Should a College Essay Be in MLA Format? Exploring Formatting Guidelines for Academic Writing

When it comes to writing college essays, proper formatting is an essential aspect that contributes to the overall professionalism and clarity of your work. One commonly used formatting style is the Modern Language Association (MLA) format. However, the question arises: should a college essay be in MLA format? In this article, we will delve into the guidelines and considerations surrounding MLA formatting for college essays By understanding the purpose and benefits of MLA format, you can make an informed decision on whether to adopt it for your academic writing.

Understanding MLA Format

The MLA format is a widely accepted style for academic writing in the humanities, including literature, language, and cultural studies. It provides a set of guidelines for formatting essays, research papers, and other scholarly works. The MLA format covers various aspects, including the structure of the paper, in-text citations, and the Works Cited page.

Benefits of Using MLA Format

Consistency and Uniformity: MLA format ensures consistency in the presentation of academic papers, allowing readers and instructors to easily navigate and understand the content.

Scholarly Standards: MLA format aligns with the scholarly standards of the humanities disciplines, promoting clear communication and effective documentation of sources.

Proper Attribution: MLA format emphasizes the importance of properly crediting and citing sources, thereby avoiding plagiarism and giving due credit to the original authors.

Ease of Reading: MLA format employs a legible and organized layout, with clear headings and subheadings, making it easier for readers to follow the flow of ideas.

Accessibility: Many academic institutions, libraries, and writing centers are familiar with and provide resources for MLA format, making it readily accessible for students.

Considerations for College Essays

While MLA format offers numerous benefits, it is important to consider certain factors when deciding whether to use it for your college essays:

Assignment Guidelines: Always adhere to the specific formatting requirements provided by your instructor or institution. In some cases, they may specify a different formatting style, such as APA or Chicago style, depending on the subject or course.

Discipline-Specific Requirements: Different disciplines may have their own preferred formatting styles. For instance, scientific disciplines often use APA format. If your essay pertains to a specific field, it is advisable to consult discipline-specific guidelines or seek clarification from your instructor.

Clarity and Readability: The primary goal of formatting is to enhance the readability and coherence of your essay. While MLA format offers a clear and structured layout, ensure that your chosen formatting style aligns with the overall readability and organization of your content.

Audience Expectations: Consider your target audience when deciding on the formatting style. If you are writing for a specific academic community, it is essential to follow their preferred style to meet their expectations.

Steps to Format an Essay in MLA Style:

If you choose to use MLA format for your college essay, here are the key elements to consider:

Page Setup: Use standard 8.5″ x 11″ paper with 1-inch margins on all sides. Set the font to a legible typeface such as Times New Roman or Arial, with a font size of 12 points.

Heading and Title: Place your name, instructor’s name, course, and date in the upper left corner of the first page. Include a centered title that reflects the focus of your essay.

In-Text Citations: Use parenthetical citations within the body of your essay to attribute information to the appropriate sources. Include the author’s last name and the page number(s) for direct quotes or paraphrased information.

Works Cited Page: Create a separate page titled “Works Cited” that lists the full bibliographic information for all the sources cited in your essay. Arrange the entries alphabetically by the authors’ last names. Follow the specific MLA guidelines for formatting each type of source, such as books, journal articles, websites, or multimedia sources.

Inclusive Language and Grammar: When writing in MLA format, it is important to use inclusive language and follow the principles of grammar and punctuation. Ensure proper capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure to maintain the clarity and professionalism of your essay.


While MLA format offers several benefits for college essays, the decision to use it ultimately depends on the specific requirements of your assignment, the expectations of your audience, and the conventions of your discipline. It is crucial to follow the guidelines provided by your instructor or institution when formatting your essay.

MLA format provides a standardized structure that enhances the readability and coherence of your academic writing. Its emphasis on proper citation and attribution ensures that you give credit to the original authors and avoid plagiarism. However, it is essential to consider the unique requirements of your field of study and the expectations of your readers when determining the appropriate formatting style.

Remember that the ultimate goal of formatting is to present your ideas clearly and effectively. Whether you choose to use MLA format or another style, prioritize consistency, readability, and proper citation throughout your college essay. Consult your instructor or writing resources at your institution for further guidance on formatting guidelines specific to your academic context.