I know that for many seniors , the dreaded deadline for some college applications is just days away now. I also know that many of you are still hard at work revising, editing, and possibly even still writing your essays and personal statements.
You are experiencing one of the most exciting and yet one of the most uncertain times of your young lives. Getting into your dream school is what drives you forward, but the thought of getting rejected can also be scary and, as a result, might make some of you second-guess the overall effectiveness of your application essays. I’ve been through it before, each one of your teachers has been through this, and we’ve all been able to overcome this feeling, and so will you.
To help give you some assurance that your essays best represent you as an applicant, I’ve decided to compile the 5 most important tips to remember before you hit the submit button. Even if you have finished your applications, you might find this helpful for any future applications due, and I’ve also included some tips on not stressing about the outcome of your applications. Without further ado, here are things that you should remember about these essays:
Studies have shown that our brain works best in short spurts and not through long hauls of writing, editing, and revising. Therefore, the best advice I can give you when it comes to time management is to take some time to look away from your writing for a few long minutes, if not longer. It’s important to take this time not only to recharge your brain, but to allow yourself some time for some type of activity to gratify your hard work.
When I write, I have a routine. I will usually spend an hour writing, give or take depending on if I feel like I am at a good place to stop. After a solid chunk of time spent getting my thoughts on paper, I allow myself time to look away from it and do something else for 10-30 minutes.
What you do with this short break period is all up to you. You may use that time to take a bathroom break, have a meal, go for a nice brisk walk or run, do 100 sit-ups, listen to music, or watch a couple of YouTube videos. Whatever you do, make sure that it’s something that will get your energy back up and get the blood flowing to your brain again so that you can write or revise refreshed and ready to go.
Rather than burn yourself out with long writing or study sessions, break up your time for better success with your writing.
2. When you write about yourself, write with purpose
In the past month, I have read many of your college essays, and the one thing I notice about people’s essays is that while they might answer all parts of the prompt, they use overused or clichéd phrases used in nearly every essay that came before it.
Think about your essay from the perspective of a college admissions official: if you had the job of reviewing 300+ applications per day and you were on the last essay of the day, which of the following opening sentence would piqué your interest more as a reader?
“Two summers ago, I had an experience as a camp counselor that would change my life forever. I was a sleep-away camp counselor for the YMCA and learned many important things, including the value of hard work and the importance of having a positive attitude.”
“I spent many long days in the sun and sleepless nights on a lumpy mattress as a YMCA sleep-away camp counselor, but looking back to those summers, I wouldn’t trade any of the things I learned or people I met for a day to myself at the beach.”
While both sentences make clear point and contain relatively similar content, I would argue that the second sentence is a better opener. Though the first sentence has more content, it doesn’t convey as much feeling or purpose as it could. The first sentence is one you’ve probably heard in a million college essays, and to say that an experience “changed your life forever” doesn’t really say much about you or about that experience.
What do we learn about this person in the first sentence?
- We learn what they did and where
- We learn a couple of the things they learned.
While they did include specific things they learned, it would be better to illustrate that later through specific experiences or instances where you utilized certain skills. Here, plainly stating it works, but it’s not as engaging or purposeful as it could be.
Now compare this to the second sentence. We learn three important details:
- Life as a counselor is hard yet rewarding.
- An idea of the working conditions they experienced.
- This person is grateful for what they learned and the connections they made.
The second sentence, though not as dense, has more purpose in illustrating the author’s points and engages the reader in the author’s story.
In a way, you are telling a story about yourself through these essays. Thus, with such a short word count, it is important for every line to mean something, to carry out the goal of demonstrating who you are in the most accurate and honest ways possible. It is important to remember this as you write your first draft and as you revise as well.
3. If you have something to say, say it in as few words as possible.
This is an important thing to remember in revision. Many of you already know how stressful it is to convey yourself and your experiences properly with such a short word count. As much as you are telling a story about yourself, you are also meeting a quota as well. The admissions people need to get an idea about you in one reading of your essay before moving to the next applicant. As much as your writing has to have purpose, it needs to convey the details in as few words as possible. You have to make calculated decisions on what words or details to keep and which to omit.
The best question to ask yourself in this case is, “Does this detail have purpose in my writing?”
If it does, then ask, “How can I say this in fewer words and still make it have purpose?”
Let’s look at an example sentence from a hypothetical college essay for an architectural program:
“I am interested in pursuing architecture as a career because I want to be able to provide homes for people and to help people fulfill possibly the most vital element of their basic needs.”
Now while this sentence has a purpose in conveying why they are pursuing architecture, it contains 34 words and might be too long for an essay with a 250 word count, especially if prior sentences havesimilar length. Just by cutting down or changing some descriptions here and there, we can take the word count for this sentence down substantially:
“I wish to pursue a career in architecture to provide housing to those in need.”
This revised sentence retains some of the same wording and the same overall purpose, but is instead stated in 15 words. We’ve cut out some of the wordiness of the previous example. For example, “I wish to” uses one less word than “I am interested in”, so even in these minor places, we can save ourselves words. We’ve also cut the non-essentials, such as describing housing as a “vital element of their basic needs.” We as readers already know that housing as vital, so stating it is unnecessary, and “…provide housing for those in need” conveys the same message in fewer words.
So in half the words, we were able to say the same things. While you are editing, it should be your goal for every sentence to state things in as few words as possible without forgoing your original purpose for that sentence.
4. Before you submit anything, PROOFREAD it once…then again…and maybe once more after that.
Proofreading is one of those stages of the revision process that tends to be undervalued by students, but it is still very important. In order to effectively proofread your work, you want to take your time reviewing your writing as its most basic level. It’s not a matter of skimming your words, but rather focusing on each sentence to figure out if it makes the most sense that it can. If not, then you need to edit it.
When I proofread, I always make sure that I am repeating the words to myself in some way, whether I am reading out loud or mouthing the words to myself (such is the case when I’m in the library or another quiet place). This not only gives you a physical connection to your words on the page, but it also ensures that what you are reading on the paper makes sense to you as you read it out loud. When I’m proofreading, if I get to a place where the wording sounds awkward, I ask myself, “Is this how I would say this phrase if I were saying it to someone else?” If my writing doesn’t fulfill this criterion, I know to edit it so that it does.
As I’ve said, the process of writing is subjective, but when you edit or proofread, it is crucial that you proofread objectively for the sake of the reader. You have to remember that you are writing for others to read, and what’s most important is that your writing makes sense to your readers and to you as well. Reading out loud is beneficial for me, but whatever way you proofread, make sure you do so actively and attentively.
5. Realize that once you hit submit, everything is out of your hands.
This is a scary idea, I know. But the sooner you comes to terms with the fact that you have no control over your essays or the decisions after you’ve submitted everything.
Therefore, the best thing you can do with the time you have left is to make your writing the best that it can be so that youcan look at it and say, “I worked my hardest and did my best. It’s out of my hands now.”
Everyone has their path in life and their own unique experiences to share, as I have seen demonstrated in many of your essays. No one path is the same and though many of you have an idea of where you want to go, that can always change. No matter what happens, remember that your worth is not determined by the colleges you get into, but by the person you are and the experiences that have shaped you.
I tell you this because while some of you might get into your dream school, others might not, even if you had high test scores, a stellar GPA, and a handful of well-written essays. But that’s okay. You were meant to go somewhere else, meet different people and have your own unique experiences.
When I was seventeen, I wanted so badly to go to UCLA or Berkeley, but didn’t end up getting into either one of those schools when many of my friends did. It was embarrassing and devastating to me at first, but I learned I had to accept it and move on. I ended up committing to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in May 2012, and I don’t regret that decision one bit today. I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I had, the friends I made, or the people who are now such important parts of my life for a day of classes at UCLA.
Everyone ends up in the place where they belong, and you will, too. You just have to be open to new experiences and, most importantly, learn to move on when things might not go the way you envisioned. It’s all about mentally preparing yourself for the uncertainty ahead. But if you acknowledge this idea now, you’ll have a lot more success in accepting the results later on.
As I said, once your applications are in, you’re admission and/or rejection is at the hands of college admissions, so it’s best not to dwell on what you could have done differently. In the end, you did things the way that YOU and YOU ALONE were supposed to. That goes for your essays, applications, and your overall life.
So don’t worry about whats to come later. In the last days before your deadlines, work on conveying that YOU in the best way possible. Do this and you will have an even greater shot at success. Good luck!
And for goodness sake, please don’t wait until 11:59pm to hit submit!
Read. Write. Grow.
– Mr. S.