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        How to Format a College Essay: Format Template & Tips

        • calenderJan 24, 2023
        • calender 8 min read

        A college essay decides your admission into the college of your choice. It is the only document that displays your aptitude and competence toward the academic program you’ve worked so hard to get in! So, you need to follow the appropriate college essay format in order to prove your credibility as a valuable scholarly addition to their elite cohort. 

        Your college essay enables the jury to know you beyond your application ID and academic transcripts. It allows you to justify your experiences and express how certain realizations have molded you to arrive at this point in your academic career. 

        So, let’s begin with the basics: What is a college essay? In this article, we’ll tell you how to format a college essay in five steps and provide a college essay template to help you write the perfect document.

        What is a college essay?

        A college essay is a personal statement that provides the jury with a window into your unique academic journey. An ideal college essay shows the reader how your personal experiences have informed your decision-making process and how that can help you thrive in your chosen discipline. 

        In order to write an effective college essay, you need to know the type of structure that works best for you. Here are some guidelines on using the college essay format to your advantage.

        How to format a college essay 

        Each college has its own submission guidelines. While some colleges require candidates to send the document via email, others require them to write or copy-paste the essay material into a text box. How you format your essay depends on what type of submission guideline you’re following. 

        How to format a college essay in a text box

        When you copy-paste your essay for college application, there are certain formatting limitations.

        • Write with the knowledge that all typographical formatting such as bold, italics, and underlining might not be reflected in a text box. 
        • Don’t use variations in spacing and indents, since they aren’t typically reflected in a text box. 
        • If you are not directly typing inside the text box, ensure that you check if the paragraphs are separated by a line after you have copy-pasted the material. 
        • Be mindful of the word count. Most text boxes do not allow you to type once the maximum word limit is reached. 

        How to format a college essay as an attached document

        In this case, follow standard academic formatting conventions:

        • Apply font size 12, Times New Roman, or another easily readable and widely used font type. 
        • Select double-spacing or 1.5-line spacing for your text. 
        • Indent the first line of every paragraph. 
        • Apply a one-inch margin on all sides.
        • Make use of the essay header or footer to add the page numbers. 
        • Submit the document in a PDF format to preserve page formatting. 

        Format template for college essays 

        The following template for a college essay format can be used as a standard blueprint. However, you may take the call on your final essay format depending on the type of essay you’re writing and other specifics of your college application. 

        #1 If you add a title, make it creative

        Adding a title is optional. If you feel that adding a title is eating away the prescribed word limit, you may choose not to provide a title. In the case when you are unsure about the title, wait till you finish the essay. In retrospect, you will have a firm position on whether or not a title is apt for your college essay. 

        #2 Begin with a hook 

        Every college receives a plethora of applications during the admission season. Therefore, the opening paragraph of your college essay must have something interesting to offer. A hook that will keep the reader engaged makes for a good first impression. Following are some of the ways to achieve this: 

        • Without giving prior context, begin with the midway of the story. This means that the rest of the essay will brief the reader about the context of the event. However, with this approach, there are risks associated with respect to being misconstrued or inauthentic. 
        • Another way to sport a hook is to provide the context first while creating a narrative around it. Setting a context with a targeted intent will allow you to direct the readers to the specifics of your story within a short timeframe. 

        #3 Keep the introduction brief 

        An introduction ideally establishes the pretext for your college essay. Once the hook is placed, an introduction should be provided to familiarize the readers with the direction of your story. The introduction shouldn’t be longer than three to four sentences. 

        Toward the end of the introduction, place your thesis statement. Use the body paragraphs to unpack parts of the thesis and call back to it in the conclusion.

        #4 Narrate your story 

        Considering that the introduction and conclusion are collated within 200 words, the body of the essay is a section that breathes life into your story. So, you need to create and develop the narrative around the main angle of your story in the body section. 

        Since you have only three or four paragraphs to achieve this, ensure that each sentence adds value to the essay. Pay special attention to grammar and sentence construction while writing. You don’t want a random formatting mistake or language error to cost you your seat at the dream college!

        Make sure that your personality shines through your words. If possible, take an academic editor’s help to ensure that you’ve used the right college essay format and that your words are impactful. 

        #5 Drive home your point in the conclusion

        A conclusion is a closing statement or final impression that you want to leave the readers with. As such, it should clearly indicate the main point that you want to get across. Reiterate the value that the story has had on you and its lasting impressions that encouraged you to apply for the program. 

        Of course, merely knowing the college essay format isn’t enough. You need to undertake four key steps if you want to write a great college essay. Let’s take a look.

        A 4-step guide on how to write a college essay

        The process of writing a college essay begins with your topic. If you choose the right topic, you’ll be able to showcase all your strengths and successes. Then, it’s only a matter of developing an outline and organizing your content!

        Here’s your guide on how to write a college essay:

        #1 Select the right college essay prompt 

        Every college will provide a list of topics for the students to choose from. It can be difficult to decide which essay prompt to write about. You need to highlight yourself as a student and showcase to the jury what you can uniquely bring to the table. 

        We have two ways to help you select the right college essay prompt:

        1. Run a qualitative analysis to find out three personal attributes that highlight your strengths. Make sure to also note down evidence or supporting incidents that justify these attributes or traits, so you can write about them at length.
        2. Recruit your friends and family to share some qualitative attributes best represent you. Select a sample size and ask them about your strengths, your personality, and some of your eccentricities.

        Based on the most common answers, select the topic that best aligns with your attributes. In other words, it is the material that you accumulate that should inform the topic and not the other way around. One core ideal to guide you in this phase of writing a college essay is that irrespective of the topic, the primary focus is you.

        #2 Be mindful of the word count 

        Most departments provide strict instructions you need to follow, and word count is an important factor among these. Your college essay should not be under or over the limit set by the faculty and administration. 

        Follow the +/-10% rule when it comes to word count, but if the college has specified a range, it’s best to stick to it. In the rare event that the instructions don’t mention a word count, write an admission essay within the word count range of 550–650. 

        Since you have only a few paragraphs to decide your fate, it is important that you strategically locate which specific moment or incident you want to include in your application. Most scholars find themselves confused about what parts to select from their life stories. One core directive to creating a strong college essay is that the more filtered your approach is, the better your document will be. 

        #3 Create a framework to organize your material

        A framework or an outline will essentially dissect the project into discrete workable units. While every type of essay has an introduction, body, and conclusion, a college essay outline warrants you to create a comprehensive article map

        You need to strategically divide the information across the length of your essay to create a well-rounded piece. Since you have only a handful of words to work with, you should be able to justify every word and sentence.

        Here are the common questions to ask yourself while working on your college essay outline.

        • Does each sentence add value to the topic? 
        • Am I deviating from the topic? 
        • Do I answer the original question in a step-by-step manner? 
        • Does the essay deliver all my crucial insights about the topic? 

        Get help from friends and acquaintances in your professional life. Ask mentors and classmates alike to go through the essay and pay heed to their feedback. Collate them and then take a call on whether your essay needs more work. 

        #4 Attain an organic flow in your writing

        A rule of thumb that applies at this stage of writing a college essay is to properly pack your material. While you will be concentrating on the discrete units of your essay, you must also create the best possible flow.  

        In cases where a specific college essay format is not available, you can work within your comfort zone and take inspiration from the academic essays that you have written in the past. If developing a topic from point A to point B isn’t your strength, write down the body of your college essay and then create an appropriate introduction and conclusion.

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        Jahnabi Linkedin

        Jahnabi is a scholar-practitioner of performance, art, and aesthetics. As she takes a sabbatical from academic research, she has taken to spending her time fulfilling a laundry list of academic writing and editing.

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