What’s the Best Way to Structure a College Essay?

Recently, I had a conversation with a counselor who wondered how he might help students select the right structure for their college essays. The counselor asked me which of these approaches I prefer for college essay coaching:

  • Selecting multiple scenes to illustrate your most important values.
  • Starting the essay with a hook.
  • Outlining the beginning, middle and end of the essay before starting to write.

Hmmm… none, I responded! That was easy enough.

Truth be told, this was not a new question for me. High school counselors, independent educational consultants and teachers who work with students applying to college ask my business partner Susan Knoppow and me these sorts of questions all the time:

  • Which structure do colleges prefer?
  • Which structure is best?
  • Which is easiest to write?

Our answer remains the same: There is no best, easiest or preferable college essay structure.

At Wow, we don’t tell our students how to structure their essays.

We don’t even show them samples so they can choose a structure they like.

Instead, we give them simple instructions, and teach them how to make their own editorial choices.
The BEST structure for any college essay is the one that emerges organically as a student goes through the process of writing the essay.

Want to learn more?

Here’s a webinar Susan recorded a couple years ago about what we like to call the messy middle – the point during essay-writing when structure emerges from the freedom and chaos of an early draft.
The messy middle can be unnerving for students (and the pros who work with them). It’s unpredictable and leaves many otherwise confident folks feeling out of control. But take our advice – roll with it and trust your students to revise their essays with a little bit of guidance.

You don’t have to know where they’re going to end up.

Be willing to be surprised.

Kim Lifton, of Farmington Hills, MI, is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements. Kim is also a board member of MACAC. When she is not teaching students or training professionals, Kim likes to write her own stuff, do yoga at her synagogue, drink coffee, and swim laps (slowly but steadily) a few mornings a week at the high school she attended a very, very long time ago.

Coming Up 

We cover a new topic in our Pro Chats each month – Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. Eastern! Click here to register for our free sessions!

February 9       Improve in the New Year: Help Students Write Their Best Possible Essays

March    9        Cliches: “My Students Can’t Stay Away from College Essay Cliches”

Our free gift to you!

And, if you’d like a free electronic copy of our book for counselors, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Counselors, download it here.

Let your students know we have a free class for them, too!

If you want to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for our monthly free student class or Wednesdays at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Next up

Wednesday, Feb. 9, Wow Writing Workshop at 7 p.m. ET! You are welcome to sign up, too.