A couple weeks ago, I shared on LinkedIn a New York Times column about “annoying, overused and abused” words from 2013, and asked a group of college admissions experts for the most common offenders they found in college application essays.
The idea is that when you are editing a draft of your essay that you can try to spot words that don’t work, whether they were over-used, inaccurate, unnecessary, redundant or even not a word. And improve your essay.
When you first sit down to pound out your first draft, however, don’t even worry about what words you use. Just get it all out. This list is mainly for the process of self-editing, when you re-read your work and make changes to improve the clarity, flow and meaning. (more…)
College Admissions Essays
So you think you are done with your college admission essay or personal statement. Wait! You have worked so hard on that essay; it’s worth an extra few minutes to make sure it’s as good as you can make it. I know you are probably sick of it by now, so if you have time set it aside for a day or so. But before you send it out, give it at least one more critical read.
It’s fine if you don’t have all of these elements, but if you have some or most of them, chances are your essay will sing!
A grabber introduction. No? Try reading THIS POST and THIS POST to see if crafting an anecdote at the start will make it more compelling and memorable.
A twist. No? Try THIS POST to learn what these are and how to find them.
A universal truth or life lesson. No? There’s a good chance you already have one, but just didn’t recognize it yet. Read THIS POST to check yours.
A snappy title. No? My advice is to include a title if you can think of a clever one. Otherwise, just leave it out. Read THIS POST to help think of one.
Under word count. No? Read THIS POST to learn how to cut your essay and why it almost always helps.
DON’T PUSH THAT BUTTON YET!!
And make sure to read THIS POST on the steps to take to “fine edit” your college application essay and give it that winning polish!
I’m sure it’s perfect now! Good luck!
College Admissions Essays:
How To Fine Edit Your College Application Essay
You are finally finished with your essay. It’s time to copy it into the online application and send it off. You’ve worked hard. Why not make sure it’s fabulous? Follow this checklist to double check that it’s as good as it should be:
- Read your prompt (the question) one more time. Often a prompt will ask you to answer more than one question, or address several points. Make sure you address or answer them all!
- Did you make your point? (Yes, that’s the same thing as your “main point.”) You should be able to state it in a sentence or two. And it should be stated somewhere in your essay as well. If you can’t do this, chances are your essay is too broad, and too broad means boring.
- Do you prove the (main) point you are making in your essay? Did you provide examples as “evidence”?
- When you give examples in your essay, or describe something, are you specific? Use details!
Ok, time is up. Well, almost. As long as you can quickly identify a couple of strong topics for your essays, there’s still time to pound out good ones.
Here’s the best advice I know on writing first drafts, from one of the best writers out there. A quirky woman named Anne Lamott (check out her picture at the bottom!). Ignore the weird hair. She’s THE BEST. Read on:
“For me and most of the writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Anne Lamott, from the best book on writing, called Bird by Bird.
“All good writers write them (shitty first drafts). This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. …” more from A.L. and Bird by Bird.
Okay. Do you love her? Despite the potty language–or because of it–she’s spot on. To move forward, you have to take a good idea, get a simple plan and sit down and write it out. It won’t be great at first. That’s just how it goes. Then all you do is go back, and fix it up.
DO IT!! If you need help getting going, check out my Jumpstart Guide.
“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” From author Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing.
What do you skip when you read? The long paragraphs that go on and on and lose your interest, right? So when you read back your own essay, and you hit one of those dull spots, either cut it back or take it out.
Students often want feedback on their college admissions essays, but are not sure where to turn. Here’s my advice:
1.Be very selective who you show it to. Remember, writing is subjective: one person might love your essay and another might hate it. Parents can be great sounding boards, and so can teachers, counselor and friends. Watch out for parents, teachers and counselors who don’t understand that real-life stories make the best essays, and try to take out the best parts (Many mistakenly believe students should only include “impressive” achievements and experiences. This is not true.).
2. Ask for specific feedback. Hand the reader a print-out and red pen and ask them to underline the parts they like and put stars by the parts they find dull or confusing. Don’t ask for anything more. If you agree with their feedback, keep the good stuff and work on the bad—either change it or cut it.
3. Be your own editor. Read it out loud to yourself to spot places where it bogs down. Trust yourself. If you like what you hear, chances are others will, too. If it sounds awkward or too wordy, it probably is—so fix it!
4. Ask your readers specific questions, such as:
1. Does this essay grab your interest at the beginning?
2. Do you get an idea of what I care about and value?
3. Are there any parts that are confusing or don’t make sense?
4. Do I come across as a likeable person? (Are there any specific words or sentences that make me sound unlikeable?)
5. Can you tell what personal quality or characteristic I’m trying to showcase in this essay?
5. Always make sure you proofread one last time. Once you are done with your essay, and want someone to proofread, tell them you only want feedback on errors, not content. Also, you need to proofread it yourself right before you push the button to send it off—often students make last-minute changes and accidentally add errors.