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Academic Resource Center: College Essays

Step 1: Choose a TOPIC

With the help of your college counselor, choose a topic. Write your topic as a STATEMENT that will guide you as you write your essay. Keep in mind that the statement itself may not actually appear in the essay.

Meeting my German host mother, a fellow stutterer, helped me acquire self-confidence.

Step 2: List 3 POINTS

Make a list of three POINTS that support your topic. The points for the topic above would be:

  • What I was like before I knew Monica: ashamed, inhibited.
  • How Monica influenced me: I admired her self-acceptance and confidence.
  • What I am like now, since I’ve known Monica:  self-accepting and bolder.

Step 3: Create a SCENE

In the first paragraph, illustrate your first point with a SCENE.  Include one or more characters, a setting, action, emotion, and either dialogue (conversation) or what you are thinking.  (The word limit for your essay will govern how long your scenes can be.)

Count to twenty. Now imagine walking into Starbucks. As you make your way up to the counter, the delicate smell of brewing coffee arouses your senses. You politely ease your way through the herd of people gathered in front of the register and meet the eyes of the cashier. She acknowledges your presence with a slight nod as irritable grunts set in around you. You open your mouth to begin speaking, but nothing comes out. Silence. You continue to stand there, lips spread wide. Embarrassment overtakes you as the herd glares in your direction. The cashier remains motionless, unsure of how to cope with the silence. As time stretches onwards, your cheeks burn with shame. The herd begins to giggle uneasily, and some even go as far as to point. Twenty seconds pass before you are able to break the silence with a mumbled, "M-M-M-M-May I h-h-have a g-g-grande l-l-l-latte?" With an awkward smile, the cashier reaches for your gift card, and you retreat with your head tucked deep into your chest.

This scene shows what the author, Andrew, was like before he met Monica.  It draws the reader in with its specificity of detail (the smell of coffee, the blush on Andrew’s cheeks, etc.) and its emotion (embarrassment and shame). This is demonstrating the method of showing and not telling, which is critical for College Essay writing.

Step 4: EXPLAIN the Scene

In the second paragraph, EXPLAIN what point the scene illustrates, and make a TRANSITION into the next point.

[EXPLANATION:] It was moments like these that made me truly ashamed of who I was. Ever since the age of six, I have stuttered. And before I traveled to Munich this past summer, I wished every morning that I would wake up without my stutter. I would often avoid answering the phone, even conversing with my family, anything to abstain from speaking. I was terrified of what other people would think of me when I stuttered, and so in an attempt to escape humiliation, I would simply keep quiet.   [TRANSITION:] Yet, I could no longer live my life running from the opportunities I so fervently desired to experience. I craved to be myself, to do the things that I wanted to do, regardless of my stutter. And so I gathered the courage to spend three weeks alone in Germany.

Andrew explains how his stutter used to inhibit him and provides a transition into the next point by introducing his trip to Germany.

Step 5: Create a Second SCENE

In the third paragraph, illustrate your second point with a SCENE.

When my plane landed in Munich, my host mother came barreling into my arms. The amount of joy in her hug overwhelmed me. I had been with her for less than a minute and already I was a part of her life. What truly grabbed me, however, was the way she introduced herself. While still embracing me, she squeaked, "Hello! My name is Monica, and I stutter." My heart stopped. The first words out of her mouth were the ones I feared the most. When she stepped back to look at me, I could not take my eyes off of her smile. She did not have a hint of shame in her voice. She was proud to be a stutterer.

This scene demonstrates Andrew’s shock and admiration upon meeting Monica.  It draws the reader in with its sensory details (the squeak of Monica’s voice, the stopping of Andrew’s heart) and its emotion (joy, fear, shock, pride).

Step 6: Repeat and TRANSITION

In the fourth paragraph, repeat Step 4 and EXPLAIN what point the prior scene illustrates, make a TRANSITION into the third point, and state the third POINT. 

Step 7: END with a Scene

In the fifth paragraph, illustrate your last point with a SCENE.