College Application Essay Format

Education is the most important factor in the life of any individual. It enlightens the mind and opens the paths to success. Applying to a certain college can be tough for a student, however; with appropriate guidance, it is possible to write the best college application essay and college admission application letter.

A college application essay is an essay written by applicants seeking enrollment into an academic institution such as a college, university, or graduate school.

The application essay is meant to assist the admitting committee in learning more about the applicant besides academic performances. A college application essay will often be centered on the applicant’s personality. Since personalities will differ between applicants, an application essay is an effective tool for separating applicants with similar profiles or equal qualifications. This is because the application’s essay will always be unique and outlines distinguishing qualifications that admission officers can use to sort out candidates by identifying the strengths or suitability of one candidate from the other.

Role of College Application Essay in College Admission

A college application can be the determining factor for the acceptance or rejection of an applicant. Therefore, applicants should use the college application essay as their opportunity to stand out from their peers. The application essay should discuss your character-developing experiences, vision, accomplishments, goals, and reasons why they would be a suitable choice for admission.

Application essays are expected to be unique and personal; their variations are the criteria used to select the most suitable candidate.

Generally, a student considers three things while writing an essay:

  • The student writes the essay
  • The student proofread the essay
  • The student revises the essay

However, it is extremely important to follow a certain format to grab the attention of the examiner.

Conventional College Application Essay Structure

When it comes to writing application essays, every aspect of writing is important. Sometimes the applicant’s story could be impeccable, but the structuring attenuates the value of the essay. Fundamentally, there are three structures adopted in writing college application essays. These structures are;

In-the-moment narrative

The college application essay can take an in-the-moment structure where the application allows the reader to journey with him or her as they share their experiences. The reader is able to experience the applicant’s events, thoughts and emotions as if the applicant did at the time of the experience. The in-the-moment structure of application essays is ideal for stories characterized by a lot of reflecting, dialogue, and emotions – qualities that are better felt than demonstrated.

For example

When we arrived at the local shelter in 5th Street, Brooklyn, I was admittedly excited to be part of helping the community in the simple way we were – giving food and clothes to the homeless. This was my first time being actively involved in charity, and it felt fulfilling as I smiled and grinned at the people at the shelter. However, as the day progressed, around 3’ O clock I saw a young man around the same age as myself seated by himself, and I remember thinking to myself, “This could be me in another life. If it was, what could’ve possibly led me to be in such a position? Would that mean I’m less deserving or a consequence of my choices?” Suddenly I was putting myself in the shoes of the mothers with kids, people who seemed to be struggling with drug addiction, and it gave me a sudden fear of losing the life I’ve been so privileged to have.

Narrative told over a long period 

A narrative structure is suited for an essay that encompasses different experiences that together are part of a common theme or story that the applicant wants to convey to the reader. A narrative told over a long period structure can be used to show how different experiences over time molded the applicant in one way.

For example

As a kid, I had a small body which resulted in me being the tiniest person in most of my classes in middle school. Due to my size, I used to get picked on and rarely made friends in the hope that the situation would change in high school. I always craved to be invited to birthday parties and interact with my peers during co-curricular activities to no avail, blaming my body size and peers at the same time.

When I joined high school and grew in size, I thought this was my chance to make friends and become more social. Three (3) years in high school, I was still struggling with the same issue. With so many questions and self-doubt, I decided to take a different approach to my issue and ask for help from the school guidance and counseling teacher, Mr. Atkins. Through his guidance, I found out the problem was from within and not external. All this time, I expected my peers to initiate conversations and make advances without putting in the effort to attract the same.

I worked on my confidence and became actively social, which helped me interact with my peers than I could not have imagined as a kid. This taught me to always carry out self-assessments before criticizing myself for my issues and have grown significantly as a young person hoping to pursue a career in journalism.

Series of anecdotes

A series of anecdotes structure allows the applicant to discuss highlights of different experiences which do not necessarily have to be related. The college application essay can have different stories that address different qualities of the applicant using a series of anecdotes. Montage is where the essay highlights separate experiences and combines them to give a wholesome story. Events in the essay do not have to be in chronological order in a series of anecdotes structured essay.

For example

Looking into my mother’s eyes, I could see the disappointment. Not once had she ever had to come to school due to either of my older siblings getting into a fight. “Was that my best option? Getting into an unnecessary fight with Tim? Will she understand if I explain?” I kept asking myself. Tim had always harassed Marvin, my best friend, whenever we were at lunch. Once I found my courage to explain my side and told my mother and the principal of the continuous harassment Marvin had faced from Tim and the reason why I resorted to getting into a fight. They both seemed to be understanding but still condemned my behavior and urging me to report such issues instead of resorting to such an act. Marvin was able to enjoy his lunches peacefully afterward.

Poetry has been a part of me as far as I can remember. Unaware at the time, it was going to influence my career choice. At just eleven years of age, I had won The Social Awareness through Arts (poetry category) Prize of 2009 in my school. The winning poem I had written was talking authoritarian structure of management in our school, a topic that was frowned upon at that time but was a major problem that needed to be addressed.

Unconventional College Application Essay Structure

Other than the traditional formats discussed above, you can choose to employ unconventional structures when writing college application essays. These structures take the applicant away from their comfort zone and can sometimes be repelling to the reader if not done correctly. However, if executed correctly, there is a high reward of having the applicant stand out from his or her peers. The unconventional structures can be broadly categorized into the following;

Using a different approach

You can choose to make alterations to the traditional formatting style in a creative way that will stand out but still convey what the applicant intends. Some of the different ways an applicant can use are;

  • Formatting the essay like a movie script
  • Including creative visuals in the essay format, such as using spaces between words and sentences to create a visual.
  • Structuring the essay like a two-sided Lincoln-Douglas debate.
  • Including song lyrics to invoke or portray emotions and mood.

Linguistic techniques 

Also, an applicant can creatively modify the language or wording and sentence structure. This way, the applicant is able to move away from the usual formal language that can sometimes be monotonous to the reader. You can consider the following;

  • Writing the essay in iambic pentameter, which is a technique often used in poetry.
  • Inserting native language phrases or words, for example, I told myself, “Hakuna matata.” You can include an explanation for the reader in English.
  • Using a programming language such as java or C++. You should ensure that the admissions officer is conversant with the language.

Care should be taken when implementing unconventional structures in writing; it is best to avoid using them if they do not come naturally.

Crafting a College Application Essay

Most colleges will have their own guidelines on how college application essays should be formatted. It is up to the applicants to ensure that they abide by these requirements, for this is a major consideration before the essay can be reviewed.  

General guidelines

There are different guidelines to be followed when formatting essays depending on whether it will be submitted in a text box or an attached document.  However, there are common guidelines that are applicable to both means of submission. They include;

  • The essay does not need an essay title. You should not include one unless specifically requested to. This is because it lessesns the word count unnecessarily.
  • Avoid being overly colloquial or unnecessary stylizing the essay, such as including unnecessary symbols, emojis, or hashtags or using ALL CAPS. The application essays should be professional.
  • Applicants should stick to the word count specified by the college. Even if there is much to share, try and convey it within the specified word count limit. A plus or minus 10 % of the maximum word count is accepted.
  • Always separate paragraphs. This can be done by indenting or double-spacing text.

Formatting for text box submission

Submitting in a text box will often require one to copy and paste their college application essay. Before submitting, ensure to double if not triple-check everything. The following guidelines are necessary for this type of submission.

  • Ensure the whole essay was transferred, and no section was cut off. Also, check the word count, and if there is a need, make appropriate adjustments.
  • Formatting gets lost once the essay has been transferred in the text box; therefore, it is best to avoid bold and italics when initially writing the essay. Also, where text was stylized to form a certain shape, this might not hold after the text transfer, so caution should be taken.
  • Text boxes are known to undo indents and double spacing. You should check if the paragraphs are appropriately separated before submitting the essay.

Formatting for document submission

If the college application essay is to be attached, attention should be paid to the overall format of the essay when writing. The following are considerations you should take into account.

  • A one-inch margin should be used on the overall essay. This way, it is easy to read and presentable.
  • Clearly delineate paragraphs. Using a single tab at the beginning is acceptable.
  • The applicant should use a legible font such as Calibri, Times, Arial, Cambria with a 12 point font size. Avoid using fonts like Papyrus and Curlz.
  • Use a 1.5 or double spacing for they are easier to read. Sometimes, single-spaced essays are accepted.
  • Ensure the essay is submitted in the specific file format requested by the college, for example, doc., Docx, or PDF files. PDF is mostly preferred.
  • Pages of the essay should be numbered along with the applicant’s name at the header or footer, for example, Higgins 5.
  • The essay should be aligned to the left, and a margin of one inch should be used on all sides.

Download Free Templates

Following are free downloadable templates that can be customized as per need:

College Application Essay Format Samples

Six samples of College Application Essay Format are available, which can help the students to write the best college application essay. It is important to follow a certain template in order to get an idea about the contents, which should be a part of the final college application essay.

Professional Writing Tips

When writing a college application essay, every part of the essay is of importance – it can be the one thing to tip the balance in your favor. The following tips can be used to improve the quality of an essay.

  • Construct like a story – The essay should be presented as a story, which means the application essay should have a beginning, middle, and end and try to communicate something (moral or lesson).
  • Choose one topic only – The applicant should choose a story that best showcases your personality or something of importance to their development.
  • Create an outline – Consider having a draft before writing the actual essay. Outline what is to be discussed and in what order.
  • Be creative – The applicant should be creative in expressing themselves and evoke the reader’s emotions, attention, and interest. However, avoid exaggeration – it should be honest.
  • Use examples and analogies – Using real-life examples helps illustrate success, failures, and personal traits is a perfect way to stand out.
  • Get a second opinion – Have someone else like a teacher proofread the college application essay help you get a second opinion on the quality of the essay and highlight areas of improvement.
  • Write a soft copy, too – Always type the essay on a computer where a soft copy that can be edited is saved, and doing so will ensure that instead of having to rewrite the entire essay, the saved essay can be edited once errors have been identified after review. Avoid writing on the college’s text box as there is no way to save a soft copy of the essay.
  • Do not include essay prompt – Do not include the essay prompt anywhere in the college application essay. Prompts are only meant to be guides for applicants.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I title my college essay?

A title is not necessary when writing a college application essay. However, if it is a requirement by the institution, it should be included.

How many paragraphs should a college essay be?

There is no limitation to the number of paragraphs that an applicant can use in their essay. The applicant should decide how many to include; it is solely at their discretion as long as it results in a presentable and well-structured college application essay.

What font size and style should be picked for a college essay?

Traditional fonts like Calibri, Times New Roman, and Georgia are recommended. A font size of 12 points and black color text is preferred. Avoid stylized fonts. Stylized fonts bring out unprofessionalism in the essay, and the reader might strain when reading the essay.

Related Posts