College admission essays are one of the most stressful points in the admission process for high school students. A proper essay will tell your professors everything about you as a student; your command of the topic, your work ethic, your ability to research, and your logical thinking. When you start tackling college essays, keep these six points in mind:
- Assemble your research first. Don’t get halfway through your essay only to stumble across facts that contradict the last thousand words you just wrote. Its okay to keep researching as you write an essay – for upper years it’s almost necessary – but you should start your essay having already done enough research to know where it’s going.
- Understand the structure of an essay. Unless your college gives you a different or limited sort of assignment, an academic essay is a piece of writing that makes a claim and provides evidence to support the claim. Your essays should present a thesis – an assertion that something is true – provide evidence that the assertion is true, and then conclude by summarizing the major points of evidence. You can’t go too wrong by sticking to that structure.
- Plan your essay. An essay plan can be as short as a hundred words. State your thesis in ten words, each of three major points in twelve words; a few notes for each of the three major points, and you have an essay plan.
- Use multiple resources. Don’t just parrot one book. If you’re at a good school, your professor very likely knows all the best books. He or she might have written the best books! The purpose of an essay is to show you are learning how to think, not that you know how to read.
- Learn the rules of attribution. In other words… don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism can end your trip to college or make it much more unpleasant than you’ve planned. Any quote you use, any passage you borrow, or any fact you cite should be in a footnote or an endnote. If you don’t understand the basics of academic attribution, ask your instructor. Your college’s bookstore will have writing guides as well.
- Get someone to proofread it. No matter how good you think your writing is, no matter how carefully you proofread it yourself, get someone who has a sharp eye for language to proofread your essay. You will be amazed how many errors they’ll find and suggestions they’ll have.
Most of all don’t be afraid to ask your teachers for help. They keep office hours for a reason and they’d much rather help you understand academic writing than mark a bad essay. When in doubt, ask the expert!