Are you feeling intimidated or nervous by your upcoming college essays? Don’t be! Writing a winning college essay is so much less complicated than you think.

Our friends at WOW writing developed an exceptional guide to college essay writing and have allowed us to adapt our own version as well. Here’s a simple step-by-step plan to guide you towards success. 

Start with the Content of Your College Essay

Step 1: Understand the prompt

Prompts can range from discussing a particular experience to what your dreams are, to career aspirations or asking about an influential person in your life. As you begin to consider the prompt, think through it and work to really understand it, also consider how you can shape this prompt to help a college or university get to know you beyond just grades and test scores. 

Step 2: Brainstorm ideas

Consider one of your own stories that fit within one of the prompts. Remember: You shape the prompts they don’t shape you. We want to make the prompts fit your story, not the other way around. The most important thing is to allow the admissions officer reading your essay to get to know you and your story. This should be a time to showcase who you are, far beyond just your application and resume. Be genuine and remember that there is no ideal subject in a college essay.

Step 3: Focus on a theme

Some great questions to start with as you consider a theme are:

What happened? 

Why does it matter to you?

Why do you want them to know these things about you? 

Asking these questions to yourself will begin to shape the main point you want to make and cast vision for the message you want to communicate in your essay. 

Step 4: Free write

Here we recommend setting a timer, typically for 10 minutes, and then simply write. Don’t think too hard or worry about structure just consider things like…

Who is in your story?

Where did it take place?

Why were you there?

What led to the experience?

Make sure to give plenty of details and remember that at this stage you just want bullet points, don’t worry about grammar, and write as fast as you can!

Step 5: First draft

Now is the time to re-read the prompt aloud and revisit the theme you have decided on. Make sure you know exactly what you’re writing about so you have a clear vision for the essay. Perfection still isn’t the goal here — just get your ideas down and worry about formatting later. With the theme fresh on your mind, begin to write again. This should be a clean, fresh draft, different from your free-write. 

Step 6: Review

Once again, it’s a great idea to review the prompt and the theme again. Consider if your essay answers these questions…

What happened? Why does it matter?

If it can answer these questions, this is a good indication that you understand the prompt and your theme is clear. 

You’re still only focused on content at this step, but it is time to get another pair of eyes to look it over. Remember: Don’t take the feedback personally. Outside feedback is necessary to hone your essay into its very best version. 

Start to Create Some Structure 

Step 7: Take it from the top 

Now that you’ve created your first draft, we recommend waiting 48-72 hours until you take this step. This will allow you to have fresh eyes and perspective when reviewing it. Start at the beginning of the first draft and begin to cut back words that don’t enhance your story and add details to the areas that seem a bit generic. 

Step 8: Review content and structure

This will be your second review and the time to get someone to look over your second draft. It can be the same person as before or someone different. It’s totally up to you!

Don’t forget about the two most critical questions you should be answering with your college essay:

What happened and why does it matter?

This step is also the time to consider:

Does it read smoothly from beginning to end?

Is it redundant?

Did I leave out any key details?

What did I do well in this version?

Where could it be stronger?

Polish it Off

Step 9: Add the wow factor

This is where you want to make sure your essay stands out from the crowd. This is your third revision step and a time to make sure it is clear, matches your own style and really tells YOUR story. 

Key question: Will the admissions officer or college counselor continue reading after the first paragraph? You’ve got to capture them from the start. In this step, make sure your essay can do just that. 

Step 10: Edit and proofread

You’re almost done! Here you’re simply double and triple checking for any punctuation issues, spelling errors or incorrect grammar that needs to be fixed. 

This step-by-step guide will certainly lead you to a winning college essay, but we have another resource that will make it even easier for you to write something amazing! Shoot us a message for our free worksheet that will help you practice and get a feel for what the process will be like. Have questions? Feel free to reach out anytime!