How to Write a College-Level Essay

How to Write a College-Level Essay

So, you’ve made your way to college and find yourself yet again writing essays for every subject and just about every conceivable topic. You spent a lot of your high school years dreading the essay, always leaving it to the last moment, the week before it was due, or even the night before it was supposed to be handed in. In university or college it is the time to stop putting yourself into that situation and start doing your essay properly by allowing yourself time and creating less stress.

Beginning an Essay

Writing a college-level essay can be a daunting experience at first. You might be more comfortable with exams where you study and answer questions. It’s a cut-and-dried experience, where you’re either right or wrong. The college essay is entirely different. There is a structure to follow, but when it comes to the content, you’ll be judged on presentation and originality as well. That can be fairly uncomfortable for inexperienced writers. If you find yourself in that position, the best thing you can do is simplify the process. Try and give yourself a working structure to follow, just as you would when following a study guide.

Time Management

We’ve all heard of time management, and this comes in handy when doing an essay. If you need help with general time management, there are many resources online that can assist with various methods, and also with planning and tracking your time. 

A key to managing your time around essay writing is planning how you will structure it, when you will work on it, and the time frame in which it needs to be done. Knowing your time frame will mean that you can set time limits for the different phases of writing the essay. 

Phases of Writing an Essay

The different phases of writing an essay include:

  • Outlining and planning the structure of the essay
  • Writing the essay
  • Proofreading and editing the essay

Plan to Spend the Time Needed

The first draft is just that, a draft. The real work of the college essay comes in rewriting. And your professor will certainly be able to tell if you rushed through the job or took time to carefully construct your paper. It starts with proper grammar, sentence structure, and spelling, but the truth of the time you’ve spent will always show through in the presentation of ideas. The less time spent, the more simple the ideas will be. More time spent means you’ve had the chance to come up with an idea, lay it out, then let it evolve as you gather evidence and thoughts. The savvy essay writer will leave plenty of time to work through this process, so start early to give your essay the feel of significant investment.

Research Topic Question

When given an essay assignment in class, you’re generally given either a topic to explore or a question to address. So as you’re preparing to work on your essay, look back at your assignment and make sure that what you plan to write will sufficiently cover the requirements. Read the subject over several times before you start writing, and ask for clarification if you need it. The last thing you want is to spend weeks writing an essay, just to discover it’s not at all what the professor is looking for.

As you’re writing the essay, ask yourself if the thoughts in the essay are properly structured. The college essay follows a recipe, just like any dish served in the cafeteria. You’ll introduce the theme in the first paragraph, explore it from several angles in the body, and then conclude in a paragraph. Have you followed this structure successfully? There is room for deviation, but if you are uncomfortable writing, you should keep as close to the traditional model as possible. Look up the rules of essay writing, and compare them with your work.

For Deeper Consideration

It’s also important to consider if you’re presenting new information, points of view, or analysis of the topic in your essay. Remember that your professor grades dozens of these essays each week, and if you’re looking to push to the top of the pile, you need to bring something new to the table. This may be the hardest step, and it’s inextricably tied to the amount of time you give the process. Sparks of inspiration can happen instantly, but it is more often an extended, well-considered experience. Take a look at your thesis and ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way out. If so, you might want to explore new avenues.

Also, as you think through to the conclusion of your essay, ask yourself if the essay proved (or disproved) the thesis. The introductory paragraph must be mirrored by a conclusion that either agrees with the thesis or discounts it. You’ll have to prove your point either way, but make sure those two pieces line up. If no conclusions can be drawn from your work, the process has essentially failed. Don’t get discouraged if this is the case, but stay the course.

Proofread and Edit Your Essay

Finally, before you hand in your essay, be sure to proofread and edit your work. Use the spelling and grammar checkers on your word processor to find any mistakes. Print out your essay and read it out loud to yourself, listening for any parts that don’t make sense. Also, ask a friend, roommate, or someone in your class to read your essay and give feedback.

Know You Can Do It

There’s really no escaping writing essays in college or university, but as long as you are willing to practice, you will improve!

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Alissa Zucker is a copywriter at She is interested in reading classic and psychological books which give her an inspiration to write her own articles and short stories.

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