Regional College Access Center

Awesome application essays: how to organize an essay

Amy says: Once I decided on a topic, I wrote a first draft of my essay really fast. But when I asked my favorite teacher for editing help, he said he thought it was too scattered. I started freaking out. I didn't want to start over.

I calmed down when he suggested that I focus on one story in the essay, and make that into the whole thing. Instead of starting over, I focused on the details of that story and what it showed about me.

The thesis statement

Eventually, you want to be able to write a single sentence that sums up the main point of your argument. This is the thesis statement of your essay. You must state your thesis clearly and directly. It is the one most important sentence of your essay!

If you were to continue with our brainstorming example about studying law, you might end up with a thesis statement like this: "Although I grew up surrounded by family members on the police force, it was only after personal experiences with injustice that I realized I had a deep interest in the law." Of course, that is only one possible thesis. You may discover that it's easier to think of essay topics than you expect, and harder to settle on a single argument and thesis.

The introduction

Once you have written a possible thesis sentence, write a couple of sentences to introduce your topic more generally. For example, after the thesis statement above, you might go on to explain who in your family was a police officer, and how you felt about the law before the personal experiences mentioned.

Lots of people have a hard time writing an introduction. Sometimes it's hard to crystallize your thoughts about the essay as a whole before you've written it. If it is taking you too long to write an introduction, skip it for now. You don't have to write your essay in the order people will read it!

The body of the essay

Remember those ideas you brainstormed and wrote down? Now that you've decided on an argument, take another look at them. Will they work to support your argument as examples, or as part of a narrative? In the case of our imaginary essay about studying law, several of them could work for this. These will be your paragraphs for the body of the essay.

In this case, you might have a paragraph about growing up in a family of police officers, and another paragraph about how "the law" used to feel like something abstract and solid, thanks to a love of Law & Order and similar shows. Then you could take several paragraphs to explain the injustice mentioned in the brainstorming list, and how it changed your interest and opinion of the law.

The conclusion

Conclusions can be just as hard to write as introductions. In most essays, conclusions should restate the main points of the body of the essay, and then explain why these points prove your thesis.

How would you conclude our example essay? You could write a paragraph acknowledging that you don't know what you want to do with a law degree specifically, but that you know that it opens many doors.

The editing process

Finally done writing a complete essay? Congratulations! You've earned a break, but don't waste your hard work by submitting your first draft. Show your essay to a trusted mentor, such as a teacher, family member or adult friend. Ask them to read it and give you whatever help they can. Ask for suggestions about the structure, the topic, the grammar, the spelling and the tone.

Take a break from the essay for a day or two, and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Read it from beginning to end, and ask yourself the following questions:

With outside feedback and your own fresh reaction, you can begin revising your essay to improve it. College admissions staff members see thousands of essays every year, and they can tell when an essay has just been thrown together. Revising and rewriting really does make for a better essay, so make sure you keep working until you feel proud of what you've written!