Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Writing College Application Essays: 5 Editing Tips

You’ve chosen the topic for your college application essay and written a draft or two. It’s a bit longer than you’d like and feels like it rambles in places. Now what? Edit.

Editing your college application essay will help make your thoughts flow more easily and your ideas stand out. It will certainly make it a more enjoyable reading experience for the college admissions reader.

Here are 5 tips for good editing:

1. Be objective. Take a step back and pretend you’re the college admissions reader. You’re looking for how well the student (you) writes, organizes your thoughts, and presents a picture of what makes you unique.

2. Don’t fall in love with your prose. You may have written the best sentence of your life in your college application essay, but if it doesn’t fit it has to go. Just to be clear: If it’s not helping you make your point, let it go. Cutting a great sentence can be painful, but take heart in knowing that you’re not alone. All writers have had to press that delete key, and hesitated a long time before doing it. It’s tough, but it’s necessary. Just remember, it’s the strength of what’s left that counts, and how your essay finally comes together as a whole.

3. Read your essay out loud. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to see where you need editing. You should be able to read your college application essay easily, without stumbling or stopping. If you stumble it’s possible your sentence structure is too formal. Or perhaps you’ve gone overboard with a string of adjectives, or used words that sound like they came from a thesaurus instead of directly from you. Take note of the rough spots, work on those areas, and then read it out loud again. This is an editing tip that works wonders.  (For more tips on how to write in your own voice, read my previous blog post, “Finding Your Authentic Voice.”)

4. Editing can be about adding as well as subtracting. Often we think of editing as removing something that’s not wanted. But when you re-read your essay you might find that an idea or transition doesn’t work not because there’s too much prose, but because there’s too little. If that’s the case then you need to add a sentence or two. If you’re not certain, ask someone who hasn’t read your essay to read it and make sure they understand the points you’re making. If they’re not as clear as you’d like them to be, you may be missing something.

5. Sleep on it. Put at least one night’s sleep between you and your college application essay. Then go back and read it again. It will do wonders for your objectivity and your editing.


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College Essay Writing: Will The College Think You’re A Match?

I had lunch this weekend with a friend from Norwalk, Connecticut, who told me about the essay help her daughter had gotten from a high school teacher. The teacher asked her students to be very creative with their ideas, and my friend’s daughter wrote about a dream to fly in hot air balloons.  My friend said the essay was good; it was interesting, filled with ideas and a good sense of self, and was, indeed, very creative. But it wasn’t a good submission for their daughter. Why? Because this young lady was applying to a physician assistant’s program, and her parents felt she needed to show that her goals matched the goals of the school. They were right.

If this young lady were an aspiring writer or pursuing another form of the arts, a creative essay on balloon flight might have served her well. But for her, the essay didn’t achieve an important purpose.

Colleges want to see that you can write creatively about your goals and aspirations. But colleges also want to see that you understand who THEY are. Do you understand their educational philosophy? Can you show them how you’ll fit in and make a positive contribution to their school? Are you a match?

Given the program she wanted to attend, this young lady hadn’t done that. She needed to make a change.

So my friend’s daughter wrote a different essay, discussing the influences in her life that led her to want to care for others. She was creative, but she also found ways to show the college that she was a good match for their program. It was a good essay choice. This year, her mother told me, she’s starting their physician assistant’s program.


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“Can I Write About Abortion?” and Other Controversial Application Essay Subjects

A few days ago a student I was working with from Stamford asked me if she could write about abortion.  Half an hour later she was back on the phone asking if she could write about drugs.

Should you write about controversial subjects in your college application essay? I don’t recommend it. You don’t know who’s reading your essay. He or she might have a real problem with the subject matter or the side of the topic you decide to take. You just don’t know. Why take the risk when the process is already so competitive?

If you still want to go ahead, you have to cover your subject matter maturely, from both sides. That’s not to say you can’t have your own ideas. You can and you should. But there’s no room for petulance.

Why, by the way, are you writing about this subject? Are you passionate about it? Do you have a personal experience dealing with it? Does it somehow reflect (or affect) your sense of self in the world,  your sense of right and wrong? I asked the young woman who called me, and she gave me an interesting answer. She said that lately some of her struggles with her parents had been over their differing ideas of right and wrong. She extrapolated from that, and ended up at abortion and drugs.

What had happened was the student started with a personal experience, and then, feeling she had to have a “big topic,” chose one that she actually had very little connection to.  The connection she had was to her own experience, her own sense of right and wrong. I asked her to think about that and perhaps develop it into what could be a compelling essay — a true personal statement.

Every college essay has to reflect the writer — who you are, your interests, your goals and personality.  If you’re going to write about a controversial subject you’re taking a risk. But ultimately the subject has to boil down to you.