An interesting fact about written material is that everyone has an opinion about it.  After all, most people have at some time in their lives written something – anything – which they feel qualifies them to be the last word in literary criticism. But that shall remain a gripe for another blog series. Today we will be discussing Number Twenty Three of the twenty five ways to make your college application essay the best writing you’ve ever done.

#23. Manage the Feedback

Before you finalize your essay, it is always a good idea to seek an opinion of it from others. Often, a fresh perspective will pinpoint mistakes or weaknesses you might have missed and you can address them before you submit. On the other hand, however, when you ask for an opinion you’re going to get it, even if that person doesn’t know the first thing about what an effective college essay looks like. So here are a few ways to manage that feedback.

  1. Don’t show the essay too early.

By sharing early drafts with outside readers, you risk having them point out flaws you might have fixed on your own. This can be discouraging, feel overwhelming, and even cause the writer to give up on an idea that would have made a terrific essay. Instead, wait until you feel you’ve done the best job you can to that point, then bring in your readers.

  1. Use three qualified readers per draft

By getting a variety of opinions, you will be able to discern which notes represent legitimate issues with your essay. General rule: If only one of your readers has a problem with a particular aspect of the essay, make the change only if you absolutely agree with the assessment. If two of the three readers agree that something needs to be fixed, lean toward making the change but still reserve the right to disagree. If all three mention the same issue, fix or change it.

  1. Don’t be defensive

The best way to receive notes is to listen with an open mind, making notes of your own on what is being said. If you happen to disagree with something your reader mentions, you can reply with an innocuous statement such as, “Okay, I’ll take a look at that,” or “Interesting observation.” Taking it even further, you can entertain the thought that the reader is onto something – play along, engage in a discussion about it – and see where it goes. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, this can even reveal a better idea than the one you have. In all cases, avoid turning the note-giving session into a debate. Listen, keep your opinion of their opinion to yourself, thank them for their time.

  1. Don’t take every note

Notes are great but you can’t be a slave to them. Even if what your reader is saying makes sense, you still have to be judicious about which notes you want to incorporate. Sometimes the note might be a lateral idea – not an improvement, just different – and you have to decide whether the change is worth it. Other times, following too many notes will start to erode the through line of your essay. You are still the author of the essay, so don’t lose control of it.

  1. Ask questions

If you don’t understand what your reader is saying about your essay, don’t pretend you do; ask her what she means. This will do one of two things – reveal that the reader’s point is weak, or clarify the issue so you can better address it – and either way you come out ahead.

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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