How to write a college essay fast

The college application process can be frantic. But even if you’re short on time, it’s still possible to write a great college admissions essay. Whether you have a week, a few days, or just a few hours until the deadline, follow these steps to get it done.

Organize: Set yourself deadlines with breaks

Whether you have hours, days, or weeks, set deadlines for yourself with built-in breaks. In general, you should divide your time accordingly:

  • 10% brainstorming
  • 10% outlining
  • 40% writing
  • 30% revising
  • 10% taking breaks between stages

If you have a few hours …

Brainstorming 15–30 minutes
Outlining 15–30 minutes
Writing 2–3 hours
Revising 1–2 hours

If you have a few days …

Brainstorming Day 1
Outlining Day 1
Writing Days 1, 2, and 3
Revising Days 2 and 3

If you have a week …

Brainstorming Days 1 and 2
Outlining Days 1 and 2
Writing Days 2–5
Revising Days 6–7

To brainstorm your topic fast, start by doing the following exercises.

Questions Example brainstorm
Top 5 things I want colleges to know about me
  • I’m an honors student.
  • I play basketball.
  • I am the youngest of five siblings.
  • I overcame dyslexia.
  • I love baking, comics, and biology.
My top 5 core identities
  • Male
  • Mexican American
  • Youngest brother
  • Knicks fan
  • Christian
Adjectives related to my personality and character
  • Honest
  • Caring
  • Dedicated
  • Loyal
  • Creative
3 things that make me different from other applicants
  • Die-hard Black Panther comic fan—have collected all the comics and attended the movie premiere
  • Extensive knowledge of history that has won me many trivia competitions
  • Learned sign language to be able to communicate with my sister
5 meaningful life moments from the past 3–4 years
  • When I earned my first paycheck
  • When I got my first car
  • When I played “Purple Rain” on the electric guitar for our town’s fall concert
  • When my father said he was proud of me
  • When I wrote and directed my own screenplay for a Tarantino-esque short with my friends
If you already have a prompt, brainstorm 3–5 stories that relate to your prompt. Common App prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  • Identity as a first-generation American
    • Value = family, trailblazer
  • Summer project improving apartment complex community
    • Value = community, compassionate
  • Interest in acoustic guitar and salsa music
    • Value = artistic, dedicated

    Choose the stories that have the most compelling value or narrative. Make sure these stories are:

    • Meaningful to you
    • Specific (not a broad summary of your life)
    • Unique to you (another student couldn’t replicate it)

    Outline: Choose a montage or narrative essay structure

    If you have a single story that showcases how you overcame a challenge or chronicles your personal growth over time, you should use a narrative structure. This type of essay tells a story, usually in chronological order. If you have very limited time, this structure is easier.

    If there’s a common theme among several of your stories, you could use a montage structure, which strings together several stories (for example, to showcase different aspects of your identity). If you have more than a few hours to work on your essay, you may want to try out this structure.

    Write: Be specific, personal, and unique

    To make your essay stand out, write your story in a way that no other student can replicate. As you write, keep these tips in mind:

    • Zoom in on specific moments rather than summarizing a long period of time.
    • Be vulnerable and share your honest feelings and thoughts.
    • Use your authentic voice and an appropriate tone.
    • Keep the focus on you, not another person.
    • Describe sensory details to create vivid scenes.

        Revise: Content, clarity, and grammar

        Make sure to build in enough time to revise your essay. Ideally, you should aim for three rounds of revision to check for content, clarity, and grammar.

        If you don’t have time to fix everything, focus on making sure your writing is clear and grammatically correct.

        In your first reading, focus on content:

        • Does it answer the prompt?
        • Does it focus on me, not someone else?
        • Does it have a clear and well-structured narrative?
        • Do my stories “show, not tell”?

        In your second reading, focus on clarity and flow:

        • Is my essay easy to read?
        • Are my word choice and tone conversational but respectful?
        • Do I have a good mixture of complex and simple sentence structures?

        In your third reading, focus on grammar and punctuation:

        • Is my writing grammatically correct?
        • If I bend language rules, is it clear that it’s intentional and not a mistake?

        If you have time, get help from an essay coach or editor; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback. Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

        Meeting the word count

        If your college essay goes over the word count limit, cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay. Scribbr’s essay editors can also help reduce your word count by up to 25%.

        If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

        Frequently asked questions about college application essays

        How do I write a college essay fast?

        If you’ve got to write your college essay fast, don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

        Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

        Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure.

        Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

        Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

        Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach. Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

        How do I meet the word count?

        If your college essay goes over the word count limit, cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

        If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

        How do I revise my college essay?

        When revising your college essay, first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style, and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

        Is this article helpful?
        Kirsten Courault

        Kirsten studied political economy at U.C. Berkeley and has seven years of experience as a writer, editor, and English teacher. She cherishes helping students unearth their unique stories for college admissions essays.

        1 comment

        Kirsten Courault
        Kirsten Courault (Scribbr Team)
        November 5, 2021 at 4:22 PM

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