What Are the Different Types of College Essay Formats?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2019
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There are essentially two major college essay formats in the US, which are the Modern Language Association (MLA) style and the American Psychological Association (APA) style. MLA style is one of the most commonly used formats for writing essays in college and is typically used in liberal arts classes, which means that MLA style is used by the majority of English majors and other liberal arts majors. APA style, on the other hand, is frequently used by students in science, both “soft” and “hard” science, so it is also one of the most commonly used college essay formats for students in the US.

MLA style is typically used by liberal arts majors and is the format that students focusing on language, literature, education, and English are most likely to use. It is a fairly simple and straightforward format with guidelines regarding page numbers, how the paper should be spaced, and citation of works referenced within the essay. Between the two major college essay formats in the US, it may be considered somewhat simpler since it does not require a title page or abstract.


APA style is typically utilized by those pursuing “hard” or “soft” sciences. Hard sciences are those most commonly thought of as “science” and include geology, chemistry, physics, and biology. Soft sciences are also called social sciences and include subjects such as sociology, anthropology, and psychology. All of these subject areas typically require the use of APA style from students, which utilizes different methods for citing works within an essay and does require the inclusion of a title page and an abstract at the beginning of the essay.

There are also more general college essay formats that can be used within the US and in other countries as well. The five paragraph essay, for example, is one of the most common and popular essay formats for use in high school and for use in some colleges both within and outside of the US. This simple format allows a student to structure an essay with an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs that provide the bulk of the paper, and a conclusion paragraph. Some professors may also have college essay formats they prefer, usually as alterations on more common formats. Students should always defer to the requirements and formats preferred by their professors, rather than adhering strictly to a more common format.


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