I would take a 5,000 word essay over an exam any day! I actually eventually grew to kind of like writing essays in college and I especially liked that I had it down to a science to almost always get a perfect A on my essays.
How to get an A on college essays is kind of an art. It’s pretty simple but there are some important tips and tricks to truly ace those essays and help you get great grades.
And I think it’s time I shared that knowledge!
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Below are 15 tips for things I always did on college essays to make sure I got an A.
1) Know exactly what is expected. Read the prompt and any assignment information all the way through. Make note of any mandatory requirements like “must be 4,000 -7,000 words” or “must be double spaced”. Don’t lose points on something totally avoidable!
2) Make an outline. The outline needs to include your thesis and the main idea of each body paragraph. Having an idea of what you’re writing before you actually start is so helpful to keep you on track and make sure your essay is easy to follow. I always loved using unlined notebooks for the outline and then rip out the page and keep it right next to your laptop.
3) Get rid of any distractions. The worst part of distractions when you are writing an essay is that you can lose your train of thought. Not only does that slow you down but you can also end up with paragraphs that don’t flow and are difficult to follow.
4) Go back to dead ends. If you know you need to write about something but you can’t figure out the right words then skip that paragraph (but note it so you don’t forget) and then go back to it after you have the information after it written. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by 1-2 sentences that you can’t figure out.
5) Review your essay in the intro. Fluff is not necessary for college essays (unless it’s a creative writing course). So don’t worry about telling a story or an “attention grabbing device” just make sure that your introduction does a good job of telling the readers what it coming next in the essay.
6) State your thesis right away. Don’t put your thesis in the second paragraph. State it right away and make sure you state it. Never assume the reader knows what the essay is about!
7) Double check the prompt. At about the halfway point in your essay look at what you have written and then double check the prompt and make sure that your essay is still following the right track. This is so important for making sure the quality of the whole essay is high to get a good grade.
8) Citation, citation, citation. Some professors do specify the type of citation they want you to use and others don’t. But if you use any sources you need to cite them it’s the law guys! Give people credit. If you struggle with citation then you definitely need to learn from either a teacher or TA or get a book like Cite Right!
9) Link body paragraphs directly to thesis. Make sure as you’re writing each body paragraph that it directly supports the thesis. Use exact wording to represent that too to make it nice and clear that the paragraph links to the thesis.
(Fun side note- how awesome is this student planner from MAMBI!)
10) GRAMMAR. Don’t make whoever is reading the essay question the quality of the whole essay by having dumb grammar mistakes. If (like me) you are not the greatest at grammar then don’t be afraid to use a resource like grammarly.com to make sure your essay is grammatically flawless.
11) Avoid clutter paragraphs. You can’t have cluttered up paragraphs. You know the ones with 4 line long run on sentences that you really just can’t follow. If a paragraph looks too long then evaluate if it could be broke up into 2 or if you could eliminate some words or even some sentences and still get the same point across.
12) Legible font. Sounds obvious but I have seen way too many people try and get “creative” with their fonts or essay formatting which is not necessary and can be distracting to the reader. Even if the essay is for a writing class or creative class, make the words creative not the font!
13) The ending is as important as the beginning. Summarize your main points and always re-state your thesis in your concluding paragraph. Way too many people rush the ending of their essays because they run out of time and it is very noticeable to a professor.
14) Read the essay to yourself. Out loud. It’s amazing how many things you will catch by reading the college essay out loud to yourself. There could be weird wording or illogical sentences that your brain skims over when reading silently but that you can catch when you actually hear it out loud.
15) Always submit with extra time. Never wait till the last minute for anything. Waiting till the last minute means your work will be rushed and lower quality. I have a whole article on avoiding all nighters and planning your academic week that you should read after this!
If you are looking for more advice on not just surviving in college but thriving in college than make sure to check out the rest of my college guides including: