How to Write the First Essays for College

essays for college

Starting college is an exciting time in every student’s life. Along with new experiences and challenges, you’ll encounter higher academic expectations, particularly when it comes to writing essays for college. If English isn’t your native language, this task can seem even more daunting. And dreams about creating the “best college essay” may seem so far from you. But fear not! In this blog, I’ll provide practical tips and examples to help international students like you write an exemplary college level essay.

We’ll focus on the key differences between writing an essay for high school and an essay for college, including those related to the requirements, vocabulary, and structure.

After viewing the college essay tips I’ve compiled in this article, you’ll have a clear roadmap to approaching your first college essay with confidence:

Requirements for College Essays VS High-School Essays

College essays require a higher level of research and vocabulary than high school essays. However, the requirements for how to write essay vary from college to college. Some colleges prioritize research, while others focus on the student’s ability to articulate their opinions. It’s essential to understand the requirements of your college and the expectations of your professor. For example, let’s take a look at some prominent colleges in the USA:

  • Harvard University. Harvard expects essays to showcase critical thinking and intellectual curiosity. They look for essays that demonstrate a student’s ability to engage with complex essay ideas and express themselves effectively.
  • Stanford University. Stanford places importance on essays that reflect a student’s personal experiences, values, and aspirations. They encourage applicants to be authentic and use their essays as a platform to share their unique perspectives.

When it comes to writing an essay, college essay vocabulary requires a more formal register than that of high school essays.

You should avoid using colloquial language, contractions, and slang. In a college essay, you should use more academic and sophisticated vocabulary to convey your ideas. Here are some examples of proper words to use:

  • Instead of “good,” use “excellent,” “superb,” or “outstanding
  • Instead of “bad,” use “poor,” “inferior,” or “substandard
  • Instead of “nice,” use “pleasant,” “delightful,” or “charming
  • Instead of “important,” use “significant,” “crucial,” or “essential
  • Instead of “big,” use “significant,” “substantial,” or “considerable
  • Instead of “small,” use “minor,” “insignificant,” or “trivial
  • Instead of “show,” use “demonstrate,” “illustrate,” or “exhibit
  • Instead of “say,” use “state,” “declare,” or “assert
  • Instead of “get,” use “acquire,” “obtain,” or “procure” 
  • Instead of “use,” use “utilize,” “employ,” or “apply

You can also use good sentence starters for essays such as “therefore,” “hence,” “thus,” “consequently,” “moreover,” and “also” to make your essays more cohesive.

Comparison of high school and college essay requirements

High School College
Length 5 paragraphs Usually 4-8 pages
Research Minimal, or even not needed Extensive, requires credible sources (e.g., peer-reviewed articles, governmental websites, etc.)
Vocabulary Informal, Conversational Formal, academic
Structure Basic Complex, requires a well-developed thesis statement and topic sentences

Quiz: Are You Ready to Write Your First College Essay?

Doing something for the first time is always an exciting but worrisome experience. We bet you’ve had enough troubles in mind due to your recent college submission, orientation week, and all settling deals. For that reason, we at least want to help you with writing your first college essay. Take the test, find out whether you are ready to write an essay, and if not – you know where to get help!

Why You Shouldn’t Question the Importance of Research for a College Essay

Research is an absolutely crucial component of successfully writing a personal essay for college. To ensure that your professors are convinced of your arguments, it is of utmost importance to back up your opinions with credible sources.

While academic journals are usually the first place to look for reputable sources, don’t overlook the value of books and credible websites in your research process.

When sourcing information, it is always important to be diligent and thorough to ensure that your sources are genuinely credible and reliable. 

In essay writing, when conducting research, it’s essential to keep track of your sources. Use a citation management tool like Citation Generator by, Zotero or Mendeley to keep your sources organized and easily accessible. This will save you time when it comes to writing your bibliography or works cited page.

Additionally, make sure to properly cite all of your sources in your college papers to avoid any issues with plagiarism. Proper citation protects you from academic misconduct and gives credit to the original authors whose works you are building upon.

By taking research seriously and putting in the necessary effort to back up your arguments with credible sources, you can dramatically improve the strength and persuasiveness of your written essay.

Examples of citing sources in a college essay

In college essay writing, the MLA and APA formats are the most widespread ones. So, you’ll need to know how to cite sources in these formats. Here are specific examples for citing sources in MLA and APA formats:

MLA Format

According to Smith, “The impact of technology on studies has been considerable in this decade” (23).

Works Cited: Smith, John. “The Impact of Technology on Education.” Journal of Education, vol. 45, no. 2, 2018, pp. 20-30.

APA Format

According to Smith (2018), “The impact of technology on studies has been considerable in this decade” (p. 23).

Reference: Smith, J. (2018). The impact of technology on education. Journal of Education, 45(2), 20-30.

As you may notice, the difference between APA and MLA formats is small. In APA format citation, you need to mention the author’s surname, the source’s year of publication, and the page name of the citation (but only if it’s a direct quote). In MLA, you just write the author’s surname and the page number of the citation, but remember to only write the number, without “p.”. These are just general rules on using these citation formats; you can learn more about proper citing online!

Topics for College Essays: The #1 Headache

The best way to start an essay is to consider the topic! The topics for college essays are more complex than those for high school essays. You need to choose a topic that is relevant, interesting, and challenging. If the professor does not provide the topics for college essay, brainstorm ideas that interest you. Research the topic to ensure that there is enough information to write a complete essay.

College essay topics can be very different, depending on the discipline. So, when choosing a topic, it’s important to consider your audience. Who will be reading your essay? What are their interests and biases? Your topic should appeal to your audience and provide a fresh perspective on the subject matter. 

If a topic isn’t provided by your professor and you can’t find words to start an essay, follow these tips to come up with compelling topics for essays:

  • Reflect on your personal experiences. Choose a topic that relates to a significant event or moment in your life. This allows you to showcase your unique perspective and insights.
  • Explore current issues.  Engage with topics that are relevant and impactful in today’s society. This demonstrates your awareness of the world around you and your ability to analyze complex issues.

Example of brainstorming for a college essay topic

Let’s say that you’re assigned to write an essay about the impact of social media on mental health. Here are some writing essay examples of brainstorming ideas to get started:

  • The correlation between social media use and depression/anxiety
  • The benefits of social media in reducing social isolation
  • The role of social media in promoting body positivity and self-acceptance
  • The dangers of social media addiction and how to overcome it
Get your paper started in a minute!
Our free, all-in-one free writing toolkit is here to help you.
Try free writing toolkit

Essay Format for College

The format for college essay is similar to the one for a high school essay, but with a few differences. College essays are longer and require more in-depth analysis. You may ask, “How long are college essays?” Well, it depends on instructions from your professor, but usually, good college essays are at least 3-5 pages. Here’s a short prompt for essay. The essay should have an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should grab the reader’s attention and provide background information about the topic. The body should provide evidence to support your arguments, and the conclusion should summarize the essay’s key points.

Comparison of high school and college essay format

High School College
Introduction Basic, includes a thesis statement Advanced, includes an essay hook, thesis statement, and background information
Body Paragraphs 3 paragraphs, each with a topic sentence Multiple paragraphs, each with a topic sentence that supports the thesis
Conclusion Restates the thesis and main points Restates the thesis and main points AND summarizes the essay, provides insights or recommendations

College Essay Structure

A college format essay is more complex than a high school-formatted one. College essays require a thesis statement that summarizes the essay’s main argument. The body of the essay should be broken down into paragraphs, each with its own topic sentence. The topic sentences should support the thesis statement, and the paragraphs should flow logically.

Example of a college essay structure

Here is an essay example of a proper college essay structure about the effects of climate change on polar bears:

1. Introduction 

  • Hook for college essay: Start an essay with a surprising fact about the polar bear population.
  • Background information: Explain what climate change is and why it’s important.
  • Thesis statement: Argue that climate change is causing the decline of the polar bear. population.

2. Body 

  • Paragraph 1: Explain how climate change is affecting the polar bear’s’ habitat. 

Topic sentence: The melting of sea ice is causing the polar bear’s habitat to shrink.

Supporting evidence: Cite scientific studies and reports that document the decline in sea ice.

  • Paragraph 2: Describe how climate change is affecting the polar bear’s food sources. 

Topic sentence: The loss of sea ice is making it harder for polar bears to hunt for food.

Supporting evidence: Cite scientific studies and reports that document the decline in polar bear food sources.

  • Paragraph 3: Discuss the impact of climate change on the polar bear’s population. 

Topic sentence: The decline in the polar bear population is a direct result of climate change.

Supporting evidence: Cite scientific studies and reports that document the decline in the polar bear population.

3. Conclusion 

  • Restate the thesis statement.
  • Summarize the main points of the essay.
  • Provide insights or recommendations for future research or action.

So, if you follow this college essay outline, you’ll be able to write college essays perfectly!

College Essay Introductions

College essays introductions are very important. Introduction starters should grab the reader’s attention and set the tone for the rest of the essay. You can start with a quote, a statistic, or a personal anecdote for starting sentences for essays. The introduction should also provide background information about the topic. Here are some examples of good hooks for college essays:

  • Quote:Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” – Malcolm X
  • Anecdote:As I stood on the stage, my heart pounding, I realized that my passion for theater had transformed me from a shy introvert into a fearless performer.
  • Provocative question:What if I told you that the key to happiness lies not in success, but in embracing failure?

Example of a college essay introduction

Here is an example of a college essay introduction for an essay about the benefits of mindfulness meditation:

Stress is a common problem among college students, and many struggle to find effective ways to cope. Mindfulness meditation is a simple but powerful technique that has been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being. In this essay, we will explore the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how it can help college students manage stress and improve their academic performance.

Good Hooks for College Essays

A hook is an essay starter or an attention-grabbing sentence that draws the reader into the essay. Good college essay hooks include anecdotes, rhetorical questions, and surprising facts. You can also use metaphors, similes, and analogies to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind.

List of good hooks for college essays

  • Start with a surprising fact or statistic
  • Use a quote from a famous person or expert in the field
  • Begin with a rhetorical question that prompts the reader to think
  • Tell a personal anecdote that relates to the topic
  • Use a metaphor or simile to create a vivid image in the reader’s mind
  • Start with a controversial statement that challenges the reader’s beliefs
  • Use a historical reference to provide context for the topic

Analysis of Some College Essay Samples

Analyzing college essay samples can help you understand what makes a good college essay. We provide some of the best college essays and samples in our HowToWrite center. One such example of college essay is “Terrorism: Threats to Security.” The essay is well-structured, with a clear thesis statement, and the body paragraphs provide evidence to support the arguments. 

When analyzing a sample college essay, pay attention to the following elements:

  • Thesis statement: Is the main argument of the essay clear and concise?
  • Evidence: Does the essay provide credible sources to support the arguments?
  • Structure: Is the essay well-organized with topic sentences and transitions?
  • Style: Is the essay written in a clear, concise, and engaging style?
  • Conclusion: Does the essay provide a satisfying conclusion that summarizes the main points?

If You Feel Like You’re Not Coping

If you feel like you are not coping, seek college essay help from your professor or a tutor.

Essay writing help can be very useful if you struggle with writing essays.

You can also use essay writing services as an option. CustomWritings provides qualitative essay help and writing services that can help you meet your deadlines and produce high-quality college essays.

College essay writing help is useful for any student, no matter whether you’re proficient in English or not. So, you may also find many other services online that provide college essay examples. Such services can also give you a college essay template from which you can write your essay. Yet, on our website, you can easily create personal essays for colleges with the best-matching essay writer!

Summing up

In conclusion, writing college essays can be challenging, especially when you’re “college essay starters.But, by following the tips and guidelines outlined in this article, you can produce an excellent essay that meets the requirements and expectations of your college and professor. Remember to research your topic thoroughly, choose a structure that works for you, and seek help when needed. Use the extensive list of words and phrases provided in this article to enhance your writing and improve your chances of success. With practice and dedication, you can become a skilled college essay writer and achieve the academic success you desire. Good luck with your first essay in college! I’m sure it will be your best essay ever!

0.00 avg. rating (0 votes)
Published by
Nicolas Evans
View all posts
Nicholas works in the ESL Department of He’s much adored by students in a private middle school, where he teaches English literature. Amateur actor and great guitar player, Nicholas knows how to enjoy the arts.