Like any other kind of writing, the more you work on your college application essay the better it will become. That’s why implementing Step 17 of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done is so critical.

#17. Do more drafts.

Keep working, adding, deleting, refining. If there’s a sentence you just can’t seem to get right, toss out what you have and start from scratch. If a paragraph isn’t holding together, locate the problem phrase, sentence, incomplete or irrelevant concept or whatever and, like a master surgeon, operate on it. Whenever you think something isn’t as strong as it can be, chances are it isn’t. The words “good enough” should never be thought or spoken, in reference to any admissions essay.

Sometimes it’s the fourth draft that puts an essay over the top, sometimes it’s the fourteenth. How will you know? Well, that can be tricky. In my experience, however, there is usually a moment, after you’ve already completed many drafts, when you start to make changes and realize that what you have is more clear, powerful, well phrased or easy to read than the changes you are making. That’s usually it. The essay is done, at least until the next time you read it, and find that one word that can be improved.

All of the above comes off a commitment to do more drafts of your college application essay than you have ever done of any writing assignment. You do need to recognize, however, that changes aren’t always improvements. Be wary of making lateral changes, where you are more or less saying the same thing but using different words. There is an infinite number of ways to write a college application essay, you can’t hit all of them.

On a practical basis, reading the essay out loud, to yourself or someone else, will often reveal what parts of the essay need improvement. It’s a simple technique yet extremely effective. I’ve been suggesting it to students for the past eight years although I strongly doubt any of them has ever done it.

(Perhaps you, dear reader, will be the first. If so, please write and tell me how it went.)

For more personal help with the Common Application essay, supplemental or any other college application essays, please contact Craig Heller at, or 818-340-1276.

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