The Five Paragraph College Admissions Essay

By on November 17, 2010

College admission essays are unlike the essays and papers that you have to write for school.  Most students are familiar with the standard five paragraph essay that has an introduction, three body paragraphs that support the three main points of the essay, and a conclusion.  However, if you want to write an ivy league caliber college application essay you need to understand that the best personal statements tend to avoid this formulaic and often boring approach.  We’ve seen thousands of successful college essays and have also spent time working with students to improve their essays, and this is a common issue that comes up.

Reading successful sample college admission essays that were accepted into the country’s top universities will show you that the best ones tend to focus on a narrow, single topic and then use vivid storytelling and evidence to back up the one main point of the essay.  We were working with one student recently who had a great essay idea that dealt with how a problem helped him learned X, Y, and Z.  Three body paragraphs were used to expound on X, Y, and Z.  Instead of using vivid detail to draw the readers in, much of the essay was spent rehashing the three main things that were learned with similar topic sentences in each body paragraph as well as in the introduction and conclusion.  We worked with the student to narrow the essay down to focus on either X, Y, or Z, depending on which the student felt most reflected his personality and growth.  Sample undergraduate admission essays can often provide guidance on how the best writers manage to keep an essay focused.  Accordingly, we suggested that he read “A Roller Coaster Ride of a Lifetime.”  This is one of the essays on Acceptional that does an incredible job staying focused on one major lesson by telling the simple story of riding a roller coaster.  The majority of the essay describes in great detail the seemingly standard process of riding a roller coaster, followed by the lesson learned in the conclusion.  The student we were advising then came up with several instances during high school that truly exemplified the one specific lesson.  Then, he spent time improving the storytelling aspect, focusing on every little detail of the story that had the potential to subtly provide evidence for his main point instead of directly hitting the audience with the main point over and over.  It took many drafts for the student to get through this process, but each draft was significantly better than the previous.

Students have also found it helpful to go back and look at some sample college admissions essays after they’ve finished the personal statement.  It is helpful to use example essays as benchmarks to see how you compare in terms of things like focus, clarity, and detail.  So get away from that bland, standard five paragraph essay and use your college essay to make one, clear point to admission offices.

About Acceptional

Acceptional allows you to read successful college essays that have been accepted to some of the country’s top schools. Reading these college essays will help you understand what colleges accept, how a successful college essay is structured and what kinds of topics work. Click the link to get started reading some essays and get a leg up on other applicants.


One Comment

  1. Andre Tarquinio

    December 5, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    This is one thing that I was taught by my teacher junior year. I was told to try to avoid 5 paragraph essays as they become to formulaic. This can be especially true in the case of a personal statement made by you.

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