How to Write an A+ College Essay (With Examples)

How to write an A+ college essay

Whether you’re a brand-new freshman or a seasoned senior, knowing how to write an A+ college essay can be terrifying stuff. Luckily, this guide will teach you all the tips and techniques you need to conquer any essay your professors throw your way!

Ready to start writing? Let’s go!

Essay Preparation

Before writing your first word, it’s extremely important to prepare for your essay.

Filling out a few outlines and going over a few guidelines can be the difference between a good score and a great score!

Read the Requirements Carefully

Knowing the requirements inside and out will make for a much smoother essay-writing process.

Before you start, read over the assignment carefully and make note of the following essay requirements:

  • Prompt
  • Word limit
  • How many citations you need
  • Where your sources have to come from
  • Font and size
  • Format

You get the gist…

Don’t forget to read over the class syllabus too. Oftentimes, professors will include grading criteria there that they won’t mention in the assignment sheet. 

Create an Outline

Nobody starts building a house without a blueprint, right? Same goes for your essay. You need a strong “blueprint”, or outline, to guide you along the way. 

It’s not necessary to have every little detail planned out, but you should jot down the first and last sentence for each paragraph in your outline. 

Most college essays follow a fairly basic structure:

  • Introductory paragraph
  • Body paragraphs in between (at least 3)
  • Conclusion paragraph

Feel free to make alterations based on the length and complexity of your essay, but here’s a good example to get you started.

P.S. – This is from a recent essay of mine that snagged me an A+!

Prompt: This essay was an analysis and comparison of a music video versus the lyrics of the same song.

Introductory Paragraph 

In the intro paragraph I wrote a brief summary about the artist and her significance, and then introduced the specific song I was writing about. I also included my thesis statement. 

Body Paragraph #1

Analyzing the themes and techniques used in the song’s lyrics.

Body Paragraph #2

Analyzing the themes and techniques used in the music video. 

Body Paragraph #3

Comparing and contrasting the two. 

Conclusion Paragraph 

Identifying the artist’s deeper message based on her work.

Again, your prompt may vary from essay to essay, but most follow this general outline!

Do In-Depth Research

Unless you already know everything there is to know about your topic (which I’m guessing you don’t), you’ll need to do a bit of research. 

If you can, start the project with your topic already in mind. It’ll make your research much easier! 

Also, check over the assignment requirements again before you start. How many citations do you need? How many of them need to be digital versus print, or primary versus secondary? 

A great place to start is your campus’ library resources. If you’re on campus, use the catalog or ask a librarian to help you find books for your research.

How to do Research for a College Essay

Most colleges also offer an online database of books and articles that you can access from home. You might be surprised at what you can find! 

Aside from your campus library, there are tons of databases online that are full of reliable sources for students.

Sources like Encyclopedia Britannica, JSTOR, and Gale all have searchable databases of articles, books, and photographs. For historical essays, search the National Archives and DocsTeach for primary sources from a variety of time periods.

Another excellent resource is Google Scholar, which offers you access to peer-reviewed and scientific articles, as well as help with citations. 

How to Write a Strong Thesis Statement 

The most crucial part of your introductory paragraph (and the driving force behind your essay) is your thesis statement.

Here’s how to write a strong thesis statement for your college essay in 4 simple steps:

  1. First, identify your topic (What are you writing about?)
  2. What is your claim or argument about this topic? (This should be something that isn’t definitively factual- you’ll prove it in your essay)
  3. What are the reasons or evidence that you have to support your claim? (You should provide one for each body paragraph)
  4. Consider introducing an opposing viewpoint to solidify your argument even further (not required however)

Example of a Strong Thesis Sentence

An example of a strong thesis sentence would be: 

While the internet can be used for educational purposes, children should not be allowed unlimited access because it encourages a sedentary lifestyle and exposes children to unsafe situations. 

This included all the elements I mentioned, albeit in a very simple format. There’s nothing wrong with keeping things nice and simple.

If you’re looking for a bit more complex example, here’s an A+ thesis example to learn from:

Whereas many traditional fairy tales involve a female protagonist with little or no personal agency, these tales hinge their stories upon the female heroines being resourceful and independent, yet they still manage to fall into gender normative roles by having the women get married at the end.                                                        (Courtesy of my sister)

Now that you’re off to a strong start, let’s keep the ball rolling with the rest of your essay!

How to Write an A+ College Essay

Introduction

Your introduction is the very first thing your reader sees, so keep it short and sweet.

Fill them in on what your essay will be about, and provide a bit of contextual information to show your understanding of the topic. 

Here’s an introduction paragraph example for a book review I wrote: 

As a longtime admirer of Martin Luther King, Jr, Tavis Smiley provides an alternate historical perspective in his book, Death of a King, illustrating the struggles of the last year of Dr. King’s life. A radio commentator and show host for BET, PBS, NPR, and PRI, he is established as an experienced and thorough interviewer, providing credibility to tell Dr. King’s story. He conversed with many of the reverend’s family and friends to provide an inside look at the emotions, tribulations, and dilemmas of Dr. King. 

All that’s being included here is what the essay is going to be about (a book review), who the author is, and how he wrote the book. Nothing too elaborate, but it helps to improve the flow of my essay and adds to my credibility overall. 

Body Paragraphs

It’s time to get down to business. The body paragraphs are the main meat of your paper. You’ll introduce the evidence to support the claim you made in your thesis statement.

Follow this body paragraph outline example: 

  1. Topic Sentence (What’s this paragraph about?)
  2. Evidence (Usually a quote, statistic, or historical document)
  3. Explain Your Evidence (Explain what the evidence means and how it relates back to your argument)
  4. Repeat
  5. Quick conclusion sentence (to summarize what you covered)

If you can’t quite picture it, check out this example with labeled parts:

(1) The international regime theory is, in essence, a liberal train of thought. It immediately is inconsistent with realist thinking because it operates under the assumption that non-state actors affect state behaviors, and that cooperation is possible even under anarchy. Under the classical realist school of thought, communication is one of the only factors that can affect wars and conflicts. (2, 3, 4) However, the international regime theory offers an opposing view because it argues that many outside factors, such as international regimes, can and do affect state behavior. A main liberal argument proposed by Oran R. Young is that in order to avoid nuclear accidents, we must adopt a regime, or a set of guidelines for states and non government organizations to operate under the same rules, which would encourage cooperation. Young maintains that an international regime would “minimize the frequency with which accidents occur… [and] facilitate the provision of sophisticated care for the victims of nuclear accidents” (Young 152). The vision Young holds of states adopting a common framework to prevent and deal with disasters deviates from the neorealist idea that certain states should have advantages over others, because if all states shared a common framework, it would be impossible for one to have any strong advantage. (5) Thus, the values expressed in the international regime theory do not align with those of the realist philosophy.

Conclusion

Your conclusion paragraph is your opportunity to tie up any loose ends and wrap up your paper as a whole. Start by summarizing the information in your body paragraphs and restating your thesis statement. 

For bonus points with your professor, address the “so what?” of your essay. In other words, the main takeaway or significance of your topic. Make a connection between your topic and society today. 

Sounds complicated, I know, but it doesn’t have to be!

Here’s an example from an A+ college essay of mine that discussed Death of a King, a book about Martin Luther King and the 1960s civil rights movement… 

Death of a King is more relevant today than ever, as the country divides itself further and racial tensions grow. America is still plagued by racism and discrimination, and we need Dr. King’s powerful message of peace to encourage us to set aside our differences. The riots and protests of the 1960s described in the book are jarringly similar to those in the year 2020. We as a country have certainly come a long way, but we still grapple with the same problems from some fifty years ago, which Death of a King highlights, making it a significant book for understanding and dismantling racism. 

See what I mean? Just a few sentences that connect the source material to current events or cultures will go a long way in demonstrating your understanding. 

Citations 

Citing your sources properly can be a bit confusing when you’re first getting started, but it’s truly a lot easier than it looks. 

First, establish which type of citation you’ll be using. Unless your professor has specified a different style, you should default to using MLA 8, the most recent edition. 

It essentially boils down to the author, the title, and the source or publication, in that order. 

Example of a Citation for a Book 

Here is a quick example of a citation that you would use if you’re quoting from a book…

Pauk, Walter, and Ross J.Q. Owens. How to Study in College. 11th ed., Boston, Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2014, pp. 12-14

The information for a book citation is listed in the following order:

  1. Author
  2. Title
  3. Edition
  4. Publication city
  5. Publisher
  6. Year of publication
  7. Pages cited

Example of a Citation for a Website

What about a website? Well, let’s take an example from Modern Teen! 

Friedman, Daniel. “How to Write a College Research Paper (With Examples)”. Modern Teen, 10 Aug. 2020, modernteen.co/how-to-write-a-college-research-paper. Accessed 23 Dec. 2020. 

The information for a website citation is listed in the following order: 

  1. Author
  2. Title
  3. Publisher/name of website
  4. Date published
  5. Link
  6. Access date

Parenthetical Citations

Once you’ve listed all your sources, you’ll need to add parenthetical citations within your text.

So, after every new idea, piece of evidence, or quotation you introduce, include where you got it from. Parenthetical or in-text citations usually consist of just the author’s last name, or the title of the source, if no author is listed.

If the source is a book or other printed text, include the page number, as well. Here are a few examples of parenthetical citations:

The main character is unbothered by the death of his mother, with whom he was not very close (Camus 3).
Camus used the novel to promote his personal philosophy that “the world was meaningless, absurd, and indifferent” (“The Stranger”).
The book was accepted for publication by the German cultural organization that “determined the fate of every new book” (Kaplan). 

When in doubt, use a free citation maker like MyBib or EasyBib. All you have to do is fill in the blanks that they provide, and they’ll format the citations for you.

These tools have been incredibly helpful over the years and have saved me tons of time and effort!

Works Cited

A works cited or bibliography page should always be the last page of your essay. It’s considered plagiarizing if you leave it out! 

You can’t write an A+ college essay without a works cited page. Fortunately, it’s quite simple to make… 

List your citations in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, indent after the first line of each citation, and double space the whole thing.

Here’s an example of a works cited page from the Purdue Online Writing Lab:

works cited college essay example

Again, when in doubt, turn to MyBib or EasyBib. Both sites provide downloadable works cited pages, free of charge. 

Revision

Finally! The last paragraph is finished, the works cited page has been added… you’re all done, right? 

Not quite. 

In order to turn in a polished, professional college essay, you’ll have to do some editing afterwards. But before you make any changes, spend a day or at least a couple hours doing something else.

Once you’ve cleared your mind a bit, grammar mistakes that looked just fine last night will become glaringly obvious. 

Read your paper out loud or run it through a text-to-speech program. Does anything sound clunky, out of place, or just plain wrong? Hearing it read back to you can illuminate errors that your eyes tend to gloss over. 

Lastly, you and your classmates are all in this together. Reach out to one of them and offer to swap essays for peer editing. Never underestimate the power of a fresh pair of eyes on your paper.

Final Thoughts

There’s enough information here to make your head spin, but stay calm! Follow this guide and you’ll know exactly how to write an A+ college essay. 

Do your research, plan ahead, and then jump right into the writing. Remember, you can always turn a bad first draft into an A+ essay, but you can’t do it with a blank page!

Good luck and happy writing!

 

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions leave them down below. Thanks for reading!

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