College Essay Format in 11 Easy Steps - Read Now

Mar 19, 2021

College Essay Format in 11 Easy Steps

Where do you start? Is there a foolproof college essay format?

There surely is a college essay format to help you get going and make your mark. 

But how to format an essay for college?

Formatting college essays is a learned skill. Simply follow basic guidelines on formatting college essays and you can come up with a memorable college essay.

The 18 easy step college essay format is:

Step 1 for college essay format:

Understanding what the college admission team is looking for in your essay

Every college admissions office is flooded with almost identical applications that come with the pre-requisite test scores, transcripts, application form, and essay.
Now, it is the essay that sets each student apart. It is your chance to demonstrate your writing skills and your ability to narrate in a logical and organized manner. Your essay will give the admissions team an indication of how articulate you are and how well you will fit into the college besides conveying your values and preferences.  

Step 2 for college essay format:

Choosing the essay topic

Every college will give you essay topic options in the application form. These options are usually general to give you the liberty to choose and write as best as you can.
The essay is, however, a reflection of you. It will give the admissions team an inkling of your personality so choose a topic that will project you in the best light. Make sure the topic isn’t something that the admissions team will find in other documents that you submit. Be sure to choose a topic that doesn’t bind you and gives you the freedom to fly while expressing yourself.

Step 3 for college essay format:

Get going early

Begin putting together your essay long before you get caught up in the mentally exhausting application activities. Write while you are still fresh and energized and have the time to re-write and fine-tune your essay. This cannot be a last-minute effort as your essay can well be the decider of being accepted or not.

Step 4 for college essay format:

Brainstorm about your essay topic

Weigh the pros and cons of your chosen essay topic with your family and perhaps some friends. They will be in a better position to analyze and list your core strengths. In fact, they may even help you identify some of your idiosyncrasies that will validate your strengths.

Step 5 for college essay format:

Essay Content

Your first few lines should engross the reader. You should narrate an incident or various events in your life that have shaped you into who you have become. It needn’t necessarily be an achievement but what you write should be like a window through which the reader has a glimpse of you and your life.  

Step 6 for college essay format:

Be yourself when you write

Try to write in your voice. That way, you will write originally and whatever you write will ring true.

Step 7 for college essay format:

Essay Structure

You can opt to write using a narrative or montage structure.

The Narrative structure

It is like a story. You will write about an incident in your life.

It will have:

  • The pre-amble, where you introduce the incident and where you were in it. 
    For e.g., the incident could be about your family decide to make you take dance lessons. So you will narrate what led your parents to take this decision.
  • The build-up, taking the event forward as things changed.
    You will narrate your initial lessons, perhaps about the teacher, your struggle, etc.  You had two left feet and were constantly getting into trouble perhaps.
  • The climax, when the adversities mount and project the challenges before you. You get an ultimatum from your dance teacher but you want to make your parents proud of your dancing.
  • Happy landings, about how you overcame your troubles.
    You take up the challenge and use various devices to become a good dancer and surprise your teacher by doing well in the audition for a TV program.
  • Net result, of how the incident/event has enhanced your talent, helped you evolve as a person, learn new skills, etc.
    How taking up the challenge to become a good dancer changed your life. 

Read an example of an essay that is narrative:

Read 50 successful Ivy League Application Essays along with an analysis of the essays:

The Montage Structure

Just like the name suggests, it is an amalgamation of snapshots comprising various events, qualities, skills and values that you wish to highlight. However, you must write about them in such a way that they will appear inter-woven. It’s like the innumerable frames of a movie that play back-to-back to give us a moving experience.  Your montage narration will be snapshots that are not linear in narration like a movie is but how you juxtapose them and connect them will make it a readable story.

It is very much like the trailer or promo video of a yet-to-be-released film. It is various events and qualities of the main protagonist are so well montaged that even though you see just 90 seconds of the movie, you get it. Both structures work well depending on what content you wish to share. While the Narrative Structure is linear and sequential, the Montage Structure is composite.

Step 8 for college essay format:

Quality check

Once you’ve completed the essay, it’s time to check if it will carry you through. Read your draft once again and then answer the following questions:

  1. Does it convey your fundamental beliefs and values?
  2. Does it convey your flaws and weaknesses even while projecting your strengths?
  3. Does it have enough punch to keep the reader engrossed?
  4. Does it sound boring?
  5. Does it sound like you are bragging?
  6. Does it sound real and insightful?
  7. Does it showcase your ability to write well?

Step 9 for college essay format:

Editing and proofreading

After answering the above questions, be sure to check that your essay is within the stipulated word limit and then get down to the task of tweaking and editing it.
Your essay must be error-free. So after you’ve proofread it, get your family or teacher to do it too. 

Step 10 for college essay format:

Read it aloud

Read it out not just to yourself but also to your family, peers or teachers. Hear your essay and pay attention to the comments and further re-edit your essay and perhaps seek their help in further fine-tuning it.

Step 11 for college essay format:

Sleep on it

Once you’ve given it your best shot, take yourself away from your essay. Set it aside for a day and then go through it one final time to be sure that you have a cracker of an essay that will help you sail through.

Read about how some students went about writing their essays:

Read successful Harvard application essays:


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