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College Application Essay Format Rules

does a college essay need paragraphs

The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the  best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization. 

We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure. Finally, we will go over essay formatting tips and examples.

Table of Contents

  • General college essay formatting rules
  • How to format a college admissions essay
  • Sections of a college admissions essay
  • College application essay format examples

General College Essay Format Rules

Before talking about how to format your college admission essays, we need to talk about general college essay formatting rules.

Pay attention to word count

It has been well-established that the most important rule of college application essays is to  not go over the specific Application Essay word limit .  The word limit for the Common Application essay is typically 500-650 words.

Not only may it be impossible to go over the word count (in the case of the  Common Application essay , which uses text fields), but admissions officers often use software that will throw out any essay that breaks this rule. Following directions is a key indicator of being a successful student. 

Refocusing on the essay prompt and eliminating unnecessary adverbs, filler words, and prepositional phrases will help improve your essay.

On the other hand, it is advisable to use almost every available word. The college essay application field is very competitive, so leaving extra words on the table puts you at a disadvantage. Include an example or anecdote near the end of your essay to meet the total word count.

Do not write a wall of text: use paragraphs

Here is a brutal truth:  College admissions counselors only read the application essays that help them make a decision .  Otherwise, they will not read the essay at all. The problem is that you do not know whether the rest of your application (transcripts, academic record, awards, etc.) will be competitive enough to get you accepted.

A very simple writing rule for your application essay (and for essay editing of any type) is to  make your writing readable by adding line breaks and separate paragraphs.

Line breaks do not count toward word count, so they are a very easy way to organize your essay structure, ideas, and topics. Remember, college counselors, if you’re lucky, will spend 30 sec to 1 minute reading your essay. Give them every opportunity to understand your writing.

Do not include an essay title 

Unless specifically required, do not use a title for your personal statement or essay. This is a waste of your word limit and is redundant since the essay prompt itself serves as the title.

Never use overly casual, colloquial, or text message-based formatting like this: 

THIS IS A REALLY IMPORTANT POINT!. #collegeapplication #collegeessay.

Under no circumstances should you use emojis, all caps, symbols, hashtags, or slang in a college essay. Although technology, texting, and social media are continuing to transform how we use modern language (what a great topic for a college application essay!), admissions officers will view the use of these casual formatting elements as immature and inappropriate for such an important document.

How To Format A College Application Essay

There are many  tips for writing college admissions essays . How you upload your college application essay depends on whether you will be cutting and pasting your essay into a text box in an online application form or attaching a formatted document.

Save and upload your college essay in the proper format

Check the application instructions if you’re not sure what you need to do. Currently, the Common Application requires you to copy and paste your essay into a text box.

There are three main formats when it comes to submitting your college essay or personal statement:

If submitting your application essay in a text box

For the Common Application, there is no need to attach a document since there is a dedicated input field. You still want to write your essay in a word processor or Google doc. Just make sure once you copy-paste your essay into the text box that your line breaks (paragraphs), indents, and formatting is retained. 

  • Formatting like  bold , underline, and  italics  are often lost when copy-pasting into a text box.
  • Double-check that you are under the word limit.  Word counts may be different within the text box .
  • Make sure that paragraphs and spacing are maintained;  text input fields often undo indents and double-spacing .
  • If possible, make sure the font is standardized.  Text input boxes usually allow just one font . 

If submitting your application essay as a document

When attaching a document, you must do more than just double-check the format of your admissions essay. You need to be proactive and make sure the structure is logical and will be attractive to readers.

Microsoft Word (.DOC) format

If you are submitting your application essay as a file upload, then you will likely submit a .doc or .docx file. The downside is that MS Word files are editable, and there are sometimes conflicts between different MS Word versions (2010 vs 2016 vs Office365). The upside is that Word can be opened by almost any text program.

This is a safe choice if maintaining the  visual  elements of your essay is important. Saving your essay as a PDF prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting. 

Although PDF viewing programs are commonly available, many older readers and Internet users (who will be your admissions officers) may not be ready to view PDFs.

  • Use 1-inch margins . This is the default setting for Microsoft Word. However, students from Asia using programs like Hangul Word Processor will need to double-check.
  • Use a standard serif font.  These include Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond. A serif font adds professionalism to your essay.
  • Use standard 12-font size. 
  • Use 1.5- or double-spacing.  Your application essay should be readable. Double spaces are not an issue as the essay should already fit on one page.
  • Add a Header  with your First Name, Last Name, university, and other required information.
  • Clearly   separate your paragraphs.  By default, just press ‘ENTER’ twice.

Sections Of A College Admissions Essay

University admissions protocols usually allow you to choose the format and style of your writing. Despite this, the general format of “Introduction-Body-Conclusion” is the most common structure. This is a common format you can use and adjust to your specific writing style.

College Application Essay Introduction

Typically, your first paragraph should introduce you or the topic that you will discuss. You must have a killer opener if you want the admissions committees to pay attention. 

Essays that use rhetorical tools, factual statements, dialog, etc. are encouraged. There is room to be creative since many application essays specifically focus on past learning experiences.

College Application Essay Body

Clearly answering the essay prompt is the most important part of the essay body. Keep reading over the prompt and making sure everything in the body supports it. 

Since personal statement essays are designed to show you are as a person and student, the essay body is also where you talk about your experiences and identity.

Make sure you include the following life experiences and how they relate to the essay prompt. Be sure to double-check that they relate back to the essay prompt. A college admissions essay is NOT an autobiography:

Personal challenges

  • How did you overcome them?
  • How or how much do past challenges define your current outlook or worldview? 
  • What did you learn about yourself when you failed?

Personal achievements and successes

  • What people helped you along the way?
  • What did you learn about the nature of success

Lessons learned

  • In general, did your experiences inform your choice of university or major?

Personal beliefs

  • Politics, philosophy, and religion may be included here, but be careful when discussing sensitive personal or political topics. 
  • Academic goals
  • Personal goals
  • Professional goals
  • How will attending the university help you achieve these goals?

College Application Essay Conclusion

The conclusion section is a call to action directly aimed at the admissions officers. You must demonstrate why you are a great fit for the university, which means you should refer to specific programs, majors, or professors that guided or inspired you. 

In this “why this school” part of the essay, you can also explain why the university is a great fit for  your  goals. Be straightforward and truthful, but express your interest in the school boldly.

common app essay format, essay sections 1

College Application Essay Format Examples

Here are several formatting examples of successful college admission essays, along with comments from the essay editor.

Note: Actual sample essays edited by  Wordvice professional editors .  Personal info has been redacted for privacy. This is not a college essay template.

College Admission Essay Example 1

This essay asks the student to write about how normal life experiences can have huge effects on personal growth:

Common App Essay Prompt: Thoughtful Rides

The Florida turnpike is a very redundant and plain expressway; we do not have the scenic luxury of mountains, forests, or even deserts stretching endlessly into the distance. Instead, we are blessed with repetitive fields of grazing cows and countless billboards advertising local businesses. I have been subjected to these monotonous views three times a week, driving two hours every other day to Sunrise and back to my house in Miami, Florida—all to practice for my competitive soccer team in hopes of receiving a scholarship to play soccer at the next level. 

The Introduction sets up a clear, visceral memory and communicates a key extracurricular activity. 

When I first began these mini road trips, I would jam out to my country playlist and sing along with my favorite artists, and the trek would seem relatively short. However, after listening to “Beautiful Crazy” by Luke Combs for the 48th time in a week, the song became as repetitive as the landscape I was driving through. Changing genres did not help much either; everything I played seemed to morph into the same brain-numbing sound.  Eventually, I decided to do what many peers in my generation fail to do: turn off the distractions, enjoy the silence, and immerse myself in my own thoughts. In the end, this seemingly simple decision led to a lot of personal growth and tranquility in my life. 

The first part of the Body connects the student’s past experience with the essay prompt: personal growth and challenging assumptions.

Although I did not fully realize it at the time, these rides were the perfect opportunity to reflect on myself and the people around me. I quickly began noticing the different personalities surrounding me in the flow of traffic, and this simple act of noticing reminded me that I was not the only human on this planet that mattered. I was just as unimportant as the woman sitting in the car next to mine. Conversely, I also came to appreciate how a gesture as simple as letting another driver merge into your lane can impact a stranger’s day. Maybe the other driver is late for a work interview or rushing to the hospital because their newborn is running a high fever and by allowing them to advance in the row of cars, you made their day just a little less stressful. I realized that if I could improve someone else’s day from my car,  I could definitely be a kinder person and take other people’s situations into consideration—because you never know if someone is having one of the worst days of their lives and their interaction with you could provide the motivation they need to keep going on . 

This part uses two examples to support the writer’s answer to the essay prompt. It ends the paragraph with a clear statement.

Realizing I was not the only being in the universe that mattered was not the only insight I attained during these drives. Over and over, I asked myself why I had chosen to change soccer clubs, leaving Pinecrest, the team I had played on for 8 years with my best friends and that was only a 10-minute drive from my house, to play for a completely unfamiliar team that required significantly more travel.  Eventually, I came to understand that I truly enjoy challenging myself and pushing past complacency . One of my main goals in life is to play and experience college soccer—that, and to eventually pursue a career as a doctor. Ultimately, leaving my comfort zone in Pinecrest, where mediocrity was celebrated, to join a team in Sunrise, where championships were expected and college offers were abundant, was a very positive decision in my life. 

This part clearly tells how the experience shaped the writer as a person. The student’s personality can be directly attributed to this memory. It also importantly states personal and academic goals.

Even if I do not end up playing college soccer, I know now that I will never back down from any challenge in my life; I am committed to pushing myself past my comfort zone. These car rides have given me insight into how strong I truly am and how much impact I can have on other people’s lives. 

The Conclusion restates the overall lesson learned.

College Admission Essay Example 2

The next essay asks the reader to use leadership roles or extracurricular activities and describe the experience, contribution, and what the student learned about themselves.

As I release the air from the blood-pressure monitor’s valve, I carefully track the gauge, listening for the faint “lub-dub” of  Winnie’s heart. Checking off the “hypertensive” box on his medical chart when reading 150/95, I then escort Winnie to the blood sugar station. This was the typical procedure of a volunteer at the UConn Migrant Farm Worker Clinic. Our traveling medical clinic operated at night, visiting various Connecticut farms to provide healthcare for migrant workers. Filling out charts, taking blood pressure, and recording BMI were all standard procedures, but the relationships I built with farmers such as Winnie impacted me the most.

This Introduction is very impactful. It highlights the student’s professional expertise as a healthcare worker and her impact on marginalized communities. It also is written in the present tense to add impact.

While the clinic was canceled this year due to COVID-19, I still wanted to do something for them. During a PPE-drive meeting this July, Winnie recounted his family history. I noticed his eyebrows furrow with anxiety as he spoke about his family’s safety in Tierra Blanca, Mexico. I realized that Winnie lacked substantial information about his hometown, and fear-mongering headlines did nothing to assuage his fears. After days of searching, I discovered that his hometown, Guanajuato, reported fewer cases of COVID-19 in comparison with surrounding towns. I then created a color-coded map of his town, showing rates across the different districts. Winnie’s eyes softened, marveling at the map I made for him this August. I didn’t need to explain what he saw: Guanajuato, his home state, was pale yellow, the color I chose to mark the lowest level of cases. By making this map, I didn’t intend to give him new hope; I wanted to show him where hope was.

The student continues to tell the powerful story of one of her patients. This humbles and empowers the student, motivating her in the next paragraph.

This interaction fueled my commitment to search for hope in my journey of becoming a public health official. Working in public health policy, I hope to tackle complex world problems, such as economic and social barriers to healthcare and find creative methods of improving outcomes in queer and Latinx communities. I want to study the present and potential future intervention strategies in minority communities for addressing language barriers to information including language on posters and gendered language, and for instituting social and support services for community youth. These stepping stones will hopefully prepare me for conducting professional research for the Medical Organization for Latino Advancement. I aspire to be an active proponent of healthcare access and equity for marginalized groups, including queer communities. I first learned about the importance of recognizing minority identities in healthcare through my bisexual sister, Sophie, and her nonbinary friend, Gilligan. During discussions with her friends, I realized the importance of validating diverse gender expressions in all facets of my life.

Here, the past experience is directly connected to future academic and professional goals, which themselves are motivated by a desire to increase access among communities as well as personal family experiences. This is a strong case for why personal identity is so important.

My experiences with Winnie and my sister have empowered me to be creative, thoughtful, and brave while challenging the assumptions currently embedded in the “visual vocabulary” of both the art and science fields. I envision myself deconstructing hegemonic ideas of masculinity and femininity and surmounting the limitations of traditional perceptions of male and female bodies as it relates to existing healthcare practices. Through these subtle changes, I aim to make a large impact.

The Conclusion positions the student as an impactful leader and visionary. This is a powerful case for the admissions board to consider.

If you want to read more college admissions essay examples, check out our articles about  successful college personal statements  and the  2021-2022 Common App prompts and example essays .

Wordvice offers a full suite of proofreading and editing services . If you are a student applying to college and are having trouble with the best college admissions essay format, check out our application essay editing services  (including personal statement editing ) and find out  how much online proofreading costs . 

Finally, don’t forget to receive common app essay editing and professional admissions editing for any other admissions documents for college, university, and post-doctoral programs.

The Writing Center • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

College Writing

What this handout is about.

This handout will help you figure out what your college instructors expect when they give you a writing assignment. It will tell you how and why to move beyond the five-paragraph essays you learned to write in high school and start writing essays that are more analytical and more flexible.

What is a five-paragraph essay?

High school students are often taught to write essays using some variation of the five-paragraph model. A five-paragraph essay is hourglass-shaped: it begins with something general, narrows down in the middle to discuss specifics, and then branches out to more general comments at the end. In a classic five-paragraph essay, the first paragraph starts with a general statement and ends with a thesis statement containing three “points”; each body paragraph discusses one of those “points” in turn; and the final paragraph sums up what the student has written.

Why do high schools teach the five-paragraph model?

The five-paragraph model is a good way to learn how to write an academic essay. It’s a simplified version of academic writing that requires you to state an idea and support it with evidence. Setting a limit of five paragraphs narrows your options and forces you to master the basics of organization. Furthermore—and for many high school teachers, this is the crucial issue—many mandatory end-of-grade writing tests and college admissions exams like the SAT II writing test reward writers who follow the five-paragraph essay format.

Writing a five-paragraph essay is like riding a bicycle with training wheels; it’s a device that helps you learn. That doesn’t mean you should use it forever. Once you can write well without it, you can cast it off and never look back.

Why don’t five-paragraph essays work well for college writing?

The way college instructors teach is probably different from what you experienced in high school, and so is what they expect from you.

While high school courses tend to focus on the who, what, when, and where of the things you study—”just the facts”—college courses ask you to think about the how and the why. You can do very well in high school by studying hard and memorizing a lot of facts. Although college instructors still expect you to know the facts, they really care about how you analyze and interpret those facts and why you think those facts matter. Once you know what college instructors are looking for, you can see some of the reasons why five-paragraph essays don’t work so well for college writing:

  • Five-paragraph essays often do a poor job of setting up a framework, or context, that helps the reader understand what the author is trying to say. Students learn in high school that their introduction should begin with something general. College instructors call these “dawn of time” introductions. For example, a student asked to discuss the causes of the Hundred Years War might begin, “Since the dawn of time, humankind has been plagued by war.” In a college course, the student would fare better with a more concrete sentence directly related to what he or she is going to say in the rest of the paper—for example, a sentence such as “In the early 14th century, a civil war broke out in Flanders that would soon threaten Western Europe’s balance of power.” If you are accustomed to writing vague opening lines and need them to get started, go ahead and write them, but delete them before you turn in the final draft. For more on this subject, see our handout on introductions .
  • Five-paragraph essays often lack an argument. Because college courses focus on analyzing and interpreting rather than on memorizing, college instructors expect writers not only to know the facts but also to make an argument about the facts. The best five-paragraph essays may do this. However, the typical five-paragraph essay has a “listing” thesis, for example, “I will show how the Romans lost their empire in Britain and Gaul by examining military technology, religion, and politics,” rather than an argumentative one, for example, “The Romans lost their empire in Britain and Gaul because their opponents’ military technology caught up with their own at the same time as religious upheaval and political conflict were weakening the sense of common purpose on the home front.” For more on this subject, see our handout on argument .
  • Five-paragraph essays are often repetitive. Writers who follow the five-paragraph model tend to repeat sentences or phrases from the introduction in topic sentences for paragraphs, rather than writing topic sentences that tie their three “points” together into a coherent argument. Repetitive writing doesn’t help to move an argument along, and it’s no fun to read.
  • Five-paragraph essays often lack “flow.” Five-paragraph essays often don’t make smooth transitions from one thought to the next. The “listing” thesis statement encourages writers to treat each paragraph and its main idea as a separate entity, rather than to draw connections between paragraphs and ideas in order to develop an argument.
  • Five-paragraph essays often have weak conclusions that merely summarize what’s gone before and don’t say anything new or interesting. In our handout on conclusions , we call these “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it” conclusions: they do nothing to engage readers and make them glad they read the essay. Most of us can remember an introduction and three body paragraphs without a repetitive summary at the end to help us out.
  • Five-paragraph essays don’t have any counterpart in the real world. Read your favorite newspaper or magazine; look through the readings your professors assign you; listen to political speeches or sermons. Can you find anything that looks or sounds like a five-paragraph essay? One of the important skills that college can teach you, above and beyond the subject matter of any particular course, is how to communicate persuasively in any situation that comes your way. The five-paragraph essay is too rigid and simplified to fit most real-world situations.
  • Perhaps most important of all: in a five-paragraph essay, form controls content, when it should be the other way around. Students begin with a plan for organization, and they force their ideas to fit it. Along the way, their perfectly good ideas get mangled or lost.

How do I break out of writing five-paragraph essays?

Let’s take an example based on our handout on thesis statements . Suppose you’re taking a course on contemporary communication, and the professor asks you to write a paper on this topic:

Discuss the impact of social media on public awareness.

Thanks to your familiarity with the five paragraph essay structure and with the themes of your course, you are able to quickly write an introductory paragraph:

Social media allows the sharing of information through online networks among social connections. Everyone uses social media in our modern world for a variety of purposes: to learn about the news, keep up with friends, and even network for jobs. Social media cannot help but affect public awareness. In this essay, I will discuss the impact of social media on public awareness of political campaigns, public health initiatives, and current events.

Now you have something on paper. But you realize that this introduction sticks too close to the five-paragraph essay structure. The introduction starts too broadly by taking a step back and defining social media in general terms. Then it moves on to restate the prompt without quite addressing it: while it’s reasserted that there is an impact, the impact is not actually discussed. And the final sentence, instead of presenting an argument, only lists topics in sequence. You are prepared to write a paragraph on political campaigns, a paragraph on public health initiatives, and a paragraph on current events, but you aren’t sure what your point will be.

So you start again. Instead of trying to come up with something to say about each of three points, you brainstorm until you come up with a main argument, or thesis, about the impact of social media on public awareness. You think about how easy it is to share information on social media, as well as about how difficult it can be to discern more from less reliable information. As you brainstorm the effects of social media on public awareness in connection to political campaigns specifically, you realize you have enough to say about this topic without discussing two additional topics. You draft your thesis statement:

Because not every voice on social media is reliable, people have become much more critical consumers of information, and thus, more informed voters.

Next you think about your argument’s parts and how they fit together. You read the Writing Center’s handout on organization . You decide that you’ll begin by addressing the counterargument that misinformation on social media has led to a less informed public. Addressing the counterargument point-by-point helps you articulate your evidence. You find it ends up taking more than one paragraph to discuss the strategies people use to compare and evaluate information as well as the evidence that people end up more informed as a result.

You notice that you now have four body paragraphs. You might have had three or two or seven; what’s important is that you allowed your argument to determine how many paragraphs would be needed and how they should fit together. Furthermore, your body paragraphs don’t each discuss separate topics, like “political campaigns” and “public health.” Instead they support different points in your argument. This is also a good moment to return to your introduction and revise it to focus more narrowly on introducing the argument presented in the body paragraphs in your paper.

Finally, after sketching your outline and writing your paper, you turn to writing a conclusion. From the Writing Center handout on conclusions , you learn that a “that’s my story and I’m sticking to it” conclusion doesn’t move your ideas forward. Applying the strategies you find in the handout, you may decide that you can use your conclusion to explain why the paper you’ve just written really matters.

Is it ever OK to write a five-paragraph essay?

Yes. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where somebody expects you to make sense of a large body of information on the spot and write a well-organized, persuasive essay—in fifty minutes or less? Sounds like an essay exam situation, right? When time is short and the pressure is on, falling back on the good old five-paragraph essay can save you time and give you confidence. A five-paragraph essay might also work as the framework for a short speech. Try not to fall into the trap, however, of creating a “listing” thesis statement when your instructor expects an argument; when planning your body paragraphs, think about three components of an argument, rather than three “points” to discuss. On the other hand, most professors recognize the constraints of writing blue-book essays, and a “listing” thesis is probably better than no thesis at all.

Works consulted

We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.

Blue, Tina. 2001. “AP English Blather.” Essay, I Say (blog), January 26, 2001. http://essayisay.homestead.com/blather.html .

Blue, Tina. 2001. “A Partial Defense of the Five-Paragraph Theme as a Model for Student Writing.” Essay, I Say (blog), January 13, 2001. http://essayisay.homestead.com/fiveparagraphs.html .

Denecker, Christine. 2013. “Transitioning Writers across the Composition Threshold: What We Can Learn from Dual Enrollment Partnerships.” Composition Studies 41 (1): 27-50.

Fanetti, Susan et al. 2010. “Closing the Gap between High School Writing Instruction and College Writing Expectations.” The English Journal 99 (4): 77-83.

Hillocks, George. 2002. The Testing Trap: How State Assessments Control Learning . New York and London: Teachers College Press.

Hjortshoj, Keith. 2009. The Transition to College Writing , 2nd ed. New York: Bedford/St Martin’s.

Shen, Andrea. 2000. “Study Looks at Role of Writing in Learning.” Harvard Gazette (blog). October 26, 2000. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2000/10/study-looks-at-role-of-writing-in-learning/ .

You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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On Paragraphs

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The purpose of this handout is to give some basic instruction and advice regarding the creation of understandable and coherent paragraphs.

What is a paragraph?

A paragraph is a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. Learning to write good paragraphs will help you as a writer stay on track during your drafting and revision stages. Good paragraphing also greatly assists your readers in following a piece of writing. You can have fantastic ideas, but if those ideas aren't presented in an organized fashion, you will lose your readers (and fail to achieve your goals in writing).

The Basic Rule: Keep one idea to one paragraph

The basic rule of thumb with paragraphing is to keep one idea to one paragraph. If you begin to transition into a new idea, it belongs in a new paragraph. There are some simple ways to tell if you are on the same topic or a new one. You can have one idea and several bits of supporting evidence within a single paragraph. You can also have several points in a single paragraph as long as they relate to the overall topic of the paragraph. If the single points start to get long, then perhaps elaborating on each of them and placing them in their own paragraphs is the route to go.

Elements of a paragraph

To be as effective as possible, a paragraph should contain each of the following: Unity, Coherence, A Topic Sentence, and Adequate Development. As you will see, all of these traits overlap. Using and adapting them to your individual purposes will help you construct effective paragraphs.

The entire paragraph should concern itself with a single focus. If it begins with one focus or major point of discussion, it should not end with another or wander within different ideas.

Coherence is the trait that makes the paragraph easily understandable to a reader. You can help create coherence in your paragraphs by creating logical bridges and verbal bridges.

Logical bridges

  • The same idea of a topic is carried over from sentence to sentence
  • Successive sentences can be constructed in parallel form

Verbal bridges

  • Key words can be repeated in several sentences
  • Synonymous words can be repeated in several sentences
  • Pronouns can refer to nouns in previous sentences
  • Transition words can be used to link ideas from different sentences

A topic sentence

A topic sentence is a sentence that indicates in a general way what idea or thesis the paragraph is going to deal with. Although not all paragraphs have clear-cut topic sentences, and despite the fact that topic sentences can occur anywhere in the paragraph (as the first sentence, the last sentence, or somewhere in the middle), an easy way to make sure your reader understands the topic of the paragraph is to put your topic sentence near the beginning of the paragraph. (This is a good general rule for less experienced writers, although it is not the only way to do it). Regardless of whether you include an explicit topic sentence or not, you should be able to easily summarize what the paragraph is about.

Adequate development

The topic (which is introduced by the topic sentence) should be discussed fully and adequately. Again, this varies from paragraph to paragraph, depending on the author's purpose, but writers should be wary of paragraphs that only have two or three sentences. It's a pretty good bet that the paragraph is not fully developed if it is that short.

Some methods to make sure your paragraph is well-developed:

  • Use examples and illustrations
  • Cite data (facts, statistics, evidence, details, and others)
  • Examine testimony (what other people say such as quotes and paraphrases)
  • Use an anecdote or story
  • Define terms in the paragraph
  • Compare and contrast
  • Evaluate causes and reasons
  • Examine effects and consequences
  • Analyze the topic
  • Describe the topic
  • Offer a chronology of an event (time segments)

How do I know when to start a new paragraph?

You should start a new paragraph when:

  • When you begin a new idea or point. New ideas should always start in new paragraphs. If you have an extended idea that spans multiple paragraphs, each new point within that idea should have its own paragraph.
  • To contrast information or ideas. Separate paragraphs can serve to contrast sides in a debate, different points in an argument, or any other difference.
  • When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing be more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex.
  • When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion. Your introductory and concluding material should always be in a new paragraph. Many introductions and conclusions have multiple paragraphs depending on their content, length, and the writer's purpose.

Transitions and signposts

Two very important elements of paragraphing are signposts and transitions. Signposts are internal aids to assist readers; they usually consist of several sentences or a paragraph outlining what the article has covered and where the article will be going.

Transitions are usually one or several sentences that "transition" from one idea to the next. Transitions can be used at the end of most paragraphs to help the paragraphs flow one into the next.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

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10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays

You’ve probably had this happen to you — after reading for a long time, the lines start to blur together, and you look at the words on the page, but they don’t register in your brain. 

Admissions officers deal with this daily, as they have to scan through thousands of applications each cycle. The volume of applications makes it all the more important to write an essay that’s highly readable, both in terms of physical readability, and how engaging your story is. 

In this post, we’ll share our top 10 tips for writing a college essay that will make admissions officers pay attention.

How to Write a Readable College Essay

1. start your essay with an engaging introduction..

Do you sometimes close out of a video or article because the introduction was boring? With so many things vying for our attention in the modern world, it’s important for introductions to grab our attention right away. This is equally true for college essays.

You want the first lines of your essay to make us want to read more. Some ways to do that are using dialogue, or starting your essay in media res , in the middle of action. 

Here’s an example of an essay introduction that uses dialogue and the technique of in media res .

“1…2…3…4 pirouettes! New record!” My friends cheered as I landed my turns. Pleased with my progress, I gazed down at my worn-out pointe shoes. The sweltering blisters, numbing ice-baths, and draining late-night practices did not seem so bad after all. Next goal: five turns.

And here’s an example of an essay that begins in media res :

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears. As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire. 

You’ll see that with these introductions, we’re plunged into the writer’s world, and we get to observe the moment as it’s happening. This makes it easier to relate to the writer, and also makes us wonder what happens next in the story.

2. Break up long paragraphs.

No one wants to read a huge block of text, and this can be another deterrent from paying attention to your essay. The ideal paragraph length is 3-5 sentences, or 50-100 words. This allows you to separate your ideas and to include natural breaks in your writing. 

For example, let’s take a look again at the previous excerpt from a student’s essay on starting a fire. The introduction would’ve been easier to read with a new paragraph beginning with the “As a child” line. This line is a fitting place to separate paragraphs, as it goes from the present moment to a description of the writer’s childhood.

Was I no longer the beloved daughter of nature, whisperer of trees? Knee-high rubber boots, camouflage, bug spray—I wore the garb and perfume of a proud wild woman, yet there I was, hunched over the pathetic pile of stubborn sticks, utterly stumped, on the verge of tears.

As a child, I had considered myself a kind of rustic princess, a cradler of spiders and centipedes, who was serenaded by mourning doves and chickadees, who could glide through tick-infested meadows and emerge Lyme-free. I knew the cracks of the earth like the scars on my own rough palms. Yet here I was, ten years later, incapable of performing the most fundamental outdoor task: I could not, for the life of me, start a fire.

As you read your draft, go through and see if there are any places you could naturally begin a new paragraph, especially if your paragraphs are long. On the flip side, do make sure that not every paragraph is super short. While having one or two standalone lines is fine for dramatic effect, it can look gimmicky to have too many, and it will also diminish their impact.

3. Include dialogue in your anecdotes to bring readers into the moment. 

Dialogue is a powerful tool not only at the beginning of your essay, but also throughout. You can and should use it any time you want to draw attention to what specifically was said, or to bring your essay to a specific moment. 

Using dialogue tends to be much more engaging than summarizing what was said in your own words. Take this excerpt as an example:

No dialogue: My brother told me that I ruined his life. After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

With dialogue: “You ruined my life!” After months of quiet anger, my brother finally confronted me. To my shame, I had been appallingly ignorant of his pain.

Between the two excerpts, the first feels more like a summary of events than a real glimpse into the writer’s life. Adding dialogue takes the reader to the specific moment that the brother actually uttered those words. 

Of course, dialogue should also be used judiciously, as dialogue can’t always reveal important details like your thoughts during a conversation, what the setting was like, or how you felt. Too much of anything is never a good thing, even if it’s a useful writing technique. (Of course, you could make your essay primarily dialogue if you write it in the form of a script for a movie, but that’s a whole other story).

4. Show, don’t tell. 

You may also know this technique as “indirect characterization” from your English class. If you want to describe a personality trait or event, highlight it through your actions, thoughts, and feelings instead of explicitly stating it. Otherwise, your essay will just read like a report of your experiences, which is boring. 

Here’s an example: say you want to say that someone is arrogant. 

If you were “telling” or “directly characterizing” them, you’d write: Bill is arrogant.

If you were “showing” or “indirectly characterizing,” you’d write: Bill swaggered into the meeting late, with his perpetual sly grin. He shooed the presenter away and shut off the projector. “Hey my dudes, I have a killer idea you just won’t believe. It’s my greatest idea yet, and it’s gonna change the world.” Accustomed to Bill’s exaggerated claims, those in attendance gave each other knowing looks.

While the second version is longer, it gives us a better understanding of Bill’s personality, and it’s much easier to relate to the situation. Simply stating that someone is X or Y trait, or summarizing how something happened, is much less illustrative. As you’re writing, think about ways you can use anecdotes to convey what you want, as these are more engaging.

5. Use impeccable grammar and spelling.

This should go without saying, especially since college admissions officers also use your essay to gauge your writing skills. If your essay has several misspelled words or uses improper grammar, it could make an otherwise engaging essay unreadable.

Use spell check, take the time to proofread carefully, and ask others to give you feedback. And before you submit, print your essay out and read it aloud with a pen in your hand. You’d be surprised at the typos you catch. After you read a document over and over, you start to fill in the words that should be there, and can easily miss a mistake.

does a college essay need paragraphs

6. Vary the length of your sentences.

The best essays flow almost rhythmically. If you use too many short sentences, your essay will feel choppy. If all your sentences are long, readers may get lost or bored. 

You don’t have to alternate short or long sentences in a robotic pattern, but try to naturally incorporate varied sentence length. Similar to the tip about paragraph length, break up any sections with many long sentences by creating new, shorter sentences out of the originals. To do this effectively, choose points where the writing shifts, whether that’s in terms of ideas, time periods, or the subject.

7. Make sure that your essay is logically consistent throughout.

It’s important that different parts of your essay don’t contradict each other. For example, if you describe yourself as shy in one section, don’t paint yourself as outgoing later on, unless it’s clear there was a period of change or personal growth. 

This point is especially important if you’re writing a more academic essay, like the fourth Common App prompt . This prompt asks you to describe a problem you’d like to solve, its personal significance, and potential solutions. Say you want to write your essay on food waste, and your argument is that most of the waste is happening at the production/corporate level, and is due to improper distribution. In this case, don’t write your entire essay on ways individuals can reduce their food waste.

8. Be consistent with your use of slang, acronyms, etc.

Similarly, your language should be as consistent as possible. For example if you use an acronym to describe an organization, you might spell it out the first time with the acronym in parentheses, i.e. “National Honor Society (NHS),” but use the acronym the rest of the time. 

Or, if you use slang like “gonna” in your dialogue, keep using it in the rest of the dialogue, unless the person speaking actually has a more formal tone (which you should make clear). Of course, keep in mind that you probably shouldn’t be using slang like “gonna” in parts of your essay that aren’t dialogue. 

You can, however, use contractions, and they can be a great way to not only lower your character count, but also make your essay feel more conversational. Just be sure to stay consistent with them as well.

9. Avoid excessive repetition of words and phrases.

If you find yourself using the same word over and over again in your essay, consider using synonyms, or rephrasing the sentence. An exception, of course, would be repetition for emphasis. In that case, it should be clear that the repetition is intentional. Otherwise, using the same words and phrases can come off as lazy, and your writing can seem unpolished.

10. Make sure that your verb tenses are consistent. 

Use the same tense throughout your essay, or make sure that there are clear lines of demarcation where you shift tenses. There are few reasons to need to shift tenses, but the most common one is incorporating flashbacks into your essay, or changing time periods. In that case, it would make sense to use present tense for the most recent time period, and past tense for the less recent one.

Here’s an example of an essay that does a good job shifting tenses:

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée, while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable.

The shift of tenses in this essay is very clear, and it marks a transition from seven years ago to the present day.

Final Thoughts

The readability of your essay is just as important as the content. If your essay is hard to read, it’s unlikely that admissions officers will pay attention. Follow these tips to present your essay in the best possible light, and to make it as engaging as possible. With that, we wish you the best of luck on your essays!

For more inspiration and advice on your college essays, check out these posts:

How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

11 Cliché College Essay Topics + How to Fix Them

How to Use Literary Devices to Enhance Your Essay

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

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11 Rules for Essay Paragraph Structure (with Examples)

How do you structure a paragraph in an essay?

If you’re like the majority of my students, you might be getting your basic essay paragraph structure wrong and getting lower grades than you could!

In this article, I outline the 11 key steps to writing a perfect paragraph. But, this isn’t your normal ‘how to write an essay’ article. Rather, I’ll try to give you some insight into exactly what teachers look out for when they’re grading essays and figuring out what grade to give them.

You can navigate each issue below, or scroll down to read them all:

1. Paragraphs must be at least four sentences long 2. But, at most seven sentences long 3. Your paragraph must be Left-Aligned 4. You need a topic sentence 5 . Next, you need an explanation sentence 6. You need to include an example 7. You need to include citations 8. All paragraphs need to be relevant to the marking criteria 9. Only include one key idea per paragraph 10. Keep sentences short 11. Keep quotes short

Paragraph structure is one of the most important elements of getting essay writing right .

As I cover in my Ultimate Guide to Writing an Essay Plan , paragraphs are the heart and soul of your essay.

However, I find most of my students have either:

  • forgotten how to write paragraphs properly,
  • gotten lazy, or
  • never learned it in the first place!

Paragraphs in essay writing are different from paragraphs in other written genres .

In fact, the paragraphs that you are reading now would not help your grades in an essay.

That’s because I’m writing in journalistic style, where paragraph conventions are vastly different.

For those of you coming from journalism or creative writing, you might find you need to re-learn paragraph writing if you want to write well-structured essay paragraphs to get top grades.

Below are eleven reasons your paragraphs are losing marks, and what to do about it!

11 tips for perfect paragraphs

Essay Paragraph Structure Rules

1. your paragraphs must be at least 4 sentences long.

In journalism and blog writing, a one-sentence paragraph is great. It’s short, to-the-point, and helps guide your reader. For essay paragraph structure, one-sentence paragraphs suck.

A one-sentence essay paragraph sends an instant signal to your teacher that you don’t have much to say on an issue.

A short paragraph signifies that you know something – but not much about it. A one-sentence paragraph lacks detail, depth and insight.

Many students come to me and ask, “what does ‘add depth’ mean?” It’s one of the most common pieces of feedback you’ll see written on the margins of your essay.

Personally, I think ‘add depth’ is bad feedback because it’s a short and vague comment. But, here’s what it means: You’ve not explained your point enough!

If you’re writing one-, two- or three-sentence essay paragraphs, you’re costing yourself marks.

Always aim for at least four sentences per paragraph in your essays.

This doesn’t mean that you should add ‘fluff’ or ‘padding’ sentences.

Make sure you don’t:

a) repeat what you said in different words, or b) write something just because you need another sentence in there.

But, you need to do some research and find something insightful to add to that two-sentence paragraph if you want to ace your essay.

Check out Points 5 and 6 for some advice on what to add to that short paragraph to add ‘depth’ to your paragraph and start moving to the top of the class.

  • How to Make an Essay Longer
  • How to Make an Essay Shorter

2. Your Paragraphs must not be more than 7 Sentences Long

Okay, so I just told you to aim for at least four sentences per paragraph. So, what’s the longest your paragraph should be?

Seven sentences. That’s a maximum.

So, here’s the rule:

Between four and seven sentences is the sweet spot that you need to aim for in every single paragraph.

Here’s why your paragraphs shouldn’t be longer than seven sentences:

1. It shows you can organize your thoughts. You need to show your teacher that you’ve broken up your key ideas into manageable segments of text (see point 10)

2. It makes your work easier to read.   You need your writing to be easily readable to make it easy for your teacher to give you good grades. Make your essay easy to read and you’ll get higher marks every time.

One of the most important ways you can make your work easier to read is by writing paragraphs that are less than six sentences long.

3. It prevents teacher frustration. Teachers are just like you. When they see a big block of text their eyes glaze over. They get frustrated, lost, their mind wanders … and you lose marks.

To prevent teacher frustration, you need to ensure there’s plenty of white space in your essay. It’s about showing them that the piece is clearly structured into one key idea per ‘chunk’ of text.

Often, you might find that your writing contains tautologies and other turns of phrase that can be shortened for clarity.

3. Your Paragraph must be Left-Aligned

Turn off ‘Justified’ text and: Never. Turn. It. On. Again.

Justified text is where the words are stretched out to make the paragraph look like a square. It turns the writing into a block. Don’t do it. You will lose marks, I promise you! Win the psychological game with your teacher: left-align your text.

A good essay paragraph is never ‘justified’.

I’m going to repeat this, because it’s important: to prevent your essay from looking like a big block of muddy, hard-to-read text align your text to the left margin only.

You want white space on your page – and lots of it. White space helps your reader scan through your work. It also prevents it from looking like big blocks of text.

You want your reader reading vertically as much as possible: scanning, browsing, and quickly looking through for evidence you’ve engaged with the big ideas.

The justified text doesn’t help you do that. Justified text makes your writing look like a big, lumpy block of text that your reader doesn’t want to read.

What’s wrong with Center-Aligned Text?

While I’m at it, never, ever, center-align your text either. Center-aligned text is impossible to skim-read. Your teacher wants to be able to quickly scan down the left margin to get the headline information in your paragraph.

Not many people center-align text, but it’s worth repeating: never, ever center-align your essays.

an infographic showing that left-aligned paragraphs are easy to read. The infographic recommends using Control plus L on a PC keyboard or Command plus L on a Mac to left align a paragraph

Don’t annoy your reader. Left align your text.

4. Your paragraphs must have a Topic Sentence

The first sentence of an essay paragraph is called the topic sentence. This is one of the most important sentences in the correct essay paragraph structure style.

The topic sentence should convey exactly what key idea you’re going to cover in your paragraph.

Too often, students don’t let their reader know what the key idea of the paragraph is until several sentences in.

You must show what the paragraph is about in the first sentence.

You never, ever want to keep your reader in suspense. Essays are not like creative writing. Tell them straight away what the paragraph is about. In fact, if you can, do it in the first half of the first sentence .

I’ll remind you again: make it easy to grade your work. Your teacher is reading through your work trying to determine what grade to give you. They’re probably going to mark 20 assignments in one sitting. They have no interest in storytelling or creativity. They just want to know how much you know! State what the paragraph is about immediately and move on.

Suggested: Best Words to Start a Paragraph

Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing a Topic Sentence If your paragraph is about how climate change is endangering polar bears, say it immediately : “Climate change is endangering polar bears.” should be your first sentence in your paragraph. Take a look at first sentence of each of the four paragraphs above this one. You can see from the first sentence of each paragraph that the paragraphs discuss:

When editing your work, read each paragraph and try to distil what the one key idea is in your paragraph. Ensure that this key idea is mentioned in the first sentence .

(Note: if there’s more than one key idea in the paragraph, you may have a problem. See Point 9 below .)

The topic sentence is the most important sentence for getting your essay paragraph structure right. So, get your topic sentences right and you’re on the right track to a good essay paragraph.

5. You need an Explanation Sentence

All topic sentences need a follow-up explanation. The very first point on this page was that too often students write paragraphs that are too short. To add what is called ‘depth’ to a paragraph, you can come up with two types of follow-up sentences: explanations and examples.

Let’s take explanation sentences first.

Explanation sentences give additional detail. They often provide one of the following services:

Let’s go back to our example of a paragraph on Climate change endangering polar bears. If your topic sentence is “Climate change is endangering polar bears.”, then your follow-up explanation sentence is likely to explain how, why, where, or when. You could say:

Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing Explanation Sentences 1. How: “The warming atmosphere is melting the polar ice caps.” 2. Why: “The polar bears’ habitats are shrinking every single year.” 3. Where: “This is happening in the Antarctic ice caps near Greenland.” 4. When: “Scientists first noticed the ice caps were shrinking in 1978.”

You don’t have to provide all four of these options each time.

But, if you’re struggling to think of what to add to your paragraph to add depth, consider one of these four options for a good quality explanation sentence.

>>>RELATED ARTICLE: SHOULD YOU USE RHETORICAL QUESTIONS IN ESSAYS ?

6. Your need to Include an Example

Examples matter! They add detail. They also help to show that you genuinely understand the issue. They show that you don’t just understand a concept in the abstract; you also understand how things work in real life.

Example sentences have the added benefit of personalising an issue. For example, after saying “Polar bears’ habitats are shrinking”, you could note specific habitats, facts and figures, or even a specific story about a bear who was impacted.

Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: Writing an ‘Example’ Sentence “For example, 770,000 square miles of Arctic Sea Ice has melted in the past four decades, leading Polar Bear populations to dwindle ( National Geographic, 2018 )

In fact, one of the most effective politicians of our times – Barrack Obama – was an expert at this technique. He would often provide examples of people who got sick because they didn’t have healthcare to sell Obamacare.

What effect did this have? It showed the real-world impact of his ideas. It humanised him, and got him elected president – twice!

Be like Obama. Provide examples. Often.

7. All Paragraphs need Citations

Provide a reference to an academic source in every single body paragraph in the essay. The only two paragraphs where you don’t need a reference is the introduction and conclusion .

Let me repeat: Paragraphs need at least one reference to a quality scholarly source .

Let me go even further:

Students who get the best marks provide two references to two different academic sources in every paragraph.

Two references in a paragraph show you’ve read widely, cross-checked your sources, and given the paragraph real thought.

It’s really important that these references link to academic sources, not random websites, blogs or YouTube videos. Check out our Seven Best types of Sources to Cite in Essays post to get advice on what sources to cite. Number 6 w ill surprise you!

Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: In-Text Referencing in Paragraphs Usually, in-text referencing takes the format: (Author, YEAR), but check your school’s referencing formatting requirements carefully. The ‘Author’ section is the author’s last name only. Not their initials. Not their first name. Just their last name . My name is Chris Drew. First name Chris, last name Drew. If you were going to reference an academic article I wrote in 2019, you would reference it like this: (Drew, 2019).

Where do you place those two references?

Place the first reference at the end of the first half of the paragraph. Place the second reference at the end of the second half of the paragraph.

This spreads the references out and makes it look like all the points throughout the paragraph are backed up by your sources. The goal is to make it look like you’ve reference regularly when your teacher scans through your work.

Remember, teachers can look out for signposts that indicate you’ve followed academic conventions and mentioned the right key ideas.

Spreading your referencing through the paragraph helps to make it look like you’ve followed the academic convention of referencing sources regularly.

Here are some examples of how to reference twice in a paragraph:

  • If your paragraph was six sentences long, you would place your first reference at the end of the third sentence and your second reference at the end of the sixth sentence.
  • If your paragraph was five sentences long, I would recommend placing one at the end of the second sentence and one at the end of the fifth sentence.

You’ve just read one of the key secrets to winning top marks.

8. Every Paragraph must be relevant to the Marking Criteria

Every paragraph must win you marks. When you’re editing your work, check through the piece to see if every paragraph is relevant to the marking criteria.

For the British: In the British university system (I’m including Australia and New Zealand here – I’ve taught at universities in all three countries), you’ll usually have a ‘marking criteria’. It’s usually a list of between two and six key learning outcomes your teacher needs to use to come up with your score. Sometimes it’s called a:

  • Marking criteria
  • Marking rubric
  • (Key) learning outcome
  • Indicative content

Check your assignment guidance to see if this is present. If so, use this list of learning outcomes to guide what you write. If your paragraphs are irrelevant to these key points, delete the paragraph .

Paragraphs that don’t link to the marking criteria are pointless. They won’t win you marks.

For the Americans: If you don’t have a marking criteria / rubric / outcomes list, you’ll need to stick closely to the essay question or topic. This goes out to those of you in the North American system. North America (including USA and Canada here) is often less structured and the professor might just give you a topic to base your essay on.

If all you’ve got is the essay question / topic, go through each paragraph and make sure each paragraph is relevant to the topic.

For example, if your essay question / topic is on “The Effects of Climate Change on Polar Bears”,

  • Don’t talk about anything that doesn’t have some connection to climate change and polar bears;
  • Don’t talk about the environmental impact of oil spills in the Gulf of Carpentaria;
  • Don’t talk about black bear habitats in British Columbia.
  • Do talk about the effects of climate change on polar bears (and relevant related topics) in every single paragraph .

You may think ‘stay relevant’ is obvious advice, but at least 20% of all essays I mark go off on tangents and waste words.

Stay on topic in Every. Single. Paragraph. If you want to learn more about how to stay on topic, check out our essay planning guide .

9. Only have one Key Idea per Paragraph

One key idea for each paragraph. One key idea for each paragraph. One key idea for each paragraph.

Don’t forget!

Too often, a student starts a paragraph talking about one thing and ends it talking about something totally different. Don’t be that student.

To ensure you’re focussing on one key idea in your paragraph, make sure you know what that key idea is. It should be mentioned in your topic sentence (see Point 3 ). Every other sentence in the paragraph adds depth to that one key idea.

If you’ve got sentences in your paragraph that are not relevant to the key idea in the paragraph, they don’t fit. They belong in another paragraph.

Go through all your paragraphs when editing your work and check to see if you’ve veered away from your paragraph’s key idea. If so, you might have two or even three key ideas in the one paragraph.

You’re going to have to get those additional key ideas, rip them out, and give them paragraphs of their own.

If you have more than one key idea in a paragraph you will lose marks. I promise you that.

The paragraphs will be too hard to read, your reader will get bogged down reading rather than scanning, and you’ll have lost grades.

10. Keep Sentences Short

If a sentence is too long it gets confusing. When the sentence is confusing, your reader will stop reading your work. They will stop reading the paragraph and move to the next one. They’ll have given up on your paragraph.

Short, snappy sentences are best.

Shorter sentences are easier to read and they make more sense. Too often, students think they have to use big, long, academic words to get the best marks. Wrong. Aim for clarity in every sentence in the paragraph. Your teacher will thank you for it.

The students who get the best marks write clear, short sentences.

When editing your draft, go through your essay and see if you can shorten your longest five sentences.

(To learn more about how to write the best quality sentences, see our page on Seven ways to Write Amazing Sentences .)

11. Keep Quotes Short

Eighty percent of university teachers hate quotes. That’s not an official figure. It’s my guestimate based on my many interactions in faculty lounges. Twenty percent don’t mind them, but chances are your teacher is one of the eight out of ten who hate quotes.

Teachers tend to be turned off by quotes because it makes it look like you don’t know how to say something on your own words.

Now that I’ve warned you, here’s how to use quotes properly:

Ideal Essay Paragraph Structure Example: How To Use Quotes in University-Level Essay Paragraphs 1. Your quote should be less than one sentence long. 2. Your quote should be less than one sentence long. 3. You should never start a sentence with a quote. 4. You should never end a paragraph with a quote. 5 . You should never use more than five quotes per essay. 6. Your quote should never be longer than one line in a paragraph.

The minute your teacher sees that your quote takes up a large chunk of your paragraph, you’ll have lost marks.

Your teacher will circle the quote, write a snarky comment in the margin, and not even bother to give you points for the key idea in the paragraph.

Avoid quotes, but if you really want to use them, follow those five rules above.

I’ve also provided additional pages outlining Seven tips on how to use Quotes if you want to delve deeper into how, when and where to use quotes in essays. Be warned: quoting in essays is harder than you thought.

The basic essay paragraph structure formula includes: 4-6 sentence paragraphs; a clear topic sentence; useful explanations and examples; a focus on one key idea only; and references to two different academic sources.

Follow the advice above and you’ll be well on your way to getting top marks at university.

Writing essay paragraphs that are well structured takes time and practice. Don’t be too hard on yourself and keep on trying!

Below is a summary of our 11 key mistakes for structuring essay paragraphs and tips on how to avoid them.

I’ve also provided an easy-to-share infographic below that you can share on your favorite social networking site. Please share it if this article has helped you out!

11 Biggest Essay Paragraph Structure Mistakes you’re probably Making

1.  Your paragraphs are too short 2.  Your paragraphs are too long 3.  Your paragraph alignment is ‘Justified’ 4.  Your paragraphs are missing a topic sentence 5 .  Your paragraphs are missing an explanation sentence 6.  Your paragraphs are missing an example 7.  Your paragraphs are missing references 8.  Your paragraphs are not relevant to the marking criteria 9.  You’re trying to fit too many ideas into the one paragraph 10.  Your sentences are too long 11.  Your quotes are too long

Chris

Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 50 Argumentative Essay Thesis Statement Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/chris-drew-phd/ 15 Fairness Examples
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4 thoughts on “11 Rules for Essay Paragraph Structure (with Examples)”

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Hello there. I noticed that throughout this article on Essay Writing, you keep on saying that the teacher won’t have time to go through the entire essay. Don’t you think this is a bit discouraging that with all the hard work and time put into your writing, to know that the teacher will not read through the entire paper?

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Hi Clarence,

Thanks so much for your comment! I love to hear from readers on their thoughts.

Yes, I agree that it’s incredibly disheartening.

But, I also think students would appreciate hearing the truth.

Behind closed doors many / most university teachers are very open about the fact they ‘only have time to skim-read papers’. They regularly bring this up during heated faculty meetings about contract negotiations! I.e. in one university I worked at, we were allocated 45 minutes per 10,000 words – that’s just over 4 minutes per 1,000 word essay, and that’d include writing the feedback, too!

If students know the truth, they can better write their essays in a way that will get across the key points even from a ‘skim-read’.

I hope to write candidly on this website – i.e. some of this info will never be written on university blogs because universities want to hide these unfortunate truths from students.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Regards, Chris

' src=

This is wonderful and helpful, all I say is thank you very much. Because I learned a lot from this site, own by chris thank you Sir.

' src=

Thank you. This helped a lot.

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How Long Should a College Essay Be?

High school essays tend to require a page limit, but college essays tend to require a word count.

[Featured image] A young woman wearing glasses and a gray sweater uses her laptop.

When it comes to college application essays, many colleges and universities specify a word count. Some expect one longer essay, while others expect responses to multiple prompts using a shorter word count for each answer. However, that’s not always the case. If your institution doesn’t provide a specific word count, it’s best to keep your essay between the length established by the longer college admissions essay format: 250 to 650 words .

Word count is just one factor to consider as you craft your college admissions essay. Let’s go over other considerations, like whether a longer essay makes a difference, and whether it’s acceptable to exceed the word count. 

College essays: Word count vs. page limit 

High school essays tend to require a page limit, meaning that your teachers might ask you to submit a five-page paper or an eight-paper paper. However, college essays tend to require a word count. 

When a college provides you with a wide word count range, it’s best to take advantage of the upper word count limit. For example, if a college asks for an essay between 250-500 words, you should aim to craft a response that’s at least 400-450 words. You don’t need to hit the maximum length, but your essay should be well over half the word count. 

College essays or personal statements are an opportunity for a college admissions committee to hear directly from you. It’s valuable space. Writing the bare minimum may not send the best message to the committee, and it may not help them learn more about who you are outside of your transcripts and general application. 

Learn more: Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for College

How to measure your college essay's word count

Measuring your word count depends on which program you’re using to write your essay. Microsoft Word and Google Docs are two of the most common. 

Microsoft Word: The page count is typically displayed on the bottom left of your screen. You can also click “Review” and then “Word count” to find how much you’ve written. 

Google Docs: Under “Tools,” click on “Word count.” You can also highlight a portion of your text before clicking “word count” so you can determine the exact word count of that section. 

Should you go over the word count? 

Simply put, no. Do not go over the maximum word count. If there isn’t a preferred word count, submit an essay that’s under 650 words, according to the college application platform Common App, which works with over 900 colleges in the US [ 1 ]. 

Admissions officers are looking for well-written essays that follow directions. Officers review thousands of essays every year. In fact, the average college received 9,071 applications in 2020 [ 2 ]. Writing either a very short or a very long essay—ignoring the directions in either case—might send the wrong impression. 

You can always start by writing a longer draft and then trimming the most unnecessary parts to tighten your essay and get it down to the preferred word count. This will help you include the most important information and get your point across in a concise way.

What length should supplemental college essays be?

Supplemental essays are additional prompts that some colleges and universities ask students to answer in addition to their personal statement or college essay. It's usually an opportunity to specify your interest in that particular school: Admissions committees may ask why you want to attend or what you want to study and why.

Schools can require, on average, at least two or three supplemental essays, while others have been known to ask for over ten. Most schools will provide specific instructions about the word count for supplemental essays. As with the college essay, stay within the range or limit, and write a focused response that incorporates some knowledge about the school.  

How to format your college essay

As with word count, many institutions specify any formatting requirements, such as double-spacing (vs. single-spacing) your essay, and what font size you should use. (With general online application portals, such as Common App, the program will format your essay for you.)

Because a college essay is measured by word count rather than page length, writing in a larger font and using double-spaced formatting won’t affect the overall length of your essay, though it’s best to adhere to each college’s guidelines. Check if there are any parameters you need to follow for each application you submit.

4 tips for writing an effective college essay

No matter which essay prompt you choose, it’s important to take your time crafting your response, making sure every word adds to your story. Follow these tips to help your college essay stand out.

1. Be prepared to write a few drafts. 

Your college essay should go through a few drafts before you share the final version with one of your peers or a professional for additional feedback. Take advantage of the rough draft phase by overwriting. Forget about your word count for a moment and let yourself go. Doing so may help you discover something new to say, or help you expand upon your original idea. 

Make editing a separate process from the actual writing. As much as possible, write and then walk away for a period of time (a few hours or even a day). Return to your essay with fresh eyes and see if you can cut the essay, reduce the number of words you’re using, or find a more succinct or focused way to approach your response. 

2. Answer the question and relate it to your unique story.

Your essay should both answer the prompt and convey who you are. You don’t need a dazzling, one-of-a-kind story to get an admissions officer’s attention. Your life is unique to you—only you have had your experiences. 

Make sure that whatever you choose to write about is an authentic representation of who you are. Instead of comparing your essay to someone else in your class, work to make your response the best it can be for you. And as you focus your essay, go one step further by sharing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result. That kind of reflection can build more depth into your response.  

3. Get specific.

When recounting an experience, incorporate creative writing to your personal statement.  Use details to describe a situation and add a bit of color. Pick strong verbs and a few specific adjectives that correctly highlight the action and scene. Let’s compare these two examples: 

 1) When I got a musical instrument for my birthday, I wasn’t really sure I’d like it. Still, I figured I’d play it daily because I enjoy music. I got better, and soon I made band. I like that I get to go to all the school games.

2) When my mother surprised me with a clarinet for my 15th birthday, I wondered if I’d enjoy playing it. Over the summer, when my friends gathered outside to enjoy their time off, I practiced my scales every day in my room—and slowly improved. After that hard work and sacrifice, I was excited to earn a place in the marching band.

Both paragraphs recount the same memory, but the second one creates a more memorable picture. 

4. Ask for feedback.

Once you feel as though you’ve developed a final draft, don’t rush to turn it in. Instead, ask one of your favorite teachers or a trusted friend or family member to read it. Ask for constructive feedback on ways to improve. Be prepared to make changes if something is unclear or if they think there’s a better way to phrase a section. But make sure you continue to write in your voice so the college gets to know who you are instead of someone else.

When you’re feeling confident, review your work one last time for grammar and spelling. Don’t let a small error override an otherwise thoughtful, engaging essay.

Keep learning 

You may find it helpful to brush up on your creative writing skills so you can express yourself clearly and colorfully before applying to college. On Coursera, you can enroll in Wesleyan University’s Creative Writing specialization for free. Or you can find courses that can help you gain more knowledge of the college admissions process . 

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Article sources

1. Common App. “ Are There Word Limits? , https://appsupport.commonapp.org/s/article/are-there-word-limits-kudeoeos." Accessed February 11, 2022.

2. US News and World Report. “ 10 Colleges That Received the Most Applications ,  https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/colleges-that-received-the-most-applications." Accessed February 11, 2022.

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College Essays

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Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?

Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.

How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit

You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.

In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.

For example, the University of Illinois says :

"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."

As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!

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Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!

How Flexible Is the Word Limit?

But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?

Can I Go Over the Word Limit?

If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:

First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim down anyways.

If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.

Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!

Can I Go Under the Word Limit?

If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.

However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.

Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.

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Don't let this sinister hand stop you from writing everything you have to say!

What If There Is No Word Limit?

Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:

Writing Sample

Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.

For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :

"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."

While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."

So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.

does a college essay need paragraphs

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Implicit Length Guideline

Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?

See, for example, this Wellesley supplemental essay prompt :

"When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the "Wellesley 100" is a good place to start. Visit The Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (Not-so-secret tip: The "why" matters to us.)"

There's no page or word limit here, but it does say to respond "in two well-developed paragraphs." This gives you an idea of what's reasonable. "Well-developed" certainly means the paragraphs can be long, but even two long paragraphs shouldn't exceed 500 words or so. That's what I mean by an "implicit" word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.

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But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?

Treasure Hunt

There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.

For example, the University of Chicago provides six "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.

However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays: 

“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.

Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length

If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).

In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!

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"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"

The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.

What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!

Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:

If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.

There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.

You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."

If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.

With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!

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Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!

What's Next?

Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .

If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!

Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay  

January 29, 2024

how to write a body paragraph college essay

No matter the discipline, college success requires mastering several academic basics, including the body paragraph. This article will provide tips on drafting and editing a strong body paragraph before examining several body paragraph examples. Before we look at how to start a body paragraph and how to write a body paragraph for a college essay (or other writing assignment), let’s define what exactly a body paragraph is.

What is a Body Paragraph?

Simply put, a body paragraph consists of everything in an academic essay that does not constitute the introduction and conclusion. It makes up everything in between. In a five-paragraph, thesis-style essay (which most high schoolers encounter before heading off to college), there are three body paragraphs. Longer essays with more complex arguments will include many more body paragraphs.

We might correlate body paragraphs with bodily appendages—say, a leg. Both operate in a somewhat isolated way to perform specific operations, yet are integral to creating a cohesive, functioning whole. A leg helps the body sit, walk, and run. Like legs, body paragraphs work to move an essay along, by leading the reader through several convincing ideas. Together, these ideas, sometimes called topics, or points, work to prove an overall argument, called the essay’s thesis.

If you compared an essay on Kant’s theory of beauty to an essay on migratory birds, you’d notice that the body paragraphs differ drastically. However, on closer inspection, you’d probably find that they included many of the same key components. Most body paragraphs will include specific, detailed evidence, an analysis of the evidence, a conclusion drawn by the author, and several tie-ins to the larger ideas at play. They’ll also include transitions and citations leading the reader to source material. We’ll go into more detail on these components soon. First, let’s see if you’ve organized your essay so that you’ll know how to start a body paragraph.

How to Start a Body Paragraph

It can be tempting to start writing your college essay as soon as you sit down at your desk. The sooner begun, the sooner done, right? I’d recommend resisting that itch. Instead, pull up a blank document on your screen and make an outline. There are numerous reasons to make an outline, and most involve helping you stay on track. This is especially true of longer college papers, like the 60+ page dissertation some seniors are required to write. Even with regular writing assignments with a page count between 4-10, an outline will help you visualize your argumentation strategy. Moreover, it will help you order your key points and their relevant evidence from most to least convincing. This in turn will determine the order of your body paragraphs.

The most convincing sequence of body paragraphs will depend entirely on your paper’s subject.  Let’s say you’re writing about Penelope’s success in outwitting male counterparts in The Odyssey . You may want to begin with Penelope’s weaving, the most obvious way in which Penelope dupes her suitors. You can end with Penelope’s ingenious way of outsmarting her own husband. Because this evidence is more ambiguous it will require a more nuanced analysis. Thus, it’ll work best as your final body paragraph, after readers have already been convinced of more digestible evidence. If in doubt, keep your body paragraph order chronological.

It can be worthwhile to consider your topic from multiple perspectives. You may decide to include a body paragraph that sets out to consider and refute an opposing point to your thesis. This type of body paragraph will often appear near the end of the essay. It works to erase any lingering doubts readers may have had, and requires strong rhetorical techniques.

How to Start a Body Paragraph, Continued

Once you’ve determined which key points will best support your argument and in what order, draft an introduction. This is a crucial step towards writing a body paragraph. First, it will set the tone for the rest of your paper. Second, it will require you to articulate your thesis statement in specific, concise wording. Highlight or bold your thesis statement, so you can refer back to it quickly. You should be looking at your thesis throughout the drafting of your body paragraphs.

Finally, make sure that your introduction indicates which key points you’ll be covering in your body paragraphs, and in what order. While this level of organization might seem like overkill, it will indicate to the reader that your entire paper is minutely thought-out. It will boost your reader’s confidence going in. They’ll feel reassured and open to your thought process if they can see that it follows a clear path.

Now that you have an essay outline and introduction, you’re ready to draft your body paragraphs.

How to Draft a Body Paragraph

At this point, you know your body paragraph topic, the key point you’re trying to make, and you’ve gathered your evidence. The next thing to do is write! The words highlighted in bold below comprise the main components that will make up your body paragraph. (You’ll notice in the body paragraph examples below that the order of these components is flexible.)

Start with a topic sentence . This will indicate the main point you plan to make that will work to support your overall thesis. Your topic sentence also alerts the reader to the change in topic from the last paragraph to the current one. In making this new topic known, you’ll want to create a transition from the last topic to this one.

Transitions appear in nearly every paragraph of a college essay, apart from the introduction. They create a link between disparate ideas. (For example, if your transition comes at the end of paragraph 4, you won’t need a second transition at the beginning of paragraph 5.) The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center has a page devoted to Developing Strategic Transitions . Likewise, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center offers help on paragraph transitions .

How to Draft a Body Paragraph for a College Essay ( Continued)

With the topic sentence written, you’ll need to prove your point through tangible evidence. This requires several sentences with various components. You’ll want to provide more context , going into greater detail to situate the reader within the topic. Next, you’ll provide evidence , often in the form of a quote, facts, or data, and supply a source citation . Citing your source is paramount. Sources indicate that your evidence is empirical and objective. It implies that your evidence is knowledge shared by others in the academic community. Sometimes you’ll want to provide multiple pieces of evidence, if the evidence is similar and can be grouped together.

After providing evidence, you must provide an interpretation and analysis of this evidence. In other words, use rhetorical techniques to paraphrase what your evidence seems to suggest. Break down the evidence further and explain and summarize it in new words. Don’t simply skip to your conclusion. Your evidence should never stand for itself. Why? Because your interpretation and analysis allow you to exhibit original, analytical, and critical thinking skills.

Depending on what evidence you’re using, you may repeat some of these components in the same body paragraph. This might look like: more context + further evidence + increased interpretation and analysis . All this will add up to proving and reaffirming your body paragraph’s main point . To do so, conclude your body paragraph by reformulating your thesis statement in light of the information you’ve given. I recommend comparing your original thesis statement to your paragraph’s concluding statement. Do they align? Does your body paragraph create a sound connection to the overall academic argument? If not, you’ll need to fix this issue when you edit your body paragraph.

How to Edit a Body Paragraph

As you go over each body paragraph of your college essay, keep this short checklist in mind.

  • Consistency in your argument: If your key points don’t add up to a cogent argument, you’ll need to identify where the inconsistency lies. Often it lies in interpretation and analysis. You may need to improve the way you articulate this component. Try to think like a lawyer: how can you use this evidence to your advantage? If that doesn’t work, you may need to find new evidence. As a last resort, amend your thesis statement.
  • Language-level persuasion. Use a broad vocabulary. Vary your sentence structure. Don’t repeat the same words too often, which can induce mental fatigue in the reader. I suggest keeping an online dictionary open on your browser. I find Merriam-Webster user-friendly, since it allows you to toggle between definitions and synonyms. It also includes up-to-date example sentences. Also, don’t forget the power of rhetorical devices .
  • Does your writing flow naturally from one idea to the next, or are there jarring breaks? The editing stage is a great place to polish transitions and reinforce the structure as a whole.

Our first body paragraph example comes from the College Transitions article “ How to Write the AP Lang Argument Essay .” Here’s the prompt: Write an essay that argues your position on the value of striving for perfection.

Here’s the example thesis statement, taken from the introduction paragraph: “Striving for perfection can only lead us to shortchange ourselves. Instead, we should value learning, growth, and creativity and not worry whether we are first or fifth best.” Now let’s see how this writer builds an argument against perfection through one main point across two body paragraphs. (While this writer has split this idea into two paragraphs, one to address a problem and one to provide an alternative resolution, it could easily be combined into one paragraph.)

“Students often feel the need to be perfect in their classes, and this can cause students to struggle or stop making an effort in class. In elementary and middle school, for example, I was very nervous about public speaking. When I had to give a speech, my voice would shake, and I would turn very red. My teachers always told me “relax!” and I got Bs on Cs on my speeches. As a result, I put more pressure on myself to do well, spending extra time making my speeches perfect and rehearsing late at night at home. But this pressure only made me more nervous, and I started getting stomach aches before speaking in public.

“Once I got to high school, however, I started doing YouTube make-up tutorials with a friend. We made videos just for fun, and laughed when we made mistakes or said something silly. Only then, when I wasn’t striving to be perfect, did I get more comfortable with public speaking.”

Body Paragraph Example 1 Dissected

In this body paragraph example, the writer uses their personal experience as evidence against the value of striving for perfection. The writer sets up this example with a topic sentence that acts as a transition from the introduction. They also situate the reader in the classroom. The evidence takes the form of emotion and physical reactions to the pressure of public speaking (nervousness, shaking voice, blushing). Evidence also takes the form of poor results (mediocre grades). Rather than interpret the evidence from an analytical perspective, the writer produces more evidence to underline their point. (This method works fine for a narrative-style essay.) It’s clear that working harder to be perfect further increased the student’s nausea.

The writer proves their point in the second paragraph, through a counter-example. The main point is that improvement comes more naturally when the pressure is lifted; when amusement is possible and mistakes aren’t something to fear. This point ties back in with the thesis, that “we should value learning, growth, and creativity” over perfection.

This second body paragraph example comes from the College Transitions article “ How to Write the AP Lang Rhetorical Analysis Essay .” Here’s an abridged version of the prompt: Rosa Parks was an African American civil rights activist who was arrested in 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Read the passage carefully. Write an essay that analyzes the rhetorical choices Obama makes to convey his message.

Here’s the example thesis statement, taken from the introduction paragraph: “Through the use of diction that portrays Parks as quiet and demure, long lists that emphasize the extent of her impacts, and Biblical references, Obama suggests that all of us are capable of achieving greater good, just as Parks did.” Now read the body paragraph example, below.

“To further illustrate Parks’ impact, Obama incorporates Biblical references that emphasize the importance of “that single moment on the bus” (lines 57-58). In lines 33-35, Obama explains that Parks and the other protestors are “driven by a solemn determination to affirm their God-given dignity” and he also compares their victory to the fall the “ancient walls of Jericho” (line 43). By including these Biblical references, Obama suggests that Parks’ action on the bus did more than correct personal or political wrongs; it also corrected moral and spiritual wrongs. Although Parks had no political power or fortune, she was able to restore a moral balance in our world.”

Body Paragraph Example 2 Dissected

The first sentence in this body paragraph example indicates that the topic is transitioning into biblical references as a means of motivating ordinary citizens. The evidence comes as quotes taken from Obama’s speech. One is a reference to God, and the other an allusion to a story from the bible. The subsequent interpretation and analysis demonstrate that Obama’s biblical references imply a deeper, moral and spiritual significance. The concluding sentence draws together the morality inherent in equal rights with Rosa Parks’ power to spark change. Through the words “no political power or fortune,” and “moral balance,” the writer ties the point proven in this body paragraph back to the thesis statement. Obama promises that “All of us” (no matter how small our influence) “are capable of achieving greater good”—a greater moral good.

What’s Next?

Before you body paragraphs come the start and, after your body paragraphs, the conclusion, of course! If you’ve found this article helpful, be sure to read up on how to start a college essay and how to end a college essay .

You may also find the following blogs to be of interest:

  • 6 Best Common App Essay Examples
  • How to Write the Overcoming Challenges Essay
  • UC Essay Examples 
  • How to Write the Community Essay
  • How to Write the Why this Major? Essay
  • College Essay

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Kaylen Baker

With a BA in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, and a Master’s in Translation from Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Kaylen has been working with students on their writing for over five years. Previously, Kaylen taught a fiction course for high school students as part of Columbia Artists/Teachers, and served as an English Language Assistant for the French National Department of Education. Kaylen is an experienced writer/translator whose work has been featured in Los Angeles Review, Hybrid, San Francisco Bay Guardian, France Today, and Honolulu Weekly, among others.

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DEAN’S BOOK w/ Prof. CONNIE GRIFFIN

Honors291g-cdg’s blog.

How to Write a Paper Topic Proposal & Thesis Statement

•    PART 1 OF THE ASSIGNMENT: PAPER TOPIC PROPOSAL The formal research paper or honors thesis will provide you with an opportunity to more fully develop the background and implications of one of the topics presented during the semester or explore a related topic not covered. Your paper topic proposal requires research in order to make your proposal as close to your paper topic as possible. I strongly suggest you come to office hours to discuss your topic proposal with me, because I will review all proposals for viability and reject any inappropriate or undoable topics. The written proposal must include the following 2 things: 1.    Your proposed paper topic: This part of the proposal is one sentence. Keep your paper topic narrow (but not so narrow that there are no scholarly sources available on the topic). 2.    Why the topic is interesting and important: Address how you will focus the topic. If you choose a topic that is not of interest to you, it will show in your paper. This topic must remain of interest to you for two semesters, so give it some serious consideration. As we cover topics in class, undoubtedly something will come up that you want to learn more about. This would be an ideal paper topic. This part of the assignment requires that you include two to three paragraphs about why this topic is interesting and important. Why should the reader care about Roger Williams’s relationship with the Narragansett Indians? If you simply retell the story of his exile from Massachusetts and what he thought of the Narragansett religious beliefs and practices, that’s a book report, not an honors level research paper. However, if you explore the significance Narragansett religion had on Williams, his writings, and his life, you have the makings of an interesting and important research paper. It would require research pertaining to the role of missionaries in the American colonies, research of the Puritan philosophy and why Williams was banned from Massachusetts Bay Colony, and research of Narragansett beliefs and religious views and how they were impacted by the English and Dutch.

What should your paper topic be?  Select a course-related topic. I suggest you write about an area that most interests you and in which you might already have some background knowledge. What do you want to learn more about? What are you interested in? Avoid choosing a topic that bores you. Sustained interest in your topic is important, as a topic that bores you makes for a boring paper. It is unlikely you will be able to fool the reader into believing you liked a topic that you didn’t actually like.

Now, narrow down your topic:  Once you’ve chosen a topic, ask yourself if it’s narrow enough for you to tackle in the paper or honors thesis you will be writing. Narrow topics generally result in the best papers. One important consideration is the availability of material. Therefore, before making a final decision on your topic, do some initial research to find out the type, quality, and quantity of information available. Finally, how much time do you have to write your paper? The earlier you begin your paper, the more thorough the treatment your topic will receive. If you can’t begin your paper early in the semester, consider limiting your topic so you can deal with it adequately.

•    PART 2 OF THE ASSIGNMENT: THESIS STATEMENT What is a thesis statement?  A thesis statement is “a proposition stated as a conclusion which you will then demonstrate or ‘prove’ in your paper.”  It is the focal point around which your research will revolve. It is usually stated in the form of an assertion or statement you resolve through your research. It’s not a question; it’s an answer, such as: “Key decisions in large U.S. cities are made by a handful of individuals, drawn largely from business, industrial, and municipal circles, who occupy the top of the power hierarchy.” “Cigarette smoking harms the body by constricting the blood vessels, accelerating the heartbeat, paralyzing the cilia in the bronchial tubes, and activating excessive gastric secretions in the stomach.” A thesis takes a position on an issue. Because you must take a position or develop a claim about a subject, you need to convey that position or claim in a thesis statement in your research paper. It is different from a topic sentence in that a thesis statement is not neutral. It announces, in addition to the topic, the argument you want to make or the point you want to prove. This is your own opinion that you intend to back up. This is your reason and motivation for writing. A thesis statement: i)    tells the reader how you will interpret the significance of the subject matter under discussion. ii)    is a road map for the paper; in other words, it tells the reader what to expect from the rest of the paper. iii)    directly answers the question asked of you. A thesis is an interpretation of a question or subject, not the subject itself. The subject, or topic, of an essay might be World War II or Moby Dick; a thesis must then offer a way to understand the war or the novel. iv)    makes a claim that others might dispute. v)    is usually a single sentence somewhere in your first paragraph that presents your argument to the reader. The rest of the paper, the body of the essay, gathers and organizes evidence that will persuade the reader of the logic of your interpretation. After you have done some preliminary research and reading on your narrowed-down topic, you should formulate a single-sentence thesis statement.

Writing in college often takes the form of persuasion – convincing others that you have an interesting, logical point of view on the subject you are studying. Persuasion is a skill you practice regularly in your daily life. You persuade your roommate to clean up, your parents to let you borrow the car, your friend to vote for your favorite candidate or policy. In college, course assignments often ask you to make a persuasive case in writing. You are asked to convince your reader of your point of view. This form of persuasion, often called academic argument, follows a predictable pattern in writing. After a brief introduction of your topic, you state your point of view on the topic directly and often in one sentence. This sentence is the thesis statement, and it serves as a summary of the argument you’ll make in the rest of your paper.

What is the purpose of the thesis statement?  The thesis statement guides you, enabling you to focus your research paper and outline what you will write. It allows you to clarify your thinking and determine what is relevant and irrelevant as you do your research. Your research paper must be thesis-driven. A high school level “report” will not receive a passing grade. The thesis must pull together the analysis that follows. Your thesis statement must be specific – it should cover only what you will discuss in your research paper and must be supported with specific evidence. The thesis statement usually appears at the end of the first paragraph of a paper. Early in your paper I should be able to locate the thesis statement. If I ask you “Where is the thesis statement?” you should be able to point to it immediately.

How do you come up with a thesis statement?  A thesis is the result of a lengthy thinking process and careful deliberation after preliminary research. Formulating a thesis is not the first thing you do after reading a writing assignment. Before you develop an argument on any topic, you have to collect and organize evidence, look for possible relationships between known facts (such as surprising contrasts or similarities), and think about the significance of these relationships. Once you do this thinking, you will probably have a “working thesis,” a basic main idea, an argument that you think you can support with evidence but that may need adjustment along the way. Your topic may change somewhat as you write, so you may need to revise your thesis statement to reflect exactly what you have discussed in the paper.

Thesis Statement Samples: 1)    The non-thesis thesis: You must take a stand or you’ll end up with a “non-thesis thesis.” a)    Bad Thesis 1: In his article, Stanley Fish shows that we don’t really have the right to free speech. b)    Bad Thesis 2: This paper will consider the advantages and disadvantages of certain restrictions on free speech. c)    Better Thesis 1: Stanley Fish’s argument that free speech exists more as a political prize than as a legal reality ignores the fact that even as a political prize it still serves the social end of creating a general cultural atmosphere of tolerance that may ultimately promote free speech in our nation just as effectively as any binding law. d)    Better Thesis 2: Even though there may be considerable advantages to restricting hate speech, the possibility of chilling open dialogue on crucial racial issues is too great and too high a price to pay. 2)    The overly broad thesis: A thesis should be as specific as possible, and it should be tailored to reflect the scope of the paper. It is not possible, for instance, to write about the history of English literature in a five-page paper. In addition to choosing simply a smaller topic, strategies to narrow a thesis include specifying a method or perspective or delineating certain limits. a)    Bad Thesis 1: There should be no restrictions on the First Amendment. b)    Bad Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech. c)    Better Thesis 1: There should be no restrictions on the First Amendment if those restrictions are intended merely to protect individuals from unspecified or otherwise unquantifiable or unverifiable “emotional distress.” d)    Better Thesis 2: The government has the right to limit free speech in cases of overtly racist or sexist language because our failure to address such abuses would effectively suggest that our society condones such ignorant and hateful views. 3)    The incontestable thesis: A thesis must be arguable. And in order for it to be arguable, it must present a view that someone might reasonably contest. Sometimes a thesis ultimately says, “people should be good,” or “bad things are bad.” Such thesis statements are redundant or so universally accepted that there is no need to prove the point. a)    Bad Thesis 1: Although we have the right to say what we want, we should avoid hurting other people’s feelings. b)    Bad Thesis 2: There are always alternatives to using racist speech. c)    Better Thesis 1: If we can accept that emotional injuries can be just as painful as physical ones we should limit speech that may hurt people’s feelings in ways similar to the way we limit speech that may lead directly to bodily harm. d)    Better Thesis 2: The “fighting words” exception to free speech is not legitimate because it wrongly considers speech as an action. 4)    The “list essay” thesis: A good argumentative thesis provides not only a position on an issue but also suggests the structure of the paper. The thesis should allow the reader to imagine and anticipate the flow of the paper, in which a sequence of points logically proves the essay’s main assertion. A list essay provides no such structure, so that different points and paragraphs appear arbitrary with no logical connection to one another. a)    Bad Thesis 1: There are many reasons we need to limit hate speech. b)    Bad Thesis 2: Some of the arguments in favor of regulating pornography are persuasive. c)    Better Thesis 1: Among the many reasons we need to limit hate speech the most compelling ones all refer to our history of discrimination and prejudice, and it is, ultimately, for the purpose of trying to repair our troubled racial society that we need hate speech legislation. d)    Better Thesis 2: Some of the arguments in favor of regulating pornography are persuasive because they ask pornography proponents to ask themselves whether such a profession would be on a list of professions they would desire for their daughters or mothers. 5)    The research paper thesis: In another course this would be acceptable, and, in fact, possibly even desirable. But in this kind of course, a thesis statement that makes a factual claim that can be verified only with scientific, sociological, psychological, or other kind of experimental evidence is not appropriate. You need to construct a thesis that you are prepared to prove using the tools you have available, without having to consult the world’s leading expert on the issue to provide you with a definitive judgment. a)    Bad Thesis 1: Americans today are not prepared to give up on the concept of free speech. b)    Bad Thesis 2: Hate speech can cause emotional pain and suffering in victims just as intense as physical battery. c)    Better Thesis 1: Whether or not the cultural concept of free speech bears any relation to the reality of 1st amendment legislation and jurisprudence, its continuing social function as a promoter of tolerance and intellectual exchange trumps the call for politicization (according to Fish’s agenda) of the term. d)    Better Thesis 2: The various arguments against the regulation of hate speech depend on the unspoken and unexamined assumption that emotional pain is trivial.

How do I know if my thesis is strong?  If there’s time, run it by a professor or make an appointment at the Writing Center to get some feedback (http://www.umass.edu/writingcenter/index.html). Even if you do not have time to get advice elsewhere, you can do some thesis evaluation of your own. When reviewing your first draft of your working thesis, ask yourself the following: 1)    Do I answer the question? Re-reading the question prompt after constructing a working thesis can help you fix an argument that misses the focus of the question. 2)    Have I taken a position that others might challenge or oppose? If your thesis simply states facts that no one would, or even could, disagree with, it’s possible that you are simply providing a summary, rather than making an argument. 3)    Is my thesis statement specific enough? Thesis statements that are too vague often do not have a strong argument. If your thesis contains words like “good” or “successful,” see if you could be more specific: why is something “good”; what specifically makes something “successful”? 4)    Does my thesis pass the “So what?” test? If a reader’s first response is, “So what?” then you need to clarify, to forge a relationship, or to connect to a larger issue. 5)    Does my essay support my thesis specifically and without wandering? If your thesis and the body of your essay do not seem to go together, one of them has to change. It’s okay to change your working thesis to reflect things you have figured out in the course of writing your paper. Remember, always reassess and revise your writing as necessary. 6)    Does my thesis pass the “how and why?” test? If a reader’s first response is “how?” or “why?” your thesis may be too open-ended and lack guidance for the reader. See what you can add to give the reader a better take on your position right from the beginning.

Jane M. Smith Honors ____ [Date] Paper Topic Proposal and Thesis Statement Proposed paper topic: [One sentence.] Why the topic is interesting and important: [Two to three paragraphs.] See details above on what is required of this section. Thesis statement: [One sentence.]

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How to End a College Admissions Essay | 4 Winning Strategies

Published on October 16, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on May 31, 2023.

The ending of your college essay should leave your reader with a sense of closure and a strong final impression.

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Table of contents

Endings to avoid, option 1: return to the beginning, option 2: look forward, option 3: reveal your main point, option 4: end on an action, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

A bad conclusion can bring your whole essay down, so make sure to avoid these common mistakes.

Summarizing

Unlike an academic essay, an admissions essay shouldn’t restate your points. Avoid ending with a summary; there’s no need to repeat what you’ve already written.

Phrases like “in conclusion,” “overall,” or “to sum it up” signal that you have nothing to add to what you’ve already written, so an admissions officer may stop reading.

Stating the obvious

Instead of stating the obvious, let your work speak for itself and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. If your essay details various times that you worked tirelessly to go above and beyond, don’t finish it by stating “I’m hardworking.” Admissions officers are smart enough to figure that out on their own.

You should also avoid talking about how you hope to be accepted. Admissions officers know you want to be accepted—that’s why you applied! It’s okay to connect what you discuss in the essay to your potential future career or college experience, but don’t beg for admission. Stay focused on your essay’s core topic.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

Many successful essays follow a “sandwich,” or full-circle, structure , meaning that they start with some image or idea, veer away from it in the middle, and then return to it at the end.

This structure is clean, self-contained, and satisfying for readers, so it’s a great choice if it works with the topic you’ve chosen.

In the “sandwich” essay outlined below, a student discusses his passion for musical theater. Instead of simply stating that interest, his essay starts with a funny anecdote about a minor fire that erupted on set. At the end, it returns to this anecdote, creating a sense of closure.

  • Intro: I may be the world’s worst firefighter.
  • Flashback to working on the school musical
  • Demonstrate my passion for theatre
  • Detail the story of the theater set catching fire
  • Show how I made the most of the situation
  • Conclusion: I proved my value as a director, an actor, and a writer that week一even if I was a terrible firefighter.

Many successful essays end by looking forward to the future. These endings are generally hopeful and positive—always great qualities in an admissions essay—and often connect the student to the college or their academic goals.

Although these endings can be highly effective, it can be challenging to keep them from sounding cliché. Keep your ending specific to you, and don’t default to generalities, which can make your essay seem bland and unoriginal.

Below are a good and a bad example of how you could write a “looking forward” ending for the musical theater “firefighter” essay.

Sometimes, holding back your main point can be a good strategy. If your essay recounts several experiences, you could save your main message for the conclusion, only explaining what ties all the stories together at the very end.

When done well, this ending leaves the reader thinking about the main point you want them to take from your essay. It’s also a memorable structure that can stand out.

However, if you choose this approach, it can be challenging to keep the essay interesting enough that the reader pays attention throughout.

In the essay outlined below, a student gives us snapshots of her experience of gymnastics at different stages in her life. In the conclusion, she ties the stories together and shares the insight that they taught her about different aspects of her character and values.

  • Passionate, excited
  • Sister born that day—began to consider people beyond myself
  • Realizing that no matter how much I love gymnastics, there are more important things
  • I’d been working especially hard to qualify for that level
  • It came after many setbacks and failures
  • I had to give up time with friends, first homecoming dance of high school, and other activities, and I considered quitting
  • Conclusion: I’m still all of those selves: the passionate 7-year-old, the caring 11-year-old, and the determined 15-year-old. Gymnastics has been a constant throughout my life, but beyond the balance beam, it has also shown me how to change and grow.

Ending on an action can be a strong way to wrap up your essay. That might mean including a literal action, dialogue, or continuation of the story.

These endings leave the reader wanting more rather than wishing the essay had ended sooner. They’re interesting and can help you avoid boring your reader.

Here’s an example of how this ending could work for the gymnastics essay.

If you want to know more about academic writing , effective communication , or parts of speech , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

Academic writing

  • Writing process
  • Transition words
  • Passive voice
  • Paraphrasing

 Communication

  • How to end an email
  • Ms, mrs, miss
  • How to start an email
  • I hope this email finds you well
  • Hope you are doing well

 Parts of speech

  • Personal pronouns
  • Conjunctions

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

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    The college application essay has become the most important part of applying to college. In this article, we will go over the best college essay format for getting into top schools, including how to structure the elements of a college admissions essay: margins, font, paragraphs, spacing, headers, and organization.. We will focus on commonly asked questions about the best college essay structure.

  7. How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

    College essays are an entirely new type of writing for high school seniors. For that reason, many students are confused about proper formatting and essay structure. Should you double-space or single-space? Do you need a title? What kind of narrative style is best-suited for your topic? How to write essays Watch on

  8. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    Essay writing process. The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay.. For example, if you've been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you'll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay, on the ...

  9. Essay Structure: The 3 Main Parts of an Essay

    Your essay's body paragraphs are where you support your thesis statement with facts and evidence. Each body paragraph should focus on one supporting argument for your thesis by discussing related data, content, or events.

  10. College Writing

    The five-paragraph model is a good way to learn how to write an academic essay. It's a simplified version of academic writing that requires you to state an idea and support it with evidence. Setting a limit of five paragraphs narrows your options and forces you to master the basics of organization.

  11. On Paragraphs

    When your readers need a pause. Breaks between paragraphs function as a short "break" for your readers—adding these in will help your writing be more readable. You would create a break if the paragraph becomes too long or the material is complex. When you are ending your introduction or starting your conclusion.

  12. What is the format of a college application essay?

    FAQ What is the format of a college application essay? Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space.

  13. 10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays

    How to Write a Readable College Essay 1. Start your essay with an engaging introduction. Do you sometimes close out of a video or article because the introduction was boring? With so many things vying for our attention in the modern world, it's important for introductions to grab our attention right away. This is equally true for college essays.

  14. 10 College Application Essay Dos and Don'ts

    DON'T copy and paste. With upwards of 25 or more essays to write for a balanced college list of 10-12 schools, it's tempting for students to repurpose essays across applications if the prompts are similar, especially when working down to the wire. While students can use the same main essay on the Common App for multiple schools, we always ...

  15. 11 Rules for Essay Paragraph Structure (with Examples)

    1. Paragraphs must be at least four sentences long 2. But, at most seven sentences long 3. Your paragraph must be Left-Aligned 4. You need a topic sentence 5 . Next, you need an explanation sentence 6. You need to include an example 7. You need to include citations 8. All paragraphs need to be relevant to the marking criteria 9.

  16. 24 Do's and Don'ts of Writing a College Admission Essay

    DO write an ending, not a conclusion. Building on the idea of not writing a school essay, having a story arc, and breaking away from form, your essay still does need to have an ending. What it doesn't need is a conclusion. Conclusions wrap things up with a bow. You are a human, not a present.

  17. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Published on September 29, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on June 1, 2023. Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

  18. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    For example, if a college asks for an essay between 250-500 words, you should aim to craft a response that's at least 400-450 words. You don't need to hit the maximum length, but your essay should be well over half the word count. College essays or personal statements are an opportunity for a college admissions committee to hear directly ...

  19. How to Write a Five-Paragraph Essay, With Examples

    The five-paragraph essay format is a guide that helps writers structure an essay. It consists of one introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs for support, and one concluding paragraph. Because of this structure, it has been nicknamed the "hamburger essay," the "one-three-one essay," and the "three-tier essay.".

  20. The Best College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be?

    First, Check the Word Limit You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead.

  21. How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay

    In high school you are often asked to write a 5-paragraph essay, composed of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. College admission essay: 200-650 words: College applications require a short personal essay to express your interests and motivations. This generally has a strict word limit. Undergraduate college essay: 1500 ...

  22. How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay

    Simply put, a body paragraph consists of everything in an academic essay that does not constitute the introduction and conclusion. It makes up everything in between. In a five-paragraph, thesis-style essay (which most high schoolers encounter before heading off to college), there are three body paragraphs.

  23. How to Write a Paper Topic Proposal & Thesis Statement

    A list essay provides no such structure, so that different points and paragraphs appear arbitrary with no logical connection to one another. a) Bad Thesis 1: There are many reasons we need to limit hate speech. b) Bad Thesis 2: Some of the arguments in favor of regulating pornography are persuasive.

  24. How to End a College Admissions Essay

    Option 1: Return to the beginning Option 2: Look forward Option 3: Reveal your main point Option 4: End on an action Other interesting articles Frequently asked questions about college application essays Endings to avoid A bad conclusion can bring your whole essay down, so make sure to avoid these common mistakes. Summarizing