THE ART OF THE ESSAY

Choosing the right topic
Writing your college essay is not complicated. Conceiving a solid and compelling topic is.

When you choose a subject to write about, check to see if it stirs emotion in you. If it does, you’re headed in the right direction. If not, take a step back and search for another subject.

Your options
The College Board has provided five prompts to help you choose an essay topic (see post entitled “the 2015-16 college essay prompts). Four of the prompts ask you to reveal something about your personal experience. Find a topic that comes from a vivid, thought-provoking, or unforgettable memory. The fifth prompt asks you to describe a problem you solved or would like to solve. If you choose this prompt, write with passion and make sure you are deeply invested in your argument.

Just do it
Then start writing. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, logic or organization. Just put your thoughts on paper. You can start with random sentences, an outline or complete paragraphs. The more you write, the more form and shape your essay will take.

Visualizing the essay
If you were to draw a picture of a short essay it would be a circle.

It starts with a premise, dilemma, purpose or motive. Did you have a moment of uncertainty as you waited to hear the outcome of an audition? Did you deliver the eulogy at your father’s funeral? Did you have a terrifying experience when you were lost in a deeply wooded area?

Coming up with a thesis statement
Begin with a thesis statement: “I was 12 when I delivered my father’s eulogy;” “Assessment tests squeeze the joy out of learning;” “Climate change is no myth and here’s why.”

Putting things in context
Then set the stage by detailing the issue and putting the matter into context: describe the surrounding geography, landscape, scenery, or setting. Were you standing alone on the stage looking at rows of empty seats? Have assessment test scores dropped over the past five years? Was the church filled with mourners? What kind of trees surrounded you? Is there evidence that the Arctic icebergs are melting?

Finding a resolution
The resolution of the essay comes next. Tell your reader how you dealt with your failure or success. What did you learn by failing to win the part in the play? How did you cope with the loss of your father at age 12? How did you find your way out of the woods? What are the alternatives to assessment testing? What’s likely to happen as climate change progresses?

Reaching resolution requires research. Even a personal essay means asking family members questions to corroborate your memories and to confirm your hunch.

Reaching a conclusion
Finally, bring your essay full circle by tying it back to the beginning with a conclusive statement. Ending with a powerful statement often comes naturally to the essayist simply by writing a few drafts. The process will help you think deeply and rationally about your subject.