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Structuring Your Common App Essay

Here we explain how to put together a well-structured Common App essay that will help make yours stand out from the crowd.

1. Make a plan

Plan, plan and then plan some more. To succeed in writing the best common application essay possible, you need to spend as much time planning the structure of your essay as you do writing it.

Planning the structure and designing it paragraph by paragraph before you start writing will help you avoid rambling on or going off on a tangent. It should also improve the quality of your essay and it may save you time in the long run when you’re re-reading and proofing it.

Plan your essay logically and chronologically as this helps the reader remember what you’ve written.

The first stage of planning is to focus on your outline. Your outline should summarize the core topic of your essay in a few sentences. The next stage is to break each sentence down further and start planning sub sentences from each one. These will eventually turn into your core paragraphs.

2. Introduce your ideas

Once you’ve completed your outline, turn your attention to your introduction. It needs background (but not too much) so the reader can easily grasp what you’re saying and relate it to their world.

Your introduction should set the scene and create an air of intrigue so the reader is captivated and wants to read what happens next.

The reader (the admissions tutor) needs to know what theme you’re going to explore, so give a very brief outline of this in your introduction.

Find out more by reading our Writing A Common App Essay Introduction section.

3. Work paragraph by paragraph

Each paragraph needs to lay out the main ideas clearly and show how they interlink with each other. It’s best to organize related information into one paragraph if you can.

If you think of an extra idea as you’re writing, don’t just add it as a sentence at the end of the paragraph you’ve been writing. See where it fits best.

Try to link each paragraph to the previous one and to the next one using connecting phrases such as “After I’d completed...”, “Following on from…” or even just “Subsequently…” or “Next...”.

The first sentence in each paragraph should introduce the main ideas of the paragraph and the paragraph content needs to influence, engage and guide the reader where you want to take them.

If you use stats or reference facts, try to mention the source but watch the word count doesn’t build up too much.

4. Round off with something memorable

Your conclusion is all about summarizing your essay, showing impact and then focusing on the next steps.

New ideas shouldn’t be in a conclusion; they should be in the main paragraphs. The only exception is if you’re posing a thought-provoking final question for the reader, about what the future holds.  

Find out more about how to write a memorable conclusion by reading our Writing a Common Application Conclusion section.

So to summarize; plan your structure very carefully, focusing on the outline and then working through the introduction, paragraphs and conclusion in logical order and linking them.

The content needs you to answer the prompt question you’ve chosen, generate individual ideas personal to you and be creative and honest in your writing.

To help you further, take a look at our collection of Common App examples to see how a good essay is structured.

As your essay is only between 250 and 650 you need to plan not only what you’re going to include but also what you’re ok leaving out. Every single word counts so no waffling or using filler words.

To quote Marcus Cicero, the famous Roman orator, “Before beginning, plan carefully.”

Further information

For more tips and advice on putting together your common application for college, please see: