You’ve written your college application essay, shown it to parents, friends, teachers, even that neighbor down the block who once worked on the television show, Full House. Everyone’s signed off, told you it’s great. And yet, you wonder, are there any ways I can still improve it?
Here are six of them.
1. Read the essay out loud. This technique is extremely valuable and yet, unfortunately, often ignored. But reading the essay aloud will usually reveal flaws that you tend to overlook on the 400th time you’ve read it to yourself. Another variation here: Get someone else to read it to you and take notes as they do.
2. Punch up your opening
Shorten, tighten, do anything you can to get the reader asking a question that he or she knows will be answered in the body of the essay. Use strong, provocative statements, interesting quotes (real or imagined), crazy statistics, whatever works to pull the reader into your essay. The opening of your essay is like the springboard that gymnasts use in the vaulting event. If you hit it just right, it can carry you to the gold.
3. Change words that are repeated too often.
In tutoring students on their college application essays, I am often amazed how many times a student will use the same word, even within the same sentence. This lack of variety gives the essay a dullness that can be easily overcome by carefully identifying those words and substituting others. Use your naked eye or the Find command in MS Word, and once you locate the repeated words, replace them with a lively, vivid synonym.
4. Be sure your sentence structure is varied.
This is basic but again, often ignored. As you read through your essay, carefully note the sentence structure of each consecutive sentence, and make sure that you vary that structure from sentence to sentence.
5. Show, Don’t Tell
Although this concept is a basic of all good writing, it is surprising how often students forget about it in their college essays. Comb through your work and stay alert for places where you can illustrate a point (your excitement about being elected captain of the golf team, your confusion over whether to turn in a friend for cheating, whatever) rather than explain it. This will help draw the reader into your subject, feel what you are feeling, know you better and respond more favorably to your application.
6. Be aware of digressions
To guarantee that the meaning of your essay is clear, eliminate any point or information that doesn’t support your main theme, even if it is interesting on its own. As the essay evolves, statements that fit into the first draft will often be out of place on the fifth. Make sure that you haven’t held onto any of those statements, simply because you’re used to them or they sound good. Be ruthless!
The difference between a good essay and a terrific one is often how hard the student wants to work at it. Maximize the potential of your essay, and your chances for admission, by employing these six techniques to every essay you write.
For more personal help with the college application essay, contact Craig Heller directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 818-340-1276.