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College Admissions , College Essays

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The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

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Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

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Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. 2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? 3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? 4. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

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Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

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Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

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Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

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An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

essay writing for undergraduate

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Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

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An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

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Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

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#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

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What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

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Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

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Essay and dissertation writing skills

Planning your essay

Writing your introduction

Structuring your essay

  • Writing essays in science subjects
  • Brief video guides to support essay planning and writing
  • Writing extended essays and dissertations
  • Planning your dissertation writing time

Structuring your dissertation

  • Top tips for writing longer pieces of work

Advice on planning and writing essays and dissertations

University essays differ from school essays in that they are less concerned with what you know and more concerned with how you construct an argument to answer the question. This means that the starting point for writing a strong essay is to first unpick the question and to then use this to plan your essay before you start putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

A really good starting point for you are these short, downloadable Tips for Successful Essay Writing and Answering the Question resources. Both resources will help you to plan your essay, as well as giving you guidance on how to distinguish between different sorts of essay questions. 

You may find it helpful to watch this seven-minute video on six tips for essay writing which outlines how to interpret essay questions, as well as giving advice on planning and structuring your writing:

Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance.

However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features:

Essays need an introduction to establish and focus the parameters of the discussion that will follow. You may find it helpful to divide the introduction into areas to demonstrate your breadth and engagement with the essay question. You might define specific terms in the introduction to show your engagement with the essay question; for example, ‘This is a large topic which has been variously discussed by many scientists and commentators. The principle tension is between the views of X and Y who define the main issues as…’ Breadth might be demonstrated by showing the range of viewpoints from which the essay question could be considered; for example, ‘A variety of factors including economic, social and political, influence A and B. This essay will focus on the social and economic aspects, with particular emphasis on…..’

Watch this two-minute video to learn more about how to plan and structure an introduction:

The main body of the essay should elaborate on the issues raised in the introduction and develop an argument(s) that answers the question. It should consist of a number of self-contained paragraphs each of which makes a specific point and provides some form of evidence to support the argument being made. Remember that a clear argument requires that each paragraph explicitly relates back to the essay question or the developing argument.

  • Conclusion: An essay should end with a conclusion that reiterates the argument in light of the evidence you have provided; you shouldn’t use the conclusion to introduce new information.
  • References: You need to include references to the materials you’ve used to write your essay. These might be in the form of footnotes, in-text citations, or a bibliography at the end. Different systems exist for citing references and different disciplines will use various approaches to citation. Ask your tutor which method(s) you should be using for your essay and also consult your Department or Faculty webpages for specific guidance in your discipline. 

Essay writing in science subjects

If you are writing an essay for a science subject you may need to consider additional areas, such as how to present data or diagrams. This five-minute video gives you some advice on how to approach your reading list, planning which information to include in your answer and how to write for your scientific audience – the video is available here:

A PDF providing further guidance on writing science essays for tutorials is available to download.

Short videos to support your essay writing skills

There are many other resources at Oxford that can help support your essay writing skills and if you are short on time, the Oxford Study Skills Centre has produced a number of short (2-minute) videos covering different aspects of essay writing, including:

  • Approaching different types of essay questions  
  • Structuring your essay  
  • Writing an introduction  
  • Making use of evidence in your essay writing  
  • Writing your conclusion

Extended essays and dissertations

Longer pieces of writing like extended essays and dissertations may seem like quite a challenge from your regular essay writing. The important point is to start with a plan and to focus on what the question is asking. A PDF providing further guidance on planning Humanities and Social Science dissertations is available to download.

Planning your time effectively

Try not to leave the writing until close to your deadline, instead start as soon as you have some ideas to put down onto paper. Your early drafts may never end up in the final work, but the work of committing your ideas to paper helps to formulate not only your ideas, but the method of structuring your writing to read well and conclude firmly.

Although many students and tutors will say that the introduction is often written last, it is a good idea to begin to think about what will go into it early on. For example, the first draft of your introduction should set out your argument, the information you have, and your methods, and it should give a structure to the chapters and sections you will write. Your introduction will probably change as time goes on but it will stand as a guide to your entire extended essay or dissertation and it will help you to keep focused.

The structure of  extended essays or dissertations will vary depending on the question and discipline, but may include some or all of the following:

  • The background information to - and context for - your research. This often takes the form of a literature review.
  • Explanation of the focus of your work.
  • Explanation of the value of this work to scholarship on the topic.
  • List of the aims and objectives of the work and also the issues which will not be covered because they are outside its scope.

The main body of your extended essay or dissertation will probably include your methodology, the results of research, and your argument(s) based on your findings.

The conclusion is to summarise the value your research has added to the topic, and any further lines of research you would undertake given more time or resources. 

Tips on writing longer pieces of work

Approaching each chapter of a dissertation as a shorter essay can make the task of writing a dissertation seem less overwhelming. Each chapter will have an introduction, a main body where the argument is developed and substantiated with evidence, and a conclusion to tie things together. Unlike in a regular essay, chapter conclusions may also introduce the chapter that will follow, indicating how the chapters are connected to one another and how the argument will develop through your dissertation.

For further guidance, watch this two-minute video on writing longer pieces of work . 

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Write a College Essay Hero

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How to Write a College Essay: The Personal Statement and Writing Supplement

March 31, 2021 (updated november 13, 2023) | estimated read time: 8.5 minutes.

By Rachel Blakley

Whether you are applying to college through The Common Application or directly from the college’s website, you will be asked to write a college essay, sometimes called the personal statement. Here, we will explore how to write a college admission essay you feel proud of by exploring tips from college admissions counselors and looking at college essay examples for admission.

The Basics: How to Write a College Essay

Before we talk about how to write a college admission essay, let’s take a step back and talk about the process and how to set yourself up for success.

Start early

It may be intimidating to sit in front of a blank computer page and start writing, so think about gathering your thoughts in a different format. Before you sit down to write, consider taking notes on your phone or on sticky notes around your room as ideas come to you. When you do sit down to write, try laying out your ideas in an outline first and then draft it into complete sentences later. Breaking down the process in this way can be less daunting and will allow you to focus on the topic and the most important part of the essay—YOU!

Schedule time to write

No matter how hard you try, there will always be something that seems more pressing than sitting down to write your essay. As you prepare for your college application process, schedule time into your day to write. Find a quiet, distraction-free space, and write your thoughts down. Whether you just work on a few sentences or you’re able to write the bulk of your essay, you’ll be glad you set time aside once it comes time to submit your applications.

Read the instructions

This is the most simple yet possibly the most important part of the essay-writing process. You want to read each part of your application carefully, including the essay prompt. If you submit something that doesn’t follow directions, the admissions counselors may assume you won’t know how to follow directions, and it could affect your chances of getting into your desired school.

The Common Application

The Common Application, known as Common App, is accepted by more than 900 schools , and helps streamline the tedious process of applying for colleges. Information, including your name, address, grades, extracurriculars, and parental employment, will just be entered one time so you don’t have to spend extra time inputting this in multiple applications.

It’s a good idea to start your Common Application around August 1, when applications open up. This will give you enough time to get all of your background information in and explore any questions you have before you get ready to start your senior year. The essay you will write in the Common App will be used by all colleges you choose to apply to, so it’s important to keep your essay broad but specific to yourself.

When you apply via the Common Application you will be asked to write an essay responding to one of seven prompts . Be sure to read each prompt carefully and choose the one that speaks to you the most or the one you feel you have the most to write about.

Editing the College Essay: Dos and Don’ts

Before we get into tips for college application essays, we want to make sure we don’t skip over an important step in the writing process. It is essential that you go into your essay-writing process with the expectation that you will write multiple drafts of your essay. Admissions counselors are expecting your best work, so you don’t want to submit a first draft.

There are many options when it comes to editing your essay. You can have a parent or guardian read your essay if you feel they are capable of giving good feedback, you could seek outside help from a paid service, and you can ask peers or teachers to help edit your essay. Any of these choices can be a good option, but just be sure to not let anyone overedit your essay. You still want it to sound like yourself.

Things to look for when editing your essay

Edits can be done in a couple of rounds, and while you want to make sure your essay is perfect, that doesn’t mean each draft needs to be perfect. Your first draft should get all of your ideas onto paper. Your second draft should sharpen up your ideas and focus on your content. Show, don't tell. Your third and final draft should be checked for grammatical errors, spelling, and punctuation.

When you receive feedback from someone editing your essay, take each suggestion for what it is—a suggestion. The important things to remember are to keep the essay in your voice, the way you would say it, and not to let someone rewrite your essay for you.

College Essay Tips from Admissions Counselors

When you’re learning how to write a college essay, it can be helpful to hear directly from the source who will be reading your work. We talked to two Babson College Admissions Counselors: Jared Pierce, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, and Eric Laboissonniere, former Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions. Here are their top tips for college admissions essays.

  • “ Keep it simple. My favorite essays have consistently been those essays that are about the seemingly most mundane and ordinary aspects of an applicant’s life—it is these topics that often showcase a student in the best light.”
  • “ Don’t write what you think we want to hear, write about YOU —your passions, what excites you, life experiences that have shaped you into the young adult you’ve become.”
  • “ Use the essays as an opportunity to share something about yourself that you may not already have shared in the rest of your application.”
  • “ It’s all about the hook! A catchy opening line, when used properly, can do wonders for an essay, baiting the reader to hang on the edge of every sentence.”
  • “Don’t restrict yourself with the traditional three- or five-paragraph essay. This is a great opportunity to express yourself creatively and take some risks. Structure your essay in the way that you feel will best tell your story!”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​
  • “Choose a topic that might not be as easy to see in your application.” Maybe you have a hobby that doesn’t show up on your transcript. Your essay is the place to talk about that passion and show your authentic self.
  • “Don’t stress.”

Babson College essay examples for admission

If you’ve read all you can about how to write a college essay but you still can’t seem to get your writing juices flowing, check out some college essay examples for admission from our recent graduates.

“When it comes to defining yourself, no one knows you better than yourself, so don’t be afraid. You don’t have to package yourself into an ideal student, because there isn’t one; you just have to tell them who you are.”​

Writing Prompt:  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

“...everyone believes the world’s greatest lie.” A boy asked, “What’s the world’s greatest lie?” “It’s that at a certain point in our lives, we lose control of what’s happening to us, and our lives become controlled by fate. That’s the world’s greatest lie”  –The Alchemist.

I was in Mr. Franklin’s World Literature class as he brought Paulo Coelho’s words to life. For me, there was no one point in which my life became controlled by fate. Instead I believed my life was shaped by my ethnicity and the world I grew up in. Mr. Franklin prompted me to take control of my life rather than let fate, and the world’s greatest lie, control who I am.

I had believed fate was the only thing that could explain the near impossibility of my parents falling in love. My dad from Taiwan and my mother from Korea, they traveled separately to Australia to learn English. Neither’s English was very good, but they met and found common ground speaking Japanese. A few years later, my mom was wondering what to call her next baby and “Demi” stood out, mainly because Demi has no “l,” “n,” or “f,” so it was easy for both my parents to pronounce.

Demi fits me in so many other ways too. Demi represents how my Korean and Taiwanese sides meet in the middle of the American culture in which I study. As I learned how others saw me, it seemed impossible to find a definite answer for who I am. Half did not mean one foot in two cultures; it meant each foot stepping quickly over the hot coals of each culture; I never fit in anywhere.

In Korea, I am often made aware that I am not Korean “enough.” While shopping, store clerks seem to intuitively understand I am not entirely Korean—speaking English to me or turning to my mom to answer questions I had asked. I speak fluent Korean and wondered what “gave me away” as a foreigner; looking in the mirror, I suspected my undyed black hair in a sea of trendy brown hair was the culprit. Surprisingly, once I dyed my hair, I was more accepted as Korean.

Yet, the minute I started to find my bearings in the Korean half of my life, my grasp of the other eluded me. When I returned to Taiwan where jet black hair is fashionable, people negatively viewed my lightly colored hair—leading to the surreal feeling of being treated as an outsider in my hometown. Even my fluent Mandarin was not enough to shake the assumptions of some. Demi, cutting across two cultures, left me with two seemingly incompatible halves.

Eventually, doodling helped me understand how artificial boundaries are. I saw how my creativity often went beyond borders, something instinctive inside me that resisted limitations. During my summer internship with the Bach Institute, a Taipei-based music conservatory, my ability to cross cultures through art found expression in the commemorative T-shirt I designed for performers of the Chelsea Music Festival to mark their trip to Taipei. Uniting the imagery of Taipei and New York in my design allowed me to explore how the cultural forces of Taiwan, Korea, and my American education have shaped my creative expression.​

Growing up between two borders in a world in which everyone else tried to define who I am, Demi has come to represent the whole of me; two sides that may not always be in harmony, but the tension inherent in my identity has empowered me to assert my independence. Mr. Franklin’s speech reminded me that half of life is where you come from and the other half is finding who you want to become. When Mr. Franklin finished reading, I realized that I’m the writer of my story—someone who does not believe the world’s greatest lie.

“More often than not, seemingly insignificant events or experiences can best exemplify your passions and personality. Instead of just asking ‘how’ an event has shaped your life, try asking ‘why’ you have become the person you are today.”

Writing Prompt:  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.​

My mother was 15 years old when I was born.

My father has been in prison since my first birthday. He is not coming home.

When I was younger, I would go on the long drive with my father’s family to visit him. At first, I enjoyed the two hour long rides; they were adventures. Soon enough, however, those two hours began to feel like two years—I did not want to see him anymore. I did not want to deal with the awkwardness of pretending to be a family and ignoring the fact that he had killed another human being. He was the hero in their stories, but from my mother’s tears, I knew soon enough he was much less than the courageous hero they made him out to be.

My father’s family could not accept that I wanted to be as far away from their world of ignorance and verbal abuse as possible. I put up walls to keep them out. It seemed everyone did what they thought was best for me, but never once did they ask how I felt. Eventually, I decided I did not want to exhaust myself trying to care for my identity against their expectations. I closed myself off from the world in order to save myself from drowning in the confusion, manipulation, and emotional drama I battled every day.

Over time, this became too difficult. The mental torture of feeling lost in my own mind was worse than what awaited outside of the walls. This past September, I faced one of the tallest and widest walls: my name. For nearly 17 years, I lived with my father’s name—“Reyes.” I was Angellica Reyes. I am now Angellica Diaz. More aware of my past and the realities of my life, I chose to sever off the only connection to my father I had left, his name. I was now the “villain” of his family’s stories. Yet, I believed this action would finally release me from my walls because it would erase my past. I wanted to forget that I had wasted 17 years shutting myself away. All my life I had believed I found strength in silence and reservation. Now, I am deeply ashamed that it took me 17 years to realize vulnerability is the truest measure of our strength and character.

I regret my silence.

I understand now that a name can not fix the void I have created for myself. I know these walls will hold me for years to come, but today I acknowledge that I will always be a product of the past. What matters is I am still searching for that place that exists free from the walls. Today, I do not allow spite or hate to faze me or my visions for the world. I am grounded and balanced. From living in the shadow of ignorance I am now driven to change the lives of others, to inspire with peace and compassion. I am fighting hunger and food waste in my community, I will soon start teaching yoga classes to underprivileged children, and I hope to start a healthy lifestyle education program at my local youth center.

My confidence stems from the understanding that as an active agent, the world I envision is the world that will be. I am still breaking through a world blocked behind walls but no longer do I wait for the world to change. Every day I challenge my family’s categorization of my place in the world.

Today, I will not wait for anyone’s approval. I am not coming home.

“If your essay is taking you awhile to write: stop. Your brain is letting you know that you have selected the wrong topic to write about. The essay should flow, from your mind to your fingertips, with ease.”

Writing Prompt:  Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.​

My name is Oussama. Yes, it is pronounced Osama. Growing up with this name, especially post 9-11, was not easy. Although it’s spelled differently, the reaction produced is still the same. I will always remember the painful first days of every new school year, but I particularly recall my first day of eighth grade. I dreaded morning attendance. As the teacher moved down her roster, past the L’s and the M’s, my heart thumped furiously. With the O’s looming closer, I wanted to grow smaller. When she got to my name, she paused for what seemed like an eternity. A look of confusion crossed her face, and then her mouth writhed in a feeble attempt to say my name: Oussama Ouadani. I meekly mumbled a “here.” Shocked, all of the students swiveled in their seats to gawk at me, and a few muffled snickers arose from the edges of the class. Eyes probed my Algerian features, and I sat with cheeks ablaze, wondering what they made of me. I remember going home and crying, wishing that I had a “normal” name, or at the least, a middle name I could use. It became so unbearable that I even questioned my parents’ choice to name me Oussama. Looking back, I realize that these awkward days of school have revealed a great deal to me about human nature.

My name in Arabic means the lion, the brave. To others, I’ve found out, it may mean a whole host of things. I work at Staples, where I wear a name badge that openly states who I am. I get different reactions to it each day. Some people get nervous as a result of my nametag. They glance at it surreptitiously, and then delicately look back at me. Some people are more blatant about it and stare, shamelessly, at my nametag. Some question it, curious about its pronunciation and its roots. Some try to sympathize with the troubles my name has brought me. But then there are those, a very select few, who simply call me “Oussama.” Even though it is such a basic form of respect, it always catches me off guard. It makes me feel normal. I don’t want people to be afraid of my name, or falsely sympathize with me. I simply wish to be me.

Although my name has been an object of hardship, it has also been my greatest teacher. It has put me in positions characterized by emotions ranging from irritation to humiliation. However, I believe these situations have served as the catalyst for my growth in character, and as result, I am a more resilient person. The fact that I no longer want to change my name proves this. My name also acts as a portal through which I can empathize with others. I grasp what it means to truly respect someone, to the core, so they feel important. I appreciate what it means to feel ostracized. I know what it’s like to be shamed by others, and how it feels to reject your own name, your sole identifier, your individuality. Being laughed at has taught me not to laugh at others. Being shunned has taught me to open my arms to others. Being pitied, I’ve learned not to pity others. I try my best to consider the struggles of others, and why their actions and words may be the product of a storied past. I sympathize with the shy, the loud, and the attention seekers. It has allowed me to acknowledge that potentially everyone has a secret fear or personal struggle that I might not know about. My name is an integral component of who I am, for not only does it reflect my cultural heritage and lend me a visionary quality, but it also represents an eternal gift from my parents.

“My advice to prospective students is to really think about what your application is missing—​what you can write about that brings personality to all the parts the evaluators have in front of them. The essay is your chance to give evaluators some insight of who you are, not only as a student, but as a person.”

Christmas has always made me happy. The mountains are glossed by snow as the nearby branches hang low from the weight of the recent blizzard. The smell of fresh Maine pine trees and burning wood fill the crisp air. My family decorates the tree humming along to James Taylor’s Christmas album. But above all else, at the focal point of every Sheehan Christmas, is my favorite Christmas movie,  It’s A Wonderful Life .

The movie follows the life of George Bailey, who, after many years of selflessness runs into a financial crisis. As George begins to act out, family and friends ask God to help him through his tough times. In response, God sends an angel named Clarence to sort out the issue. George asks to see a world in which he was never born to which Clarence reluctantly obliges. In this new George-less world, George witnesses a dreary, alternative universe in which all of his family and friends lead miserable lives. Seeing this allows George to see how important his life actually is and he begs God to let him live again. The story is meant to show people what is truly meaningful in life—that, whether they realize it or not, one person’s actions can cause a positive ripple effect in the lives of so many.

To say this movie is my personal Bible is an understatement.  It’s A Wonderful Life  has been the centerpiece of many dinner conversations and family gatherings. I try to bring it up as often as possible because it gives me an appreciation for the lives of those around me. Each person’s life touches so many, and when that person isn’t around, there’s an awful hole that can’t be filled.

Certainly there are other influences in my life, but none have quite affected my definition of what it means to live well. I have the choice to be an integral part of everyone’s life. The movie particularly made me curious about people’s passions and caused me to do a lot of self-reflection. I couldn’t remember the last time I asked the people closest to me what it was that made them happiest; I couldn’t tell you their favorite things, or much about their personal lives. These were some of the most important people in my life and I couldn’t even understand why they were the way they were. There’s a difference between knowing someone on the surface and truly knowing who they are.  It’s A Wonderful Life  encouraged me to delve into the lives of those around me.

There’s a line from another great movie,  Patch Adams , that says: “Our job is to improve the quality of life, not just delay death.” The message resonates well with what  It’s A Wonderful Life  did for me. It’s easy to get caught up in our personal lives and not worry about the surrounding world. But what’s easy is not always what’s best. My biggest fear is to have the opposite effect that George Bailey had—If I were to not be a part of the world, that nobody’s life would be different. So I’ve dedicated my life to making sure that every day I seek to improve the quality of life of those around me.

Every person I’ve met, every relationship I’ve had, every hello I’ve said, my actions stem from the lessons I’ve learned in  It’s A Wonderful Life . I now realize that I can have a serious impact on the lives of those around me. I’m more curious, I’m more engaging, I’m more positive in my relationships with other people all because of a two hour and fifteen minute Christmas movie. Every year, as the snow begins to fall, as the temperature drops, as I set up my family’s nativity scene, I can’t help but feel excitement knowing that it’s time to watch  It’s A Wonderful Life  again, the movie that changed my life.

The Babson Writing Supplements

When you apply to Babson with The Common Application you will be asked to submit two writing supplements in response to the following prompts:

The Babson education prepares students for all types of careers across business, entrepreneurship, social innovation, and more. Tell us about your interest in this area of study and in Babson specifically.

You are invited to respond with either a traditional essay (500 words maximum) OR a one-minute video. Whichever you choose, no preference is given to either format in admission decisions.

A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community.  

Please respond to this prompt with an essay (250 words maximum).

Good Communication Skills Are Critical to Your Success

Whether you’ve come here to learn about how to write a college essay or to learn more about Babson College’s admissions process, we encourage you to check out Babson’s one-of-a-kind education that balances action, experimentation, and creativity. From day one, students learn by doing through immersive, hands-on experiences that complement our innovative, rigorous academic curriculum.

Effective communication is critical in business. Babson offers highly regarded courses in writing and public speaking to prepare our students for the challenges of the business world so that they are best equipped to lead.

Learn more about Babson College admission requirements .

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https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-to-write-a-college-essay https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/common-app https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2019-04-24/college-essay-examples-how-to-write-your-story

https://admissions.tufts.edu/blogs/inside-admissions/post/the-only-four-college-essay-writing-tips-youll-ever-need/

About the Author

Rachel Blakley is a copywriter and digital marketing professional. An alumna of Purdue University, she has worked with startups, associations, direct-to-consumer businesses, and B2B brands across the country to improve their content strategy.

Like this article? Have a suggestion? To contact our team with comments or article ideas, send us a note at [email protected] .

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Undergraduate writing: top 10 writing tips for undergraduates, top 10 writing tips for undergraduates.

Most undergraduate students at Walden have been out of high school or college for several years, so academic writing can feel unfamiliar. Just like anything else, though, writing is a skill you will learn to develop with practice. Below are the Writing Center’s top undergraduate writing tips to help you get started.

1. Plan Your Time

Walden courses are fast-paced, often with a paper assignment due every Sunday night. No matter how hard you try, you cannot write a perfect, polished essay at the very last minute. Schedule studying and writing times throughout the week, taking into account your work and family responsibilities. You might find that writing a little bit each day, in chunks, helps manage your assignment load. For more planning tips and tools, see the Academic Skills Center’s page on Managing Time/Stress and the Writing Center’s Assignment Planner .

2. Know the Academic Writing Expectations (AWE)

The School of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Studies created the AWE to help you build your writing skills with each course level. In early courses, you practice writing compelling sentences and paragraphs and integrating evidence. Later on, you learn more about citations and references in APA style, as well as essay-level skills. Consult the AWE for your current course level. Do your abilities match the expectations listed? Use the AWE to create goals for yourself.

3. Use the Assignment Instructions and Rubric

Within your courses, there are several powerful tools to help focus and develop your writing. First, the assignment instructions give you important information about the length of the assignment and the topics you should cover. Use these instructions as an outline as you are writing. Second, the rubric tells you how your work will be assessed. If a certain part of the assignment is worth more points on the rubric, you know you should devote a lot of attention to it. For more tips on writing and revising using your assignment materials, listen to this podcast episode or view our Revising webinar .

4. Get Comfortable With Writing

At Walden, most communication with peers and professors occurs in writing. You are also assessed on your writing via discussion board and essay assignments. This attention to writing can be scary, especially for students who have been away from an academic setting for some time. You might need to start journaling or find a writing buddy to feel more comfortable. See our Writing Through Fear blog post for more tips.

5. Read Your Professor's Feedback

One of the fundamental ways to learn is through the written feedback from your professor. This might seem like a simple statement, but some students do not ever access this written feedback, and so they miss out on a valuable opportunity. When you receive your grades in Canvas, click on the individual assignment title to bring up the professor’s general comments. In those comments, you should see your attached submission with specific feedback embedded. Read our page on Using Feedback for more tips and download a feedback journal as a way to keep track of suggested improvements.

6. Make an Argument

In most assignments, you need to discuss a topic and have a reason for discussing that topic. Rather than just summarizing, you need to analyze and convince your reader of something. For example, if your topic is electric cars, your purpose might be to convince the reader that electric cars are an efficient alternative to gas cars. This means that every paragraph will be part of your overall goal to argue this point. Kayla explores the importance of argument in her blog post Argue Is Not a Dirty Word .

7. Practice Academic Integrity

As an academic writer, you use information from books, journal articles, and trusted websites to support your argument. To present this information ethically and with integrity, you need to give credit to the original source. At Walden, students give credit through APA citations in the text. Citations should accompany any ideas, information, or phrasing from others. You will gain familiarity with citing sources as you progress through your program; for now, see our  Using and Crediting Sources playlist  for an overview.

8. Organize Your Ideas

All of your discussion posts and papers should have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. An introduction provides background on the topic and includes your thesis statement. In essence, the introduction prepares the reader for all of the main points you will be making in the body. The body is where you develop your argument, paragraph by paragraph . Your conclusion acts as a summary and helps the reader understand the significance of the information presented.

9. Develop an Academic Voice

A formal, direct, and precise voice is expected in college-level writing. This means that you should avoid informal language such as colloquialisms, slang, metaphors, clichés, and jargon, as well as questions and contractions. Instead of having a conversation with the reader, you are an authority building an argument. The reader needs to trust in you.

10. Revisit Grammar and Sentence Structure

Because the goal of academic writing is to clearly communicate, you should ensure that your writing follows proper American English grammar and sentence structure rules. Otherwise, a reader might become confused. The Grammar page of our website provides explanation on many common grammar concerns. You might also find Grammarly helpful; Grammarly is an automated program that identifies potential sentence errors and offers revision tips.

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The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples

An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.

There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.

The essay writing process consists of three main stages:

  • Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
  • Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
  • Revision:  Check your essay on the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.

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Table of contents

Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.

The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .

For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.

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Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:

  • Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
  • Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
  • Do your research: Read  primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
  • Come up with a thesis:  The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
  • Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.

The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.

1. Hook your reader

The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.

Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:

The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.

2. Provide background on your topic

Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.

3. Present the thesis statement

Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:

As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.

4. Map the structure

In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.

The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.

Write your essay introduction

The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.

Length of the body text

The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.

Paragraph structure

To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.

That idea is introduced in a  topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.

After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.

Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.

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The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :

  • Returns to your thesis
  • Ties together your main points
  • Shows why your argument matters

A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.

What not to include in a conclusion

To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:

  • Including new arguments or evidence
  • Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
  • Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”

Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.

Write your essay conclusion

Checklist: Essay

My essay follows the requirements of the assignment (topic and length ).

My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information on the topic.

My introduction contains a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay.

I use paragraphs to structure the essay.

I use topic sentences to introduce each paragraph.

Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement.

I make clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.

My conclusion doesn’t just repeat my points, but draws connections between arguments.

I don’t introduce new arguments or evidence in the conclusion.

I have given an in-text citation for every quote or piece of information I got from another source.

I have included a reference page at the end of my essay, listing full details of all my sources.

My citations and references are correctly formatted according to the required citation style .

My essay has an interesting and informative title.

I have followed all formatting guidelines (e.g. font, page numbers, line spacing).

Your essay meets all the most important requirements. Our editors can give it a final check to help you submit with confidence.

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An essay is a focused piece of writing that explains, argues, describes, or narrates.

In high school, you may have to write many different types of essays to develop your writing skills.

Academic essays at college level are usually argumentative : you develop a clear thesis about your topic and make a case for your position using evidence, analysis and interpretation.

The structure of an essay is divided into an introduction that presents your topic and thesis statement , a body containing your in-depth analysis and arguments, and a conclusion wrapping up your ideas.

The structure of the body is flexible, but you should always spend some time thinking about how you can organize your essay to best serve your ideas.

Your essay introduction should include three main things, in this order:

  • An opening hook to catch the reader’s attention.
  • Relevant background information that the reader needs to know.
  • A thesis statement that presents your main point or argument.

The length of each part depends on the length and complexity of your essay .

A thesis statement is a sentence that sums up the central point of your paper or essay . Everything else you write should relate to this key idea.

The thesis statement is essential in any academic essay or research paper for two main reasons:

  • It gives your writing direction and focus.
  • It gives the reader a concise summary of your main point.

Without a clear thesis statement, an essay can end up rambling and unfocused, leaving your reader unsure of exactly what you want to say.

A topic sentence is a sentence that expresses the main point of a paragraph . Everything else in the paragraph should relate to the topic sentence.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

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Approaching Your First Essay : A Quick Guide to Undergraduate Essays

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Approaching your first essay: a quick guide to undergraduate essays.

Writing your first undergraduate essay can be daunting. How similar are the requirements of university essays to your high school essays? This article is the first in a series on how to approach undergraduate essays.

This series is our quick guide to essay writing and it provides very practical advice. If you would like to read a more comprehensive guide that focuses more on the overall method of planning and organising your research before writing your essay, please visit our Undergraduate Resources page.

Consider the Whole Essay First

An essay consists of three main parts: an introduction, the body and a conclusion.

The introduction is the first paragraph of the essay and its purpose is to give a clear explanation to the reader about the contents of the essay.

The body is the main part of the essay. It contains the quotations, references, examples, ideas, and arguments you are putting forth in writing. It should be written in paragraphs. This is where you elaborate on your answer to the essay question. You might expect to have 3–4 body paragraphs in a 1000-word paper. Each paragraph contains one argument or idea that you propose in your response to the given question.

The conclusion is the final paragraph of the essay. The conclusion is necessary for drawing together your evidence and restating the main argument of the essay.

No paragraph is written in isolation. Each paragraph of an essay is written in light of the whole. It’s absolutely necessary that you have planned the contents of the essay body before you begin writing the introduction (and the essay itself). An essay is a means for presenting a planned, coherent and well-reasoned argument. This brings us nicely to our next point.

Plan Your Reading

Before you begin writing, you should begin reading and research. Your university library is your research hub. Not only are there plenty of hard copy books and journals, but you will also have access to an extensive online catalogue.

Ask your librarian to show you how to search the catalogue effectively and begin collating relevant research materials.

And remember only to use academic sources! Please read our articles ‘What is an Academic Source’ and ‘ What is Peer Review? ’ for more information.

Keep Track of Your References

It is necessary that you cite the references you’ve used in your essay. However, different faculties have different referencing styles. It’s important to know which style is required and follow the necessary formatting.

You will be required to include either in-text references or footnotes, as well as a reference list or bibliography at the end of the essay. There are many articles on our blog specifically related to the different referencing system, for example, ‘ APA Referencing—The Finer Points of Page Numbering ’. Capstone Editing also offers our comprehensive referencing guides for a range of styles, to make referencing simpler for students and academics alike.

Your university library should be able to give you access to a referencing guide. Some libraries have licenses for referencing software (such as EndNote) that can assist you with your referencing, though we don’t recommend that you use software if you can possibly avoid it. You will achieve a much better understanding of referencing and learn how to reference properly much more easily if you manually create all of your references.

As you read, keep track of your research. It’s a good idea to write down all the information you will need for your reference list, including the author/s, title, year of publication, publisher, and city and state of publication of each text alongside your reading notes so you know where your information has come from.

It’s certainly a time-saver to record the page numbers for the ideas you note down as you read. It will make it easy to find them again, and you’ll need to cite page numbers at every reference, unless you are referring to the entire source or citing an unnumbered source like a website. It is a common misconception that page numbers are only required for direct quotations.

Consider attending referencing workshops or library tours. The more comfortable you are in the library, the easier your research will be.

For more help with writing an introduction, you can read our articles ' How to Write a Great Introduction: The Basics ' and ' How to Write a More Sophisticated Introduction '. If you need any further assistance, you can read more about our professional editing service . Capstone Editing is always here to help.

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essay writing for undergraduate

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How to write an essay

Essay writing is an inevitable part of the student experience. To achieve top grades on these assignments, discover how to compose a well-written essay

You might think you know how to write a good essay from your time at school but writing an essay at undergraduate level is a whole new ball game. Taking the time to properly plan your work can lead to higher marks, with lecturers welcoming a logical structure that clearly demonstrates your understanding of the subject.

However, knowing where to begin and how to go about completing the assignment is not always easy - especially if you're still adjusting to university life and you haven't written at undergraduate level before.

'There is an art (and a bit of a science) to every type of writing,' says Dr Rushana Khusainova, lecturer in marketing at the University of Bristol. 'By mastering the art of academic essay writing, you'll also be mastering the skill for writing general and business emails, reports, etc. Overall, it's a vital skill to have.'

Katherine Cox, professor and head of department for humanities and law at Bournemouth University agrees. 'Getting feedback on your development is a key part of developing as a student. Essay writing is an excellent opportunity for formal feedback on your progress, and like any skill it needs practice and polish.'

Here we'll cover the seven main points of planning and executing a well-written essay:

  • understanding the question
  • researching and gathering helpful resources
  • putting together an essay plan
  • writing the essay
  • tackling the introduction and conclusion
  • reviewing what you’ve written.

Mastering how to write an essay early on will also help you prepare for  writing your dissertation  in your final year.

Understand the question

The first step in tackling an essay is to make sure that you understand what is being asked of you.

'I recommend that you read and re-read the essay question,' advises Dr Khusainova. 'With each time, the question will feel clearer.' Break it down into its component parts and pay particular attention to instruction words, for example, 'explain', 'discuss', 'outline' - what do these mean in practice? What are you being asked to do? Be aware that essays take several different forms and a 'compare and contrast' essay requires a different approach to an analytical ('analyse') or argumentative ('critically examine') essay.

For example, the question, 'Compare and contrast the representation of masculinity in two James Bond films from the 1960s and 2000s', can be classified like this:

  • instruction (i.e. compare and contrast)
  • topic (i.e. the representation of masculinity)
  • focus (i.e. in two James Bond films)
  • further information (i.e. from the 1960s and 2000s).

'Take coloured pens and highlight each sub-question or sub-task within the essay brief,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Write bullet points for all sub-questions of the essay. I would recommend using pen and paper. Research suggests that when we use pen and paper to write down our thoughts, our brain structures information in a more efficient way.'

Ask yourself:

  • What is significant about the question and its topic?
  • What existing knowledge do you have that will help you answer this question?
  • What do you need to find out?
  • How are you going to successfully address this question?
  • What logical sequence will your ideas appear in?

If you still don't understand the question or the complexity of the response expected from you, don't be afraid to ask for clarification from your lecturer or tutor if you need it. If you have questions, speak up when the essay is set rather than leaving it too late.

Gather resources

With so much information available, it's vital that you only look for directly relevant material when researching. Decide where the gaps in your knowledge and understanding are, and identify the areas where you need more supporting evidence. Make a list of keywords that describe the topic and use them to search with.

Useful resources include:

  • course material
  • lecture notes
  • library books
  • journal articles

Engage in active reading and keep organised with effective note-taking. Once you've done your research, create a mind map. Carefully note the key theories, information and quotes that will help you to answer all components of the question. Consider grouping these into three or four main themes, including only the most significant points. You must be ruthless and exclude ideas that don't fit in seamlessly with your essay's focus.

Create an essay plan

'You can write an essay without planning, but I'm not sure you can write a good essay without planning,' says Katherine.

When you have an idea of the points you're going to address in your essay, and a rough idea of the order in which these will appear, you're ready to start planning. There are two main ways to do this:

  • Linear plans  - useful for essays requiring a rigid structure. They provide a chronological breakdown of the key points you're going to address.
  • Tabular plans  - best for comparative assignments. You'll be able to better visualise how the points you're contrasting differ across several aspects.

Scrutinise the notes you've already made - including those from your evaluation of relevant materials from your literature search - and ensure they're placed into a logical order.

There are different approaches to planning an essay. Some students might prefer a step-by-step, structured approach, while others might find it helpful to begin in a more fluid way - jotting down keywords and ideas that they later develop into a more structured working plan.   Essay planning can take several forms, 'for example, you might try a mind map, a collage, or use headings. You might prefer to plan in written form or online. You'll also turn ideas over in your head - just remember to jot down these insights,' adds Katherine.

'In my experience most students find it helpful to start by writing an essay skeleton - a bullet pointed structure of the essay,' says Dr Khusainova.

'I also advise taking an inverted pyramid approach to the storyline. This is where you start broad and slowly narrow down your focus to the specific essay question.'

Write clearly and concisely

Most university essays are set with a word count and deadline in place. It's therefore important that you don't waste time or words on waffle. You need to write clearly and concisely and ensure that every sentence and paragraph works towards answering the essay question.

Aim to write a first draft where you cover everything in your plan. You can then refine and edit this in your second draft.

'A successful essay is one that answers all parts of the essay question,' explains Dr Khusainova. 'Also consider elements such as the level of critical thinking and whether it's written in a suitable style.

'One of the most important (and coincidentally, the most challenging) elements of essay writing is ensuring your assignment has a logical storyline. Make sure no idea is coming out of the blue and that the discussion flows logically.'

Also consider your method of referencing. Some institutions specify a preferred citation style such as The Harvard System. Whatever referencing system you're using ensure that you're doing so correctly to avoid plagiarism. It should go without saying that your writing needs to be your own.

If you need help Katherine points out 'you can turn to your tutors and your peers. Perhaps you can you organise a study group and discuss one another's ideas? It's tempting with new and emerging artificial intelligence technology to turn to these resources but they are in their infancy and not particularly reliable. A number of universities advise you to avoid these resources altogether.'

Carefully consider the introduction and conclusion

Starting an essay and writing an impactful conclusion are often the trickiest parts.

It can be useful to outline your introduction during the early stages of writing your essay. You can then use this as a frame of reference for your writing. If you adopt this approach be aware that your ideas will likely develop or change as you write, so remember to revisit and review your introduction in later stages to ensure it reflects the content of your final essay.

While the conclusion may not be the first thing you write, it's still helpful to consider the end point of your essay early on, so that you develop a clear and consistent argument. The conclusion needs to do justice to your essay, as it will leave the greatest impression on your reader.

On the other hand, if you're unsure what shape your argument may take, it's best to leave both your introduction and conclusion until last.

Evaluate what you've written

Once you've written and edited your essay, leave it alone for a couple of days if possible. Return to it with fresh eyes and give it a final check.

'Reading an essay out loud works well for some students,' says Dr Khusainova. 'Swapping drafts with a classmate could also work on some modules.'

Don't skip this step, final checks are important. This is when you can pick up on formatting and spelling errors and correct any referencing mistakes.

  • Check that your introduction provides a clear purpose for your essay.
  • Ensure that the conclusion provides a clear response to the essay question, summarising your key findings/argument. 
  • Check the structure of your paragraphs for clear topic and link sentences. Are the paragraphs in a logical order with a clear and consistent line of argument that a reader can follow?
  • Read your essay slowly and carefully. Writing has a rhythm - does your writing flow and is it correctly punctuated?
  • Remove unnecessary repetition.
  • Review the examples and evidence you've used. Is there enough to support your argument?

'Receiving feedback can be an emotional experience - so be honest with yourself,' advises Katherine. 'What is the feedback telling you - what are your strengths? What areas could you improve?'

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How to write an undergraduate-level essay

Lead personal leadership challenge reflective paper, demn linking theory with practice.

  • 2. Create a preliminary document plan
  • 3. Draft your thesis statement
  • 4a. Become familiar with information sources
  • 4b. Select the appropriate search tool
  • 4c. Develop effective searches
  • 4d. Beyond keyword searching
  • 4e. Find statistical information
  • 4f. Evaluate the resources you find
  • 4g. Read, absorb, and organize the information you find
  • 5. Create the final version of your document plan
  • 6. Double-check your research
  • 7. Start writing the first draft
  • 8. Overcome writer's block
  • 9. Revise the draft
  • 10. Edit the draft
  • 11. Prepare the final version
  • 12. Submit the assignment

Please note: The examples provided here are illustrations only and may not reflect the current course assignment. Students should not rely on this information to shape their assignments but should instead refer to the assignment description provided by their instructor(s).

1. Assignment description: LEAD: Personal leadship challenge (PLC) description .

2. Marked-up versions with verbs, keywords, and instructions indicated: LEAD: PLC description mark-up .

Condensed interpretation of the assignment:

  • 1000-1500 words, excluding references 
  • identify personal leadership challenge currently facing in workplace
  • reflect on personal responsibility for challenge
  • demonstrate openness to shifting challenge through own personal learning
  • personal and immediate
  • challenge that can be addressed internally without relying on further organizational support or action
  • situation must be able to be improved through applying skills and knowledge gained in first term
  • must be able to identify potential change in situation through application of change in behaviour, new knowledge, or interactions with others
  • scope: problem must be small enough to address after first term but sufficiently interesting to keep interest for 11 weeks of term
  • selecting and using appropriate research evidence from readings
  • quote from organizational materials to contextualize challenge
  • refer to guiding questions for content direction
  • APA 6th edition formatting rules for citations and references
  • Submit to drop box

Dr. Brigitte Harris, Director of the School of Leadership, approved this interpretation of the assignment.

Please note: The example provided here is only an illustration and may not reflect the current course assignment. Students should not rely on this information to shape their assignments but should instead refer to the assignment description provided by their instructor.

For the full assignment description, please click here: DEMN linking theory with practice .

To see the version with the verbs, keywords, and instructions indicated, click here: DEMN linking theory with practice mark-up .

  • 6 page (1500 words) argumentative essay, not including title page or references
  • Select real disaster and emergency management practice problem from own practice or intended area of practice
  • Critically review peer-reviewed research to find 5 or 6 research articles that improve personal understanding of problem
  • Describe the problem and situate it in own professional context
  • Synthesize and critique literature findings
  • Use literature as evidence to support arguments re: how to address problem/issue
  • Provide analysis on how research evidence supports and informs practice = demonstrate critical thinking
  • See suggested process in assignment
  • APA format guidelines
  • Introduction - no heading required
  • Section/sub-section headings
  • Show opposite side of argument when relevant
  • Conclusion that summarizes points from paper and suggests implications for research/practice
  • References (APA format)
  • All pages are included in the page count and are therefore numbered; however, the title page doesn't show a number.

The interpretation of this assignment was approved by Dr. Jean Slick, director of the School of Humanitarian Studies and faculty member for the MA in Disaster and Emergency Management program.

  • << Previous: 1. Understand the assignment
  • Next: 2. Create a preliminary document plan >>
  • Last Updated: Feb 6, 2024 4:01 PM
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Writing essays

Welcome to Writing Essays, the RLF’s online guide to everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about writing undergraduate essays.

The guide is a toolbox of essay writing skills and resources that you can choose from to suit your particular needs. It combines descriptive and practical elements. That is, it tells you what things mean and what they are; and it uses examples to show you how they work.

Writing Essays takes you through the whole essay writing process – from preparing and planning to completion. Writing essays is structured progressively and I recommend that you use it in this way. However, you will see from the sidebar that the guide is divided into a number of main sections. Click on any one of these and you will see that it’s divided into shorter sections or subsections. So you can either read it straight through from start to finish or you can go straight to the area that’s most relevant to you.

Writing Essays does not cover every type of writing you will do at university but it does cover the principal types. So you will find guides to essay writing, dissertation writing, and report writing. You will also find a section dealing with the differences between writing for the humanities and writing for the sciences and social sciences. The information and guidelines in these sections will provide blueprints you can apply elsewhere.

You will see in the topbar options above that there is also a glossary of terms used in this guide; and a list of suggested further reading and online resources.

It is important to say here what Writing Essays does not do. It does not offer detailed advice on general study skills although it does cover some aspects of reading for writing and how to write a literature review. Unlike some guides, this one does not have anything to say about using computers except: use them, and save your work often.

Writing Essays does not deal with grammar and punctuation. This does not mean that I think that these things are not important, or that you don’t need to pay attention to them – all writers do. However, my experience of working with students has taught me two things. First, that the most common difficulties in writing essays are to do with areas like understanding the question and making a logical structure. Second, that when these difficulties are fixed, problems with grammar and punctuation are easier to see and fix.

Don’t just use Writing Essays once. Make it your constant reference point for writing essays. Make it the emergency number you dial if you breakdown or can’t get started!

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Cornell Office of Undergraduate Admissions

Search cornell admissions, cornell first-year writing supplement prompts.

In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to both the Cornell University essay question and the essay prompt that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.  

Cornell University Essay Question

In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “... any person … any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. (350 word limit)

College- and School-Specific Essay Questions

College of agriculture and life sciences.

Required: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (650-word limit)  

Instructions: The optional short-answer questions invite you to share additional information about your background, interests, and experiences as they relate to aspects of the Cornell CALS mission. The content of any responses submitted will be included in the holistic review of your application (which is also the case for any optional additional information submitted as part of your Common Application or uploaded through your Cornell Application Portal once you've applied).

Optional: At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline, but who are also passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an experience where you had a meaningful impact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you. (200-word limit)

Optional: Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An "agricultural entity" for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.). 

Select all that apply:

  • A primary source of income for my parent/guardian(s) comes from ownership of or employment by an agricultural entity.
  • My extended family owns or operates an agricultural entity.
  • I have experience working in an agricultural entity.
  • I have interest in pursuing a career in an agricultural entity.                                           

Please feel free to share additional details (optional). (100-word limit)

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 word limit)

College of Arts & Sciences

At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 word limit)

Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 word limit)

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 word limit)

College of Engineering

Instructions: All applicants are required to write two supplemental essays. Each has a limit of 250 words. Essay 1 is required of all applicants. For Essay 2, you must choose between Question A and Question B.

Essay 1: Required response. (250-word limit)

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about.

Essay 2: Choose either Question A and Question B. (250-word limit)

Question A: Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem.

Question B: Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. Engineering the best solutions to complex problems is often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, lived experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity and/or the inclusion of the Cornell Engineering community? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?

College of Human Ecology

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (Refer to our essay application tips before you begin.) (650 word limit)

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 word limit)

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Still need help? Look at the Frequently Asked Questions , or contact us .

English and Comparative Literary Studies

How to write an essay.

This handbook is a guide that I’m hoping will enable you. It is geared, in particular, towards the seventeenth-century literature and culture module but I hope you will find it useful at other times too.

I would like to stress, though, that it is not the only way to do things. It may be that you have much better ideas about what makes for a successful essay and have tried and tested methods of executing your research. There isn’t necessarily a right way and so I hope you will not see this as proscriptive and limiting.

You should talk to all your tutors about what makes for a good essay to get a sense of the different ways that you might construct an essay.

1. Essay writing (p.2)

2. Close reading (p. 4)

3. Research (p. 6)

4. Constructing an argument (p. 8)

5. Help with this particular assessment (p. 9)

6. Grade descriptions (p. 10)

1. ESSAY WRITING (and historicist writing in particular)

Essay writing has four stages: reading, planning, writing and proof-reading. Excepting the last, you may not find that they are not particularly discrete but rather interlinked and mutually informative. If any stage is skipped or done badly, though, it will impair your work.

1) Read the text and make sure you understand it. Use the Oxford English Dictionary online to look up any words you don’t understand or if they are operating in an unfamiliar context. Available on the Warwick web: http://www.oed.com

2) Do a close reading. Make a list technical features (cf. the page in this booklet entitled ‘close reading’; refer to the section on poetic form in the back of your Norton Anthologies pp. 2944-52). Ask yourself: ‘how does the text achieve its effects?’ Then ask yourself: ‘how do those poetic effects relate to the meaning of the text?’.

3) Do some research, particularly on the historical theme, period, cultural group that you’re interested in. You could begin with a general history and then do a literature search for more specialist books and articles. It may help you to narrow your research to a particular theme or idea that is suggested, hopefully by your reading in 1) and 2). Rather than trying to find out about the whole of seventeenth-century culture, limit your research to the restoration, cavalier culture, medicine, the family or whatever. (See the handout on research).

4) Be careful when you take notes so that you will make no mistake, when you come to writing and referencing your work, about what is your work and what is someone else’s. Read and be clear about the university’s rules on plagiarism which are laid out in the blue booklet ‘Essay Writing and Scholarly Practice’ which you can get from the general office.

B) Planning

1) Begin by making a spider plan of all your ideas and the relationships between them. IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPIDERS FORGET THIS BIT.

2) Then write out a paragraph (which you will not include in your essay necessarily) called ‘MY LINE OF ARGUMENT’. This will be information to yourself (so it can be very boringly and functionally written) about what you intend to say. Ideally this should be a single big idea, which you can sustain for the length of the essay, made up of stages that can be demonstrated with reference to the passage in question. It may well be that you want to write something similar to this ‘line of argument’ paragraph, only in a more dynamic and elegant way, for your introduction. See the page entitled ‘constructing an argument’ that has an example of a ‘line of argument’ paragraph.

3) Then write out a linear plan of your essay with a logical ARGUMENT, an argument that is assertively stated and then proved through the course of your piece. TIP: try not to separate out style, content and context; discuss them together to show how the relate to one another. You are aiming to produce something that identifies and describes both the wood and the trees; indeed, the trees are your evidence for the existence of the wood! You need to put together a big argument out of lots of bits of evidence.

1) Everyone has his or her own way of writing. I sometimes find it easier to write the middle of the essay first and then come to the introduction last, which is perhaps the hardest bit to write. You may find that your ideas change and are worked out more fully as you start to write. In which case go back to B) and produce another plan. Present your ideas as a finished thought, rather than a thought process.

2) Keep yourself closely to your argument by imagining your reader. Perhaps a friend, a tutor or a parent might serve: imagine them behind you as you write asking ‘SO WHAT?’, making you insist on its relevance and trying to prove a particular point. Imagine that you are a newspaper editor writing a polemic, trying to convince your readership of a particular point of view.

3) Inventing a title and writing an introduction. You should try to make your essay interesting to an examiner. Which do you think is the best of these three titles: ‘Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’; ‘Discuss the question of race in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’; ‘The “gallant slave”: the idea of the noble savage in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko’. Similarly with the introduction. The first sentence should grab the examiner immediately. Which is a better first sentence: ‘Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko was published in 1688 and is a prose work about Surinam’; ‘At the heart of Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko stands the deep paradox of the ‘royal slave’.

4) Using secondary literary criticism. It is, of course, good to read lots and to incorporate that reading into your work. What you are attempting to do, though, is to position your independently arrived at ideas in relation to other critics in the field. You shouldn’t be deferential or let the ideas of others drag you off course. You should USE other people’s work in the service of your own argument. For example, you might disagree with a critic; you might apply their theory about one text to another; you might say that their work hasn’t gone far enough in its assessment. Never use a quotation from someone else to clinch an argument: just because someone famous has said x or y it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true. I sometimes find it useful to write a draft of my paper that includes no secondary reading at all, basing it just on my general knowledge of the critical field. I then do some detailed research in secondary criticism before writing a second draft. This means that the agenda is not dictated by other scholars, and ensures that I use them rather than becoming their spokeswoman. Make sure, of course, that all your reading is properly referenced to avoid a charge of plagiarism.

D) Proof-reading

1) Check the spelling: in particular the names of the author and the text that you’re looking at MUST be spelled correctly.

2) Check your punctuation. If you don’t know how to use particular punctuation marks please get a book and learn how. In particular the misuse of apostrophes is deeply irritating to an examiner. The Collins gem guides are really good also Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots and Leaves is fun and informative.

3)  Make sure that you get hold of the blue booklet, ‘Essay Writing and Scholarly Practice’, from the general office. You must use the reference guide in there. I favor the MHRA guidelines; you may prefer the MLA style. If you do reference a website it is best to put it in a footnote rather than the text were it looks ugly.

2. CLOSE READING

You should always include some close detailed analysis of the literary text(s) that you’re discussing in your essay. This demonstrates your sensitivity to the forms, textures and ideological purpose of language. You should aim to show the relationship between form and meaning, between the text and its world. Before you can put together an argument about the relationship between a text and its time you will need to do some close reading, compiling a list of technical features in a text or an excerpt from a text. Choose excerpts that relate to themes or passages that interest you. Then you can develop a checklist of features to look for. Use this as a guide but you may want to add to, or amend it.

*** What you see will be very different from what other people see. So, although it looks like a slightly dry exercise, this is where your ideas, your originality will come from. Close reading, in any module, will make your essays sparkle. ***

Big questions:

 Prose, drama or poetry?

 Genre? (e.g. is it panegyric, epic, restoration comedy or what ever)

 Does it remind you of anything? Can you compare or contrast it with something of a similar date? Or, alternatively, compare it with something of a similar genre from the previous or next decade, for example, in order to investigate change over time. 

Smaller questions:

 Poetry: metre, rhythm and rhyme. Look at the section on poetic form at the back of the Norton Anthology (p. 2944) and other guides. Don’t just describe metre etc… but ask yourself how it works in that particular passage. How are units of meaning created by the line divisions? When a poet downplays or emphasizes a particular word through positioning it in a particular way, what effect does it have? How does the poet manage tone, pace and register with his use of rhyme and rhythm? iF THESE FEATURES ARE NOT IMPORTANT IN YOUR PIECE IGNORE THEM.

 Drama: look at the length / speed of the speeches, the stage directions, the entrances and exits.

 Prose: rhetorical features and clause structure are the things to look out for in particular. Are the sentences complex or simple? Is it in hypotaxis or parataxis? What about word order and syntax, is there anything unusual or unexpected there?

 What is the overall structure of the passage / text? Are there abrupt changes or a progression from one idea to another?

 What other structures are there? Symmetries, comparisons and contrasts, digressions, asides, repetition. Is there any dialogue? Are the arguments circular or progressive?

 Are there any words you don’t fully understand? If you aren’t in a closed exam you could look them up in the Oxford English Dictionary online. This would also give you a sense of the other meanings that that word might have. Are there any puns?

 Think about grammatical features: tenses, conditional constructions, the passive voice. Is the passage in the first, second or third person? Perhaps there are tense or person shifts; what effect do these produce?

 Look out for predominance: several superlatives or comparative adjectives and adverbs; a lot of words that mean a similar thing, repetitions of possessive pronouns or what ever.

 What kind of language is being used? i.e. what register is it in? Is it elevated or earthy, legal or lyrical, rhetorical or religious? Why?

 Look for particular rhetorical features: metaphor and simile, hyperbole and litotes, personification, metonymy and so on.

 Look at punctuation (but be careful: it could be the intervention of a printer or a later editor). Look out for: enjambment, parentheses, direct speech? When the punctuation is sparse, why? Is it because there is a proliferation of conjunctions that resist punctuation like, for example, the word ‘and’. This may indicate parataxis or a very conversational style.

 Look out for allusions and references, often to the bible or classical stories. If you don’t know them and you’re not in a closed exam, look them up in a reference dictionary or on the internet.

 What is the tone of the passage? Is it homiletic, comic, anxious, melancholy or ironic? How is this effect created?

 Where else does that poet use similar phrases, ideas, patterns and images? What does it say about his or her concerns and art?

TIP: Don’t make simple associations between sense and sound. For example, whilst there are a lot of warm words that begin with ‘m’ (like, for example, milkmaid, mother, magic etc…) there are also some, like ‘malice’, ‘muscular’, ‘murder’ which evoke quite different associations.

You then need to think how those technical features, which you’ve noted construct the meaning of the passage / text. Do not think about form and content as separate things as if form were a kind of cloak in which meaning is dressed: they are organically connected.

Above and beyond that you will also need to think about how that text (both its form and its meaning) relate to the particular concerns and fashions (literary, political, philosophical etc…) of its time. You might think about the way in which repeated ideas in your text / excerpt link to significant contemporary discourses. Look for substituted vocabularies: i.e. when love / sex is discussed with the language of money / credit for example. Could that be related to prevailing economic trends and ideas?

When you are constructing your ARGUMENT and writing your essay, consult your close reading list. Not everything there will be relevant to your ARGUMENT; you only want to include the things that relate, that offer evidence for a particular point of view about how the text is placed culturally, politically, socially and / or historically.

3. RESEARCH

Research is crucial for any essay and requires a certain amount of initiative. You will partly have to learn by trial and error. Here are a few tips and ideas, though. Read both narrowly (and address the theme of your essay) and also widely. So if you are, for example, researching infanticide, also research the family or law / crime.

When you research a context it might be worth look at the work of philosophers, painters, and theologians and see what they were saying / doing in this period. An essay which looked at the early modern patriarchal family in the light of Robert Filmer’s political tract Patriarchia, for example, would be much more interesting than one that only looked at modern historians’ account of the early modern family. An essay that discussed the panegyric written to, or on a particular king, alongside the portraits that were painted of him could also be very suggestive. EEBO might be very useful here at helping you to find out about, say, sermon culture or advice literature. (look at the last page of this booklet for some help here).

Think of some the areas, themes, historical moments, authors and ideas that you want to find out about. List them as key words. For example: Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, race, royalism, restoration, early modern, colonialism, slavery etc… Do not be limited here. Think of terms / phrases that will give you some background too. How about ‘cheap print’, ‘renaissance politics’ etc…

Then begin on the computer. Be careful of stuff that you find on the ordinary WWW. It is not usually very reliable. Often this is stuff that people can’t publish in proper books. Use it is a guide and be very critical.

1) http://www.jstor.org (through the Warwick network only). Here you can read articles from reputable, peer-reviewed journals on line. An excellent starting point. Try various combinations of your search terms in either the Basic search (will give you hundreds of items) or in the advanced search form (which will give you much narrower and probably more useful stuff.

Try it out; go to the advanced search form:

A) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the word ‘Behn’. Then tick the box marked ‘title’ and then also the box marked ‘article’.  Press the ‘Search’ button. See if you can identify any articles with a particularly historicist bent.

B) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the words ‘White’ and ‘Black’ and ‘England’. In the box marked ‘exact phrase’ enter ‘Seventeenth-century’. Press search and see what you get out. Try other, similar search terms.

C) In the box marked ‘All of these words’ insert the word ‘Royalist’. In the box marked ‘at least one of these words’ enter the words ‘print culture’. Perhaps limit to articles by checking the relevant tick box. Press search and see if any of those are useful. [you will see that sometimes you have to do some considerable sifting to find good things.]

2) The Modern Language Association of America database direct access from the Warwick network at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/electronicresources/databases/#m

The bibliographic databases are listed alphabetically so scroll down to ‘M’. Select ‘MLA’. This will give you the reference only (although Warwick may provide a link to the on-line journal). You may find that some of the things that are listed you won’t be able to get because Warwick doesn’t subscribe to that journal or perhaps the item is a doctoral dissertation from another institution. Don’t worry, you’re not expected to read everything under the sun. Leave those things that you can’t get.

Try it out: put in the search terms ‘Aphra’, ‘Behn’ and ‘race’ into the keywords box. Press search and see what you get.

3) Historical abstracts: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/subjects/arts/elecresources/#databases_internet

Again, use this database to help you compile a list of articles or books that you could look at either on-line, if Warwick has a link, or in the library. Ignore the things that you can’t get hold of.

Try it out:

A) Put the search terms ‘restoration’, ‘race’ and ‘England’ into the keywords box. Press search.

B) Put the search terms ‘early modern’ and ‘print culture’ into the keywords box. Press search. Again you will have to decide what’s useful / relevant.

4) Use the library catalogue, don’t limit yourself to books about English. Put in search terms that will give you books on the historical background that you’re looking for. Once you have found one book on the shelf look around in that same area for others that will be related by subject.

5) Look on your reading list for general background books.

 CONSTRUCTING AN ARGUMENT

Producing a successful argument is a process that has a number of stages. Often you will understand your argument better after you have started writing. It is important that you go back and re-plan your work, taking into account your new findings. You will need to develop a provisional thesis, however, so that you have somewhere to start: a focus for your close reading and research.

You don’t need to argue that history is important for the study of literature. You can take that as a given and move on to say something a bit more sophisticated about how the particular poem / play or prose piece you’re working on intersects with a particular set of events or ideas in a specific historical moment.

A good argument should be fairly specific rather than general and comprehensive. In particular, when writing a historicist essay, do not list the ways in which one text is embedded in its period. Instead choose one of those ways and research it in more depth. So, rather than writing about, say, Ben Jonson’s interest in Anabaptists, Spanishness, alchemy, the plague, etc… in The Alchemist, choose one of these themes and find out about it in the historiography of the seventeenth century and couple this research with a close reading of those sections of the play that treat that theme.

Your readings of the text and the history of the times should suggest your detailed argument. Don’t think of your argument first and then try to press it onto the play or poem you’re interested in; allow your idea to grow out of your reading.

Below is my best attempt at a LINE OF ARGUMENT for an essay on Rochester and Milton. Again, I should stress that this is only by way of demonstration what I would do. This is very different from what you would do. There is no one way and your ideas will be as interesting / valid as mine. Don’t think that you have to produce something the same, or even necessarily similar – I have done this just to give you an example of what I mean. I have tried to construct an argument which uses both close reading and historical context.

Imagining the future in the restoration: a critical comparison of the poetry of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and John Milton.

Line of Argument:

This essay will argue that Rochester’s poetry is not only everywhere fascinated by time, regularly exploring what it is and how it operates, but that this interest betrays his sophisticated engagement with contemporary political philosophy. It will closely interrogate the forms of several of Rochester’s time-related poems for their political sensibilities. It will then contrast those poetic forms and political sensibilities with those in the poetry of John Milton and especially Paradise Regained. Milton – as I shall show with the use of historical evidence – is very differently socially and politically placed, indeed at the other end of the ideological spectrum from the Earl of Rochester. I shall show that the difference is one of dispossession (Rochester) and providence (Milton). Rochester’s narrators exist in fear of, and subject to an arbitrary and absolute future; Milton’s Paradise Regained, on the other hand, asks an imagined republican reader to wait in anticipation of a future in which God will deliver their political success. I shall explore the way in which Rochester’s pessimism – the idea and tone of dispossession in his poetry – and Milton’s optimism – the visionary quality of his providential allegory – stand in contrast to the respective fortunes of the political groups to which those poets actually belonged and at the particular times when the poems I’m discussing here were written and published: i.e. Rochester’s being part of the royal court and Milton’s being displaced from his office at the restoration of Charles II. This will arrive at, by way of conclusion, the demonstrable sadness of some of Rochester’s verse which indicates the complex circumspection with which he viewed his own aristocratic, political community and its limited expectations of monarchical authority.

HELP FOR THIS PARTICULAR ASSESSMENT

Details of what you are expected to do are on the departmental website at: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/undergrad/modules/second/en228/assessedessay2/

There you will find a list of texts and details of how to find them on EEBO (Early English Books Online). Their website is at: http://eebo.chadwyck.com/home

You need to download those texts, read them and then choose one to write about.

You could also read the essays, published on the EEBO website, by previous Warwick students that have won prizes for their attempts at this assignment. http://www.lib.umich.edu/tcp/eebo/edu/edu_win_03.html

You might also use EEBO in your essay research. Try the subject list in particular. If you get yourself to the search form at http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search you can click on the link marked ‘select from a list’ next to the subject keyword box. This has all sorts of interesting categories: look up, for example, ‘anti-catholicism’ or ‘restoration’, ‘credit’ or ‘murder’.

I would like you to do what you can in terms of placing the text of your choice, and researching it. Then I’d like you to come and see me at the end of term with a title and a line of argument. You could also, if you wish, bring a longer essay plan.

This is Isabel talking to her group. We will all be available on email over the holidays--do ask. Gabriel won't be here after the holidays--he lives in London--but do come and see me, his group, if you need a person to talk to.

USING THE OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY

The OED can be found online (through the Warwick network) at http://www.oed.com. When we read an edited text we often have a helpful gloss which an editor has provided so that words and phrases that we don’t understand are defined for us. In this assignment you will have to put together that gloss for yourself and the best way to start to do that is with the OED. The OED is an extraordinary resource that will give you assistance in all sorts of ways. For example:

a) it will obviously help you to understand words which you don’t understand or unusual applications. It will also help you to find obsolete and dialect words.

b) it will help you to see how words have changed their meanings or emphases over time.

c) it will help you to identify puns. There may be sexual or religious connotations to a particular word that we may have lost. Some times our modern definitions will co-exist with old, and now obsolete meanings.

d) it will tell you the earliest use of a particular word. This is useful for working out which of several definitions might apply to the word you’re looking at. Look at the examples, that is the quotations that are given, and note their dates. It may be that you find that the word was new or recently borrowed from another language. Click the ‘date chart’ button to see the uses represented on a time line. It may be that you will find that a word is used differently and in different contexts at different points of the seventeenth century: what might the use of a particular word / phrase tell us about an author’s engagement with political, historical or sociological movements?

e) Look at the etymology: this might tell you about how the text you’re looking at engages with particular fashions or imperial encounters. Look up, for example, ‘chocolate’ where does the word come from? At what period does it come into the language?

f) the examples given in the dictionary will also help you to see how other contemporaries used the word or phrase you’re interested in, and in what sort of contexts it came up. In this way it can operate as a concordance. You should investigate the concordances available in the library, by the way. Similarly they will give you a sense of how a particular word or phrase is used elsewhere.

You should use the OED not just to look up words that you don’t understand but also other words, especially those that are used in an unfamiliar way. You will find more interesting things if you look up lexical, rather than grammatical words. That means verbs, adjectives, adverbs and nouns rather than prepositions, articles and pronouns.

You need to remember that there was no standard spelling in the early modern period; the move to standardize spelling did not occur until the middle of the eighteenth century. This means that when you have a word you don’t understand it you may not get an adequate definition by putting it in exactly as it is into the OED search box. Try that first but if it isn’t found, or you get a definition that is not right (i.e. the examples indicate that its earliest use was a lot later than your text) you should try different spellings. In particular the vowels are often interchangeable. Try every vowel combination that you can think of. Try substituting ts and cs, us and vs and other related consonants.

Try out the OED. Look up the following words: how have their meanings have changed? Where do the words come from? How were the words used at different points in history? And in the seventeenth century in particular?

 Isabel Davis

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University Writing

ENGL CC/GS1010 – University Writing is a one-semester seminar designed to facilitate students’ entry into the intellectual life of the university by teaching them to become more capable and independent academic readers and writers. The course emphasizes habits of mind and skills that foster students’ capacities for critical analysis, argument, revision, collaboration, meta-cognition, and research. Students read and discuss essays from a number of fields, complete regular informal reading and writing exercises, compose several longer essays, and devise a research-based project of their own design.

For information about registering for University Writing , please refer to the College Bulletin , Engineering Bulletin , or General Studies Bulletin , and consult your advising dean.

Essays Students Will Write

  • Students analyze a single text.
  • Students put multiple texts in conversation with one another.
  • Students make a researched argument using 8-10 sources.
  • Students write an op-ed for a publication with a wide audience.

To read student essays from the course, see The Morningside Review .

Courses of Instruction

University Writing focuses on developing students’ reading, writing, and thinking, drawing from readings on a designated course theme that carry a broad appeal to people with diverse interests. No University Writing class presumes that students arrive with prior knowledge in the theme of the course. We are offering the following themes this year:

  • UW: Contemporary Essays , CC/GS1010.001-.099
  • UW: Readings in American Studies , CC/GS1010.1xx
  • UW: Readings in Gender and Sexuality , cc/GS1010.2xx
  • UW: Readings in Film and Performing Arts , CC/GS1010.3xx
  • UW: Readings in Urban Studies , CC/GS1010.4xx (sharing 400s with Human Rights)
  • UW: Readings in Climate Humanities , CC/GS1010.5xx (sharing 500s with Data & Society)
  • UW: Readings in Medical Humanities , CC/GS1010.6xx
  • UW: Readings in Law & Justice , CC/GS1010.7xx
  • UW: Readings in Race and Ethnicity , CC/GS1010.8xx
  • University Writing for International Students , CC/GS1010.9xx

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The Core Curriculum

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  • Contemporary Essays
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  • Readings in Climate Humanities
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  • Core as Praxis

How to write an undergraduate university dissertation

Writing a dissertation is a daunting task, but these tips will help you prepare for all the common challenges students face before deadline day.

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Grace McCabe

istock/woman writing

Writing a dissertation is one of the most challenging aspects of university. However, it is the chance for students to demonstrate what they have learned during their degree and to explore a topic in depth.

In this article, we look at 10 top tips for writing a successful dissertation and break down how to write each section of a dissertation in detail.

10 tips for writing an undergraduate dissertation

1. Select an engaging topic Choose a subject that aligns with your interests and allows you to showcase the skills and knowledge you have acquired through your degree.

2. Research your supervisor Undergraduate students will often be assigned a supervisor based on their research specialisms. Do some research on your supervisor and make sure that they align with your dissertation goals.

3. Understand the dissertation structure Familiarise yourself with the structure (introduction, review of existing research, methodology, findings, results and conclusion). This will vary based on your subject.

4. Write a schedule As soon as you have finalised your topic and looked over the deadline, create a rough plan of how much work you have to do and create mini-deadlines along the way to make sure don’t find yourself having to write your entire dissertation in the final few weeks.

5. Determine requirements Ensure that you know which format your dissertation should be presented in. Check the word count and the referencing style.

6. Organise references from the beginning Maintain an alphabetically arranged reference list or bibliography in the designated style as you do your reading. This will make it a lot easier to finalise your references at the end.

7. Create a detailed plan Once you have done your initial research and have an idea of the shape your dissertation will take, write a detailed essay plan outlining your research questions, SMART objectives and dissertation structure.

8. Keep a dissertation journal Track your progress, record your research and your reading, and document challenges. This will be helpful as you discuss your work with your supervisor and organise your notes.

9. Schedule regular check-ins with your supervisor Make sure you stay in touch with your supervisor throughout the process, scheduling regular meetings and keeping good notes so you can update them on your progress.

10. Employ effective proofreading techniques Ask friends and family to help you proofread your work or use different fonts to help make the text look different. This will help you check for missing sections, grammatical mistakes and typos.

What is a dissertation?

A dissertation is a long piece of academic writing or a research project that you have to write as part of your undergraduate university degree.

It’s usually a long essay in which you explore your chosen topic, present your ideas and show that you understand and can apply what you’ve learned during your studies. Informally, the terms “dissertation” and “thesis” are often used interchangeably.

How do I select a dissertation topic?

First, choose a topic that you find interesting. You will be working on your dissertation for several months, so finding a research topic that you are passionate about and that demonstrates your strength in your subject is best. You want your topic to show all the skills you have developed during your degree. It would be a bonus if you can link your work to your chosen career path, but it’s not necessary.

Second, begin by exploring relevant literature in your field, including academic journals, books and articles. This will help you identify gaps in existing knowledge and areas that may need further exploration. You may not be able to think of a truly original piece of research, but it’s always good to know what has already been written about your chosen topic.

Consider the practical aspects of your chosen topic, ensuring that it is possible within the time frame and available resources. Assess the availability of data, research materials and the overall practicality of conducting the research.

When picking a dissertation topic, you also want to try to choose something that adds new ideas or perspectives to what’s already known in your field. As you narrow your focus, remember that a more targeted approach usually leads to a dissertation that’s easier to manage and has a bigger impact. Be ready to change your plans based on feedback and new information you discover during your research.

How to work with your dissertation supervisor?

Your supervisor is there to provide guidance on your chosen topic, direct your research efforts, and offer assistance and suggestions when you have queries. It’s crucial to establish a comfortable and open line of communication with them throughout the process. Their knowledge can greatly benefit your work. Keep them informed about your progress, seek their advice, and don’t hesitate to ask questions.

1. Keep them updated Regularly tell your supervisor how your work is going and if you’re having any problems. You can do this through emails, meetings or progress reports.

2. Plan meetings Schedule regular meetings with your supervisor. These can be in person or online. These are your time to discuss your progress and ask for help.

3. Share your writing Give your supervisor parts of your writing or an outline. This helps them see what you’re thinking so they can advise you on how to develop it.

5. Ask specific questions When you need help, ask specific questions instead of general ones. This makes it easier for your supervisor to help you.

6. Listen to feedback Be open to what your supervisor says. If they suggest changes, try to make them. It makes your dissertation better and shows you can work together.

7. Talk about problems If something is hard or you’re worried, talk to your supervisor about it. They can give you advice or tell you where to find help.

8. Take charge Be responsible for your work. Let your supervisor know if your plans change, and don’t wait if you need help urgently.

Remember, talking openly with your supervisor helps you both understand each other better, improves your dissertation and ensures that you get the support you need.

How to write a successful research piece at university How to choose a topic for your dissertation Tips for writing a convincing thesis

How do I plan my dissertation?

It’s important to start with a detailed plan that will serve as your road map throughout the entire process of writing your dissertation. As Jumana Labib, a master’s student at the University of Manchester  studying digital media, culture and society, suggests: “Pace yourself – definitely don’t leave the entire thing for the last few days or weeks.”

Decide what your research question or questions will be for your chosen topic.

Break that down into smaller SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) objectives.

Speak to your supervisor about any overlooked areas.

Create a breakdown of chapters using the structure listed below (for example, a methodology chapter).

Define objectives, key points and evidence for each chapter.

Define your research approach (qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods).

Outline your research methods and analysis techniques.

Develop a timeline with regular moments for review and feedback.

Allocate time for revision, editing and breaks.

Consider any ethical considerations related to your research.

Stay organised and add to your references and bibliography throughout the process.

Remain flexible to possible reviews or changes as you go along.

A well thought-out plan not only makes the writing process more manageable but also increases the likelihood of producing a high-quality piece of research.

How to structure a dissertation?

The structure can depend on your field of study, but this is a rough outline for science and social science dissertations:

Introduce your topic.

Complete a source or literature review.

Describe your research methodology (including the methods for gathering and filtering information, analysis techniques, materials, tools or resources used, limitations of your method, and any considerations of reliability).

Summarise your findings.

Discuss the results and what they mean.

Conclude your point and explain how your work contributes to your field.

On the other hand, humanities and arts dissertations often take the form of an extended essay. This involves constructing an argument or exploring a particular theory or analysis through the analysis of primary and secondary sources. Your essay will be structured through chapters arranged around themes or case studies.

All dissertations include a title page, an abstract and a reference list. Some may also need a table of contents at the beginning. Always check with your university department for its dissertation guidelines, and check with your supervisor as you begin to plan your structure to ensure that you have the right layout.

How long is an undergraduate dissertation?

The length of an undergraduate dissertation can vary depending on the specific guidelines provided by your university and your subject department. However, in many cases, undergraduate dissertations are typically about 8,000 to 12,000 words in length.

“Eat away at it; try to write for at least 30 minutes every day, even if it feels relatively unproductive to you in the moment,” Jumana advises.

How do I add references to my dissertation?

References are the section of your dissertation where you acknowledge the sources you have quoted or referred to in your writing. It’s a way of supporting your ideas, evidencing what research you have used and avoiding plagiarism (claiming someone else’s work as your own), and giving credit to the original authors.

Referencing typically includes in-text citations and a reference list or bibliography with full source details. Different referencing styles exist, such as Harvard, APA and MLA, each favoured in specific fields. Your university will tell you the preferred style.

Using tools and guides provided by universities can make the referencing process more manageable, but be sure they are approved by your university before using any.

How do I write a bibliography or list my references for my dissertation?

The requirement of a bibliography depends on the style of referencing you need to use. Styles such as OSCOLA or Chicago may not require a separate bibliography. In these styles, full source information is often incorporated into footnotes throughout the piece, doing away with the need for a separate bibliography section.

Typically, reference lists or bibliographies are organised alphabetically based on the author’s last name. They usually include essential details about each source, providing a quick overview for readers who want more information. Some styles ask that you include references that you didn’t use in your final piece as they were still a part of the overall research.

It is important to maintain this list as soon as you start your research. As you complete your research, you can add more sources to your bibliography to ensure that you have a comprehensive list throughout the dissertation process.

How to proofread an undergraduate dissertation?

Throughout your dissertation writing, attention to detail will be your greatest asset. The best way to avoid making mistakes is to continuously proofread and edit your work.

Proofreading is a great way to catch any missing sections, grammatical errors or typos. There are many tips to help you proofread:

Ask someone to read your piece and highlight any mistakes they find.

Change the font so you notice any mistakes.

Format your piece as you go, headings and sections will make it easier to spot any problems.

Separate editing and proofreading. Editing is your chance to rewrite sections, add more detail or change any points. Proofreading should be where you get into the final touches, really polish what you have and make sure it’s ready to be submitted.

Stick to your citation style and make sure every resource listed in your dissertation is cited in the reference list or bibliography.

How to write a conclusion for my dissertation?

Writing a dissertation conclusion is your chance to leave the reader impressed by your work.

Start by summarising your findings, highlighting your key points and the outcome of your research. Refer back to the original research question or hypotheses to provide context to your conclusion.

You can then delve into whether you achieved the goals you set at the beginning and reflect on whether your research addressed the topic as expected. Make sure you link your findings to existing literature or sources you have included throughout your work and how your own research could contribute to your field.

Be honest about any limitations or issues you faced during your research and consider any questions that went unanswered that you would consider in the future. Make sure that your conclusion is clear and concise, and sum up the overall impact and importance of your work.

Remember, keep the tone confident and authoritative, avoiding the introduction of new information. This should simply be a summary of everything you have already said throughout the dissertation.

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IMAGES

  1. College Essay Examples

    essay writing for undergraduate

  2. Sample College Admissions Essays We have prepared this handout of

    essay writing for undergraduate

  3. Personal Statement Example Undergraduate

    essay writing for undergraduate

  4. (PDF) The lexical richness of undergraduate student essays: The

    essay writing for undergraduate

  5. College Essay Examples

    essay writing for undergraduate

  6. 9+ College Essay Examples

    essay writing for undergraduate

VIDEO

  1. Structuring An Essay

  2. GUIDE TO WRITING AN ESSAY📝

  3. Essay examples I The best online essay

  4. Undergraduate Application: Essay Writing Workshop Part 3 out of 3

  5. Research Skills: What should go in your undergraduate essay or presentation?

  6. Essay Writing Workshop 2023

COMMENTS

  1. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    understand why it's worth writing that essay. A strong thesis will be arguable rather than descriptive, and it will be the right scope for the essay you are writing. If your thesis is descriptive, then you will not need to convince your readers of anything—you will be naming or summarizing something your readers can already see for themselves.

  2. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick College Admissions , College Essays The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended.

  3. Essay and dissertation writing skills

    Essay writing - six tips Watch on Different disciplines will have different expectations for essay structure and you should always refer to your Faculty or Department student handbook or course Canvas site for more specific guidance. However, broadly speaking, all essays share the following features: Writing your introduction

  4. LibGuides: How to write an undergraduate-level essay: Home

    How to write an undergraduate-level essay Welcome! This guide will take you step-by-step through the process of researching and writing an assignment. You'll find resources, tips, and suggestions from both the Library and the Writing Centre. How to use this guide Depending on where you're at in your writing process and how you learn, you can:

  5. How to Write a College Essay

    March 31, 2021 (Updated November 13, 2023) | Estimated Read Time: 8.5 Minutes By Rachel Blakley Whether you are applying to college through The Common Application or directly from the college's website, you will be asked to write a college essay, sometimes called the personal statement.

  6. Undergraduate Writing: Top 10 Writing Tips for Undergraduates

    The School of Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Studies created the AWE to help you build your writing skills with each course level. In early courses, you practice writing compelling sentences and paragraphs and integrating evidence. Later on, you learn more about citations and references in APA style, as well as essay-level skills.

  7. The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay

    The essay writing process consists of three main stages: Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline. Writing: Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.

  8. How to write an undergrad essay: structure, reading, referencing

    The body is the main part of the essay. It contains the quotations, references, examples, ideas, and arguments you are putting forth in writing. It should be written in paragraphs. This is where you elaborate on your answer to the essay question. You might expect to have 3-4 body paragraphs in a 1000-word paper.

  9. Advice for Writing Application Essays

    Brainstorm by putting your thoughts on paper. You can free write (writing without stopping or censoring yourself), create word association maps (visually clustering concepts that you feel go together), or keep a journal over the course of several days so that you can collect your thoughts in one place.

  10. PDF Admissions Application Essay: Writing your Way to College

    You can create a list, draw a map/diagram, or free write whatever comes to mind without worrying about grammar. Next, create an OUTLINE. Think about the structure of the paper including the overall theme, introduction, the body paragraphs, and how you're going to purposefully use your conclusion to do more than summarize. Finally, create your ...

  11. 14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024

    14 College Essay Examples From Top-25 Universities (2023-2024) College essay examples from students accepted to Harvard, Stanford, and other elite schools REVIEWING SUCCESSFUL COLLEGE ESSAY EXAMPLES CAN HELP YOU UNDERSTAND HOW TO MAXIMIZE YOUR ODDS OF ACCEPTANCE

  12. How to write an essay

    You might think you know how to write a good essay from your time at school but writing an essay at undergraduate level is a whole new ball game. Taking the time to properly plan your work can lead to higher marks, with lecturers welcoming a logical structure that clearly demonstrates your understanding of the subject.

  13. LibGuides: How to write an undergraduate-level essay: Examples

    Required essay components: Describe the problem and situate it in own professional context. Synthesize and critique literature findings. Use literature as evidence to support arguments re: how to address problem/issue. Provide analysis on how research evidence supports and informs practice = demonstrate critical thinking.

  14. Writing essays

    Welcome to Writing Essays, the RLF's online guide to everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about writing undergraduate essays. The guide is a toolbox of essay writing skills and resources that you can choose from to suit your particular needs. It combines descriptive and practical elements.

  15. Great essay writing in 8 steps

    Students often underestimate the amount of work required to write a good essay, which results in two things: (1) late nights at the library, and (2) a disappointing grade.

  16. Handouts and Online Resources for Students

    Handouts and Online Resources for Students. Writing at the University. Beyond the 5-Paragraph Essay. Writing Tips for Transfer Students. Pre-Writing. Breaking Down Your Reading Assignment. Reading Essay Prompts. Dealing with Writer's Block. Writing: Getting Started.

  17. Cornell First-Year Writing Supplement Prompts

    First-Year Applicants. Cornell First-Year Writing Supplement Prompts. In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to both the Cornell University essay question and the essay prompt that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.

  18. How to Write an Essay

    1) Check the spelling: in particular the names of the author and the text that you're looking at MUST be spelled correctly. 2) Check your punctuation. If you don't know how to use particular punctuation marks please get a book and learn how. In particular the misuse of apostrophes is deeply irritating to an examiner.

  19. 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2023

    One of the best ways to write a successful college essay for your college application is by learning from real college essay examples that worked. I've compiled a few of my favorite essay examples here that cover a variety of college essay topics. Need help writing your college essay? Click here for my ultimate guide.

  20. Essay Writing Advice

    Advice for Three of the 2024 Supplemental Essay Questions. You will find tips to help you answer three selected supplemental essay questions for Fall 2024 applicants. These three essays cover a wide range of themes and should each be approached differently and thoughtfully. The advice listed after each question is designed to help you kickstart ...

  21. University Writing

    ENGL CC/GS1010 - University Writing is a one-semester seminar designed to facilitate students' entry into the intellectual life of the university by teaching them to become more capable and independent academic readers and writers. The course emphasizes habits of mind and skills that foster students' capacities for critical analysis, argument, revision, collaboration, meta-cognition, and ...

  22. How to write an undergraduate university dissertation

    10 tips for writing an undergraduate dissertation. 1. Select an engaging topic. Choose a subject that aligns with your interests and allows you to showcase the skills and knowledge you have acquired through your degree. 2. Research your supervisor. Undergraduate students will often be assigned a supervisor based on their research specialisms.

  23. Undergraduate Writing Center

    The Undergraduate Writing Center is an entirely free service offered through Writing Programs that provides one-on-one writing consultations to current UCLA undergraduate students. Trained Peer Learning Facilitators (PLFs) assist students with their course papers, research papers, resumes, or personal statements during any stage in the writing ...

  24. Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admission Essay

    Discover tricks for writing a grad school admissions essay. - Forbes Advisor advisor Education Advertiser Disclosure Guide To Writing Your Grad School Admission Essay Ryah Cooley Cole...