The College Essay: Revision Stage
Have your written your first college/university admission essay draft yet? Yes? Great! You’re in the right place.
Step One: Sleep On It
Editing directly after you’ve written something can feel productive, but it’s often worth it to put some distance between you and your recently-created piece of work. Even if it’s just a single day between writing and editing, you’ve stepped back and let your mind ruminate on it. Sleeping is a natural problem-solving mechanism, so get a solid eight hours in and then approach your essay with new eyes.
Step Two: Draft Two
While it’s hard to put a to-do list on the creative part of writing an admission essay, you can approach the revision stage with a solid game plan.
Pro-tip: Using Google Drive to keep track of your essay’s progress. Make a folder and label it “Admission Essay.” Inside that folder, put your first draft of the essay. For every subsequent draft, copy that first document and make your edits into the new one. Label them “Draft 1,” “Draft 2,” etc. This way, you can also easily share the documents with teachers, friends, or family for revision!
- Read through the entire essay. Do not edit anything.
- Bonus: Read the essay out loud.
- Think about the order of your essay. Often times, short essays can really be affected by the order of the events being told. Telling a story chronologically is typically the most straight forward. While it may not be the right way for your essay, it’s worth asking whether you’ve organized your piece appropriately for the story you’re telling.
- Fix grammar, punctuation, and any other minor mistakes. Sometimes the point of a story or essay can get lost in confusing language, so make sure your sentences clearly convey what you’re trying to say.
- Ask someone else to read it. Optimally, you’ll want this to be a mentor or teacher whose opinion you trust.
- Bonus: ask them what they took from the essay, not whether they liked it or not. What do they think the essay says about you? Does it accurately reflect you as an individual?
- Ask them what the best sentence in the entire piece is, could it make a good “hook” (a.k.a., good first line) for your essay?
Step Three: Sleep On It Again
For working so hard, there’s a lot of sleeping involved in this process, but it helps create space between you and what you’ve written. Even if the feedback you’ve received is largely positive, those few critiques can sting despite the fact that it’s constructive and necessary. Take a deep breath, get a few good nights of sleep in, and then take another look at your personal statement.
Step Four: Draft Three
While this may not end up being your final draft, you’re getting very close. This is the draft where you do some serious nitpicking, so put on your armor and let’s get to it.
Pro-tip: Never label a draft as your “final” anything. It dooms it.
- Review all feedback. If you’ve received feedback from multiple people, which is always a good thing, you’ll need to rank it. Whose opinion do you respect and trust most? Often, you’ll want to rank your teachers or guidance counselors higher than friends.
- Determine which feedback you want to take and which you disagree with. If you do disagree, why? Is it for a good reason?
- Don’t forget, this is still your essay and you need to be proud of it. Don’t turn your nose up at feedback, but don’t let your own voice get drowned out either. Logically assess the feedback and determine the best way to tell your story.
- Make the edits you want and (this time as a requirement) read your essay out loud. This does a few things:
- Does the essay sound like you?
- Does it flow well?
- It’s very easy to find sections that just don’t sound right, notice punctuation or grammatical errors, or find misspelled words when you’re reading aloud.
- Everything you noticed while reading out loud? Take some time and tweak the draft until it sounds just right. Read it out loud again.
- Get another set of eyes on it. Read it aloud to someone else.
- Make any final edits.
Step Five: Let It Rest
Did you know that after you cook a really good steak, you’re supposed to let it sit for ten minutes before chowing down? It’s called “letting the meat rest” and it allows the juices to marinate, reaching peak flavor levels. We’re going to treat your admission essay a lot like a really good steak. We’re now going to let it rest.
If you’ve started this process early enough, you can take advantage of as much as a month to let your essay sit on your hard drive or the cloud or wherever you’ve decided to keep it, and let your mind take a step back.
Now, check all of the dates that your applications are due. Keep a list, put them in your phone, in your daily planner, wherever you’ll keep track of them best. You’ll want to take another look at your admission essay a few weeks before you need to turn it in, and you’ll also want to begin any supplemental writing if a specific school requests it.
The application process can be harrowing and stressful, but you can do this. Get started early, keep exhaustive lists of everything you need to do, and ask for help when you need it. Everyone, guidance counselors, teachers, parents, and friends, all want to see you succeed!