College essay tips

Alex Diana was born and raised in Long Island, NY. She continued to pursue her higher education on Long Island at Adelphi University in Garden City, NY. Alex received her BFA in photography in May of 2014. Additionally, she spent a semester abroad in Italy at Florence University of the Arts. Post graduation, Alex has continued to pursue her interest in the arts by developing a freelance career in design and photography.

Picture this: it is 5 AM and a frazzled college student stares at a half-written essay that is due in three hours. It is a situation that is all too relatable, and not fun to be in. During my four years of college I was routinely bombarded with writing assignments. All too often I’d be spending all-nighters putting the finishing touches on an essay that I had known about weeks in advance. I wasn’t even a huge procrastinator, I just happened to struggle with communicating my thoughts in a timely manner. It wasn’t until my senior year when I had three term papers and a monstrous thesis essay that I really observed and tested systems that helped boost productivity in my writing speed. If there is any wisdom that I can pass along to future generations of college students, it would be my series of tips to developing faster essay writing skills.

The first essential step in decreasing the time spent laboring over an essay is planning your argument, or thesis statement. I always found that the essays that were the easiest to write (and received the best marks on) were the ones in which my topic was coherent and easily defended by supporting details. Having trouble finding your angle? It helps to try talking about the essay topic with a friend. If a thesis can be explained and supported without any confusion it is a good sign that there will be a concrete position taken in the essay.

Another useful tool in planning the paper is to color coordinate the main points within the essay. Since college papers tend to be more nuanced and less structured than the traditional 5 paragraph analytical essays taught in high school, it can sometimes be easy to go off topic. Color coordinating these main ideas helps to reinforce the essay structure, and ensure that every idea presented connects back to the thesis statement. I never thought to try this until I had a professor that instructed the class to send in an assignment labeling the thesis statement, topic sentences and transition points. This method definitely helped my visual brain to effectively organize my cluttered thoughts.

Now that the essay’s outline is in place it is time to get down to writing! I found that when writing long papers it is crucial to find a suitable work environment. It goes without saying that this boils down to a matter of preference; for example, I tend to work better in active environments with some noise and activity. As a result, my campus cafe’ and library were two of my favorite haunts. I also change up my music playlist. I have found I become more focused when listening to classical music or jazz. Since I don’t regularly listen to either of these genres, they have been designated as my “study music”.

A final helpful tip to staying focused is to write in short bursts. I began setting a timer on my phone and would challenge myself to finish a paragraph before the alarm sounded. To my surprise I often finished writing way before the time was up! This is a method of working that really starts to come in handy when given assignments with large page requirements. A 15 page paper due at the end of the month may initially seem like an insurmountable task, but when breaking it down to mini goals (like writing one page a day) it becomes much more feasible.

College life can be super busy. With parties, Greek life, sports, and extracurricular clubs, one’s calendar can fill up so quickly with social engagements, that it can become difficult to budget ample time for school work. These simple tricks will maximize writing efficiency to help ace that next class and still get the most out of the college experience.

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