College Essays: Structuring the Essay

The Problem

Almost all successful college essays pivot around a revelation of some sort: a revelation that will speak to both a previous perspective inculcated by one’s surroundings as well as a transformed perspective for future action.

But where should this revelation be placed?

Some Solutions

We might propose the following, seemingly chronological structure for your story:

I. A challenge, internal or external, to your perspective and ideals

II. Failed attempts to win the challenge without confronting its standards or presumptions

III. A revelation how to confront it successfully on your own terms

IV. Success through an internal transformation that may translate into outer action

However, one easy way to guide readers is to weave between story, context, and message.

For example, you might play with the above structure:

I. Challenge: Start in media res — in the middle of a defeat (Story)

II. Failure: Then show how your thinking got you there (Context)

III. Revelation: How defeat made you reassess priorities (Big Meaning)

IV. Transformation: How you reattempted the situation (Story)

- Or you might start with a moment of success, then retrace how it happened.

- Or you might mix up these elements: start with an internal revelation, then discuss challenges of applying it outwardly, initial failures, and final success.

- Or you might totally ignore this structure and write organically as you please!

Above all, remember that big themes are useful structuring devices to compare related events: hit on the message once a paragraph, just for consistency, before confronting it near the end.