Your words, only better

Creating an Essay Outline


One of the most difficult parts of the college admissions essay writing process is getting started! Before you start writing that first draft, take some time to jot down an outline for the essay.

Really mull over the question(s) or prompt. Consider the school. Every university has a different history, different strengths, different faculty, different campus, different vibe. Large or small? Public or private? Urban or college town? Why did you select this particular school? How will you contribute to the college and campus life?


Once you’ve thought long and hard about why you’re a great fit for that school, you’re ready to brainstorm around my recommended outline components:

  • Specific experience
  • Ideas for my “hook” or strong start
  • Middle- details and support
  • “Bang” or strong ending


You want to make certain your essay includes a hook, strong middle, and dynamite ending. This may seem like a no-brainer, however you’d be amazed how many students neglect one or several of these components.

Above All, Answer the Prompt!

Write to it, please. Don’t get creative and avoid answering the question. If the prompt has two parts, answer both. On the most basic level, admissions officers want to know you can follow directions. Usually the questions are fairly general anyway. If you are recycling an essay from one school to the next, make certain your essay truly fits the prompt. Also, make certain you’ve changed references to the school. Don’t send, “I think Harvard is a great school” in your app to Yale! Of course, the common app system makes this gaff less likely, but keep it in mind.

As you brainstorm, target specific experiences or stories from your life which relate to the prompt. (The specific part is the key here.) The first thing that comes to mind may not always serve as the best topic for your essay. Just as in the game “Scattergories” – chances are your first thought has already been taken by other students. You want to stand out from the crowd and not sound like everyone else. Consider your unique life experiences that no one else could write about, and explore those.

Heather Tomasello