Writing the College Application Essay: More on Outlining

In my last blog, I mentioned outlining as one of the Writing Basics required to write an outstanding college application essay. But the subject is so important that it demands a blog of its own.

Students will sometimes resist outlining their college application essay because they are eager to start writing and consider outlining a waste of time. In truth, however, outlining is a major time saver. By plotting it out before you actually write it, you have the opportunity to strengthen the organization of your essay, expand ideas that are working, drop ideas that aren’t, move things around, consolidate, experiment, and develop tangents. With outlining, you can do all this easily and freely, without the effort and concern of crafting sentences. You will also be more open to making changes that improve your essay, because you haven’t become “attached” to what you’ve written.

There are several ways to outline and, for the college application essay, any of them are valid. If you have learned how to outline in the traditional, Roman numeral I, A, B, C, sub point 1,2,3 format, then use that. If that’s too restricting, go with simple bullet points, sub bullets and sub sub bullets. Once you get the hang of it, Microsoft Word will pretty much do that formatting for you. You can also use a “branching” type of outline, in which you connect the various concepts of an essay like the branches of a tree.

Once you’ve developed your outline, don’t forget to use it. Or, if you’re going to make changes while writing, stop and make them to your outline as well, so you can see their impact on the rest of the essay. Students will sometimes make a sharp left turn, away from their central concept, and then have a tough time transitioning back. The new point they’re making may be sound, but it doesn’t necessarily gel with their other ideas. By continuing to refer to your outline, you will maintain your essay’s cohesiveness throughout.

Another reason that outlining makes sense is that almost all college application essays have word limits, some of them quite stringent. You don’t have the luxury of meandering through a topic; you have to know where you’re going and get there efficiently.

If you have utilized outlining in the past, you will quickly recognize the importance of applying it to your college application essay. If you’ve never outlined before, this is time to start.

For more personal help with the college application essay, please contact Craig Heller at 818-340-1276 or [email protected].

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