Outlining Your College Application Essay

Rolling with the College Application Essay

Josh figured he’d write his college application essay like he did everything else – making it up as he went along. After all, wasn’t that how he became the freestyle skateboard champion of Bakersfield, CA?

Bringing this approach to his Common Application essay, however, proved difficult. He would start an essay – he had decided to write about how many times he broke his wrist before perfecting his signature move, the DipFlip 175 –

get about two paragraphs in, and run out of steam.

It took a lot for Josh to get discouraged (let us not forget that he returned to competition three weeks after getting a steel pin inserted in his broken ankle) but this college admissions essay stuff was wearing him down. All that changed, however, when his sister, Ann Marie, arrived home from backpacking through Europe.

Outlining your essay is for ????

“Have you tried outlining?” Ann Marie asked, upon hearing of Josh’s application essay woes.

“Outlining your essay is for wimps,” declared Josh. “I like to create as I go along.”

“I’ll help you put one together,” offered Ann Marie. “Then you can use that as a guideline for your writing.”

Josh almost swallowed his can of wheel oil. It was the first time since he was seven that Ann Marie had said anything to him except, “Please don’t talk to me.”

“Uhm, okay. Thanks.”

The siblings worked on an outline for Josh’s essay and nailed down a strong one. Then they went out for Baskin Robbins and Josh treated, another first.

Flipping for my essay outline

The next day, Josh sat down to work on his application essay and, as always, his first thought was, “I’ll wing it.” Instead, however, he opened the outline he and his sister put together and, realizing it would make the writing a whole lot easier, and better, decided to use it as a guideline. It was…


So, what did we learn about the college application essay today?

Outlining seems like an extra step but is, in fact, a tremendous time saver. Working out your essay flow beforehand will give you a wonderful road map to follow during the writing process. Outlining is also a chance to make mistakes on your essay, without paying the price of crafting whole paragraphs only to delete them later. Say, for example, you have an idea for your essay and include it in the outline. You can easily see if that idea is going to fit in with the rest of the essay or, it simply doesn’t work. A click and the point is gone (or moved elsewhere in the outline, without the pain of slaving over writing it out and then removing it). Not only that, you will be more willing to get rid of points that aren’t working, because your investment in the concept is so much less. Use any form of outline you want but do not skip this critical step toward writing an outstanding application essay.

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