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Create your essay’s structure

Choose your favorite essay and add placeholders

This is

Where you choose the structure of your college essay and add some placeholders…quick notes about what you may need to add or work on in the Writer phase.

Do this because

You gotta work on something!

You almost can’t go wrong in this step. You’ll probably move things around some in the Writer phase so think of this as the starting point for the final phase of writing your college essay.

Now, do this

If you didn’t take a break after playing with your food and creating your structures, please take one! It’ll help your brain reset and will make choosing easier.

If you have time, take a couple of days. If the deadline is right around the corner, go do something else for a half hour.


Reestablish your strong foundation.

Professional writers always have their foundation in the back of their minds–and sometimes they bring it the forefront. This is one of those times.

Know your audience
A college admissions officer – a nice, energetic person who’s been staring at applications for months. She just wants to get to know you. And to read something that will brighten her dark, dreary day of reading bad college essays.

Know your intention
In general, you’re writing an engaging, authentic short story that shows who you are.
And, you’ve created specific intentions for what you want to communicate.

Read over all your personal intentions (which include at least five of your top ten strengths).

Know your role
To write the kind of engaging, authentic short story that shows who you are and that an admissions officer will be happy to read, imagine that you’re sitting around the campfire telling your friends your story.


    Read your options.

    Read one of your options top-to-bottom. Ask yourself a few simple questions:

    • Do I have a good gut feeling about this? Do I think it could be the one?
    • Do I like or dislike the way it flows? You may not.
    • Any thoughts or observations about why this works or doesn’t work?

    Jot down a few notes, shake your head a few times to clear your mind, and read the next option.

    Do this for each option.


      Ask yourself these questions.

      Remember that right now you’re not dealing with your essay’s opening, ending, or transitions. There may be some gaps. That’s ok — you’ll start to fill those in soon.

      • Is there an option that jumps out and makes you say, yeah, no contest, that’s the one! (If so, then that’s the one and you can go to step 4).
      • Are there options that you just plain don’t like? (Change the text color of those to light grey. They’re still there, but you can tell they’re out of the running.)

      For options that are left:

      Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and imagine that you’re reading the finished, polished version of this essay. Here are some questions to ask yourself for each option:

      • Is there one that may make for a more engaging read?
      • Is there one that may be easier for you to craft into a final essay?
      • Is there one that starts and ends with stories or events that you want to highlight? 
      • Is there a progression that makes sense from beginning to end? There may be parts that are surprising, there may be mysteries along the way, but by the end does it all make sense?
      • Does it start in a place where you want to bring the audience into the story?
      • Does it end in a way that (when it’s polished) it can have the sense of either “that’s the end of this story” or “that’s the end of this chapter of life, more to come…”?



        Yeah. Just choose.

        Create a new document and copy in the winning structure.

        We like to call it the Writer Draft. That’s what you’ll be working on in the Writer phase.

          If you’re having doubts or ugly thoughts going through your head
          You may have a thought like one of these going through your head:

          • I don’t want to get this wrong/I need to get it right.
          • This is not perfect!
          • How am I ever going to make this a great essay?
          • I don’t want to miss anything/I’m sure I missed something.
          • I just can’t decide.
          • Etc.

          If you’re having thoughts like this…you’re normal! Perfectly, 100% normal. Welcome to the club!

          You’ve done the work to get here. As long as you know that the content communicates your intention (even if it’s horribly written, has no transitions, or has some gaps) then you’re ok. It’s pretty hard to go wrong here.

          We’ll show you how to bring it to life and polish it up in the Writer phase. Promise.


          Add placeholders (one of the coolest pro-level writing tricks of all time).

          You may have some gaps in your essay–that’s normal. Placeholders will make it easier for you to work on and read. You’ll also remember what you need to do if you step away from the essay for a while.

          [[[Red, bold, and brackets]]] make them impossible to miss if you’re looking at a screen or if someone is reading a b/w print version of your work

          Do your work in the Writer Draft document.

          First, add your beginning, ending, and transition placeholders. They can be as simple as this:

          [[[fantastic opening line]]]
          [[[smooooooth transition]]]
          [[[perfect ending]]]

          If you have specific ideas for opening, ending, or transition placeholders, include those:

          [[[open with quotation about the monkey and the car wash]]]
          [[[transition connecting the car wash to the bananas]]]
          [[[end with deep thoughts about monkeys]]]

          Finally, make placeholders anywhere you think you can add or modify something (you may know what you need to add, or may just know something is missing):

          [[[add dialog with dad at the ice cream parlor]]]
          [[[add how excited I was when I discovered Rocky Road ice cream]]]
          [[[need deep thoughts about how ice cream made me see beauty in the world]]]

          Now, if someone reads your essay, they’ll know that you know where something is missing.

            You're ready to move on when

            • You’ve chosen your essay structure.
            • You created a new document with your essay.
            • You’ve added placeholders.
            This is the rough draft of your college essay!