How to Write a College Essay Outline

Your college essay outline presents a logical progression of ideas.

Write a college essay outline to stay focused on your topic and make arguments that persuade. Outlines present a topic’s bare bones, showing its logical breakdown from the general to the specific. They also organize your thoughts so your essay won’t trail off into irrelevant subjects. If written in the full sentence format, your essay’s outline guides the argument from minor points to major propositions that ultimately prove your thesis.

Focus on the essay question first. According to Scholarship Help, make sure you understand its topic. For example, if the question asks you to argue that President Theodore Roosevelt was hasty in concluding muckraker journalists were inspiring anti-government sentiments, your outline should not summarize the history of muckraker journalism in the United States. (

Develop topics for the essay. Jot down ideas based on what you know about the topic.

Organize the ideas to bring related topics together. Then select the most general ideas to be main headings. Select more specific topics as subheadings. For example, an essay outline on the history of U.S. policies toward the Native Americans might group together ideas on “federal policies,” “legislation” and “administrative policies.” You might choose “federal policies” as the more general topic with the more specific topics of “legislation” and “administrative policies” under it.

Decide on a format. Choose capital letters, Roman numerals, Arabic numerals or lowercase letters.

Formulate a thesis for the outline. Put the thesis at the beginning of the outline and label it as such.

Write each heading in a full sentence that argues a point. For example, if your first main heading is “The Governor’s Education Policy,” you might write a full sentence like, “The Governor has proposed a new education policy that both political parties are criticizing.”

Turn each subheading into a full sentence that supports the main heading’s argument. For example, if your first subtopic is, “Reaction of Democrats”, you might write a full sentence that says, “Democratic leaders in the state senate are urging their members to oppose the governor’s new policy.”

Complete the outline by reviewing the heading and subheading sentences. From beginning to end, your sentences should make several strong arguments (the main headings) that are each well-supported by two or more key points (subheadings).

Michele Vrouvas has been writing professionally since 2007. In addition to articles for online publications, she is a litigation paralegal and has been a reporter for several local newspapers. A former teacher, Vrouvas also worked as a professional cook for five years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Caldwell College.