.”
How to write an essay introduction
Pick the right tone for your essay.
You probably shouldn’t use a funny quote to start a persuasive essay on a serious subject. Similarly, a statistic that can evoke strong emotions in the reader might not be the right choice for an expository essay because it could potentially be construed as your attempt to argue for a certain viewpoint, rather than state facts.
Read your essay’s first paragraph aloud and listen to your writing’s tone. Does the opening line’s tone match the rest of the paragraph, or is there a noticeable tone shift from the first line or two to the rest? In many cases, you can hear whether your tone is appropriate for your essay. Beyond listening for the right tone, use Grammarly’s tone detector to ensure that your essay introduction—as well as the rest of your essay—maintains the right tone for the subject you’re covering.
When you’re stuck, work backwards
Starting an essay can be difficult. If you find yourself so caught up on how to write an essay introduction that you’re staring at a blank screen as the clock ticks closer to your deadline, skip the introduction and move onto your essay’s body paragraphs . Once you have some text on the page, it can be easier to go back and write an introduction that leads into that content.
You may even want to start from the very end of your essay. If you know where your essay is going, but not necessarily how it will get there, write your conclusion first. Then, write the paragraph that comes right before your conclusion. Next, write the paragraph before that, working your way backwards until you’re in your introduction paragraph. By then, writing an effective essay introduction should be easy because you already have the content you need to introduce.
Polish your essays until they shine
Got a draft of a great essay? Awesome! But don’t hit “submit” just yet—you’re only halfway to the finish line. Make sure you’re always submitting your best work by using Grammarly to catch misspelled words, grammar mistakes, and places where you can swap in different words to improve your writing’s clarity.
How to Write a Great College Essay
You’ve researched potential schools , applied for financial aid , and filled out your applications, but the college essay deadline looms over you. Your blank screen may intimidate you, but you’re closer to writing an amazing essay than you think.
If you’re wondering how to write a great college essay, consult these tips.
1. Choose Your Topic Wisely
Choosing what to write about can feel like half the battle of writing a college essay.
The essay serves as a picture of who you are to the admissions staff, so the topics you care about deeply work the best. Your passions, convictions, and meaningful experiences are all great places to start.
To generate ideas, imagine someone who knows you well had to describe you to a stranger. What’s crucial to include? What stories would they tell? What hobbies and interests would they mention? To take the exercise a step further, ask a close relative or friend the same questions.
Take a close look at the essay prompts, too. Though you can usually write about whatever topic you’d like, the suggested prompts may help you narrow your focus if you have a general idea in mind.
2. Stand Out
A few common topics saturate the hundreds of essays that admissions staff read every year. Some of these include academic setbacks and successes, sports injuries and victories, experiences of loss, immigration and relocation, and travel.
Though you may have powerful stories that fall under these topics, their universality puts you at a disadvantage. It’s extremely difficult to provide a fresh perspective on subjects that thousands of other students have written about. So if you pick one of these topics, know that you risk blending in with the crowd. Consider giving a unique story or unconventional interest the spotlight.
No matter what subject you choose, write in a way that allows you to stand out. Include the details only you can write, describing them in the way only you would.
3. Develop Your Voice
The college essay calls for mature and skillful writing. Many students, wanting to demonstrate that they know how to write a college essay, use unnecessarily complicated language. This only results in a dense and confusing paper.
You risk sounding ingenuine when you use words and expressions that you never would in real life. Your best writing allows your authentic voice to shine through. The admissions officers care more about whether you’re capable of writing clearly and concisely, not about how many academic, multi-syllabic words you know.
Have trouble sounding like yourself while writing? Read your writing aloud. You’ll catch unnatural wording and awkward phrasing.
Consider freewriting as well. Freewriting entails writing whatever comes to mind without pausing, erasing or editing your work. To get started, set a timer for 10-20 minutes and write until it goes off.
After a couple of sessions, you’ll feel more comfortable putting the pen to the page (or fingers to the keyboard!). You’ll also get to practice putting complex feelings and ideas into words, a valuable skill when understanding how to write a great college essay.
4. Highlight Your Growth
Everyone knows that the power of a good story lies in the details. So when writing a college essay, many students focus more on what happened than how they developed as a person through it.
While you want to write descriptively, your essay should emphasize your growth and development more than the external circumstances. Describing what you did on a trip doesn’t illustrate much about you as a person. But exploring how it sparked a passion in you, changed your view about an issue, or challenged you to reexamine your faith makes for a more meaningful essay.
Many students also believe their essay should function as a resume, listing out their strengths and achievements. Your essay may indeed demonstrate a positive quality or achievement of yours. But when you restate details already on your application, you waste the opportunity to venture beyond facts and figures and into who you are as a person. Outlining your noble deeds and impressive accolades won’t resonate with the admissions staff, but sincere, vulnerable writing will.
If you’re wondering how to write a great college essay, highlight your growth and your passions. Don’t select a story simply because it paints you in a good light.
5. Tell a Good Story
Great college essays use compelling narratives to highlight growth. A good story speaks to us in ways other types of writing cannot.
Most college essays follow a narrative sequence, taking the reader through an event chronologically. Because of its simplicity and clarity, this format lends itself well to college essays. Some essays also follow a topical order, describing multiple scenes that revolve around a common theme.
No matter how you structure your essay, use rich, descriptive writing. Specific, powerful language immerses your reader in your story. You can only achieve this kind of writing by putting time and effort into your college essay. Don’t settle on one draft! Play around with sentence structure. Try out multiple words before choosing one. Your college essay is brief, so make sure every word conveys exactly what you intend it to mean.
Wonder no longer how to write a great college essay. With these tips in mind, you can write with power and meaning, giving admissions staff a clear picture of what makes you, you.
Looking for a college that doesn’t require an essay? Consider Grace College. The Lancer application is free and takes only five minutes to complete.
Explore Grace College Admissions and read this blog about Grace’s admissions process here.
Grace College Worship Arts Professor Dr. Wally Brath Releases Album on the Psalms
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Columbia Writing Academy: Spring
February 5–15, 2024 Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays 7:00 p.m.–8:15 p.m.
Columbia Writing Academy: Spring Writing for College Success
The Columbia Writing Academy is designed for high school students who know that writing is the key to college success and want to develop their own personal voice and expand their writing skills before starting college. Through a combination of workshops and tutorials, exercises and assignments, students will practice the fundamental skills for writing successful college essays—developing a position to argue, persuading readers, anticipating counterarguments, and crafting strong sentences. Students will explore each stage in the writing process—brainstorming, drafting, revising—and will receive in-depth feedback at each stage of the process. By the end of the course, students will have practiced the major skills of successful college writing and have written a college-level essay.
The Academy will be a lively two-week online course that requires six to eight hours of work each week, including reading, writing, and participating in three synchronous Zoom sessions each week. The synchronous sessions will be held on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 7:00 p.m.–8:15 p.m. ET, and will include seminar-style discussions and writing workshops.
By the end of this course, students will be able to do the following:
Think like a writer. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of texts, the rhetorical techniques writers commonly use in crafting them, and how such techniques affect and appeal to specific readers’ interests and expectations.
Write like a college student. Understand the conventions and expectations of the college essay and practice the fundamental skills for writing successful essays.
Read like an editor. Use the feedback of peers and their seminar leader to write and revise successfully, and to examine their writing decisions, preferences, strengths, and challenges.
Dr. Nancy Sommers is a prize-winning writer and teacher who created the Columbia Writing Academy.
She assembled a select group of talented, experienced writers and writing instructors to lead the program with an unwavering commitment to their students’ success.
Read Dr. Sommers' bio
Because the Columbia Writing Academy is offered as a course within the Online Academic Year program, be sure to select this session when applying. Again, due to the importance of focused time with individual students, the admissions committee looks for exceptional students eager to contribute original ideas and a spirit of intellectual curiosity to a community of enthusiastic learners.
Please visit the Academic Year Weekend program page for cost breakdown and further details.
Pondering the application process? Curious about commuting? Just wondering what to wear? Visit our Frequently Asked Questions to find many helpful answers.
With so many options, it can be hard to decide which program is right for you. Narrow your search with customized filters to explore only the programs that match what you’re looking for.
Start Your Application
If you would like to be part of the Columbia Writing Academy, be sure to select the course when applying for the Online Academic Year Program.
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With WritingUniverse You Will Get Excellence Due to
Our team consists of the best writers, editors, and academic researchers on the market. They pass several tests and training before joining our company.
If there are any questions about our services, or you need additional information to make an order, our friendly customer support will resolve any issues.
Personal information provided by you won’t be stored or leaked to third parties. All data is protected. It is completely safe to use our services.
Your paper will have 100% original content. Our writers will follow your requirements, conduct research, and cite all the references used.
In case you are not satisfied with the final paper, we will revise it or return your money back. Our Quality Assurance Department deals with quality complaints.
We are punctual and respect deadlines. Your academic projects will be delivered strictly within the deadline. Even urgent orders will be completed on time.
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