Finalizing and Submitting the Essay: College Admissions Essay Help (page 3)
Once you have a rough draft of your essay, you're ready to transform it into a polished piece of writing. The polishing process consists of three steps: revising, editing, and proofreading. Bring out the magnifying lens you used to narrow and focus your content; it's needed again.
Revision lets you look at your essay as a whole; pay attention to the main issues involved in its crafting. Have you addressed the topic? Is there a logical flow to your ideas or story? Is each paragraph necessary and properly placed?
Editing brings the magnifying lens closer, allowing you to look closely at words and sentences. Are your word choices appropriate and fresh? Are there any repetitive or awkward sentences or phrases?
Finally, the proofreading step magnifies even closer. You will check each word for errors in spelling, and also correct any other mechanics mistakes, such as grammar and punctuation.
Many writers are tempted to skip the revising, editing, and proofreading steps. They may feel intimidated by the thought of reworking their writing, and hope that their essays are good enough. But this process doesn't have to be difficult. This chapter includes many ideas that you can use to quickly improve the quality of your writing. The bottom line: there is no excuse for submitting a personal statement that is not the very best writing you are capable of.
Revision, meaning to visit or look at again, is the most general reexamination of your essay. The process can seem overwhelming—you need to look at your entire essay with fresh eyes and ears, check to see if you have achieved your goal, and decide if any sections of the essay need improving. There's no need to worry; breaking it down into four parts (one of which simply involves waiting) makes it more manageable:
- Put down your essay and don't look at it for at least one day before revising.
- Read it through once and imagine you're reading it for the first time.
- Note your reactions to the essay and answer the following:
- Does the content of your essay address or match the topic?
- What does your essay say about you? Does it tell the admissions committee something they couldn't have learned from the rest of your application?
- Will your essay help you stand out against those who have similar GPAs, class ranks, and test scores? Is it memorable and interesting?
- Would any reader(s) understand everything you've written, or are some points in need of clarification?
- Is your introduction a good hook that draws the reader into the essay, or should it be eliminated or rewritten?
- Does your writing flow? Does it follow a logical progression with each paragraph and point made in the right place?
- Is your writing personal? Does it sound like you, or could it have been written by someone else?
- Does your conclusion make sense? Does it make a lasting impact or is it just a wrap-up of what you've already said?
- Make any necessary changes, and be willing to add and/or remove writing that isn't working.
- Word processing makes revising easy; make changes, see if they improve the essay, and then save the changes or try again.
- Consider adding colorful anecdotes.
- Remove any unnecessary adjectives.
- Replace ambiguous language with more precise words and phrases.
- Delete anything that is not relevant to and distracts from your point.
- Move paragraphs, sentences, and words if they fit better somewhere else.
Editing your essay means checking, and improving when necessary, the words you've chosen and the sentences in which those words appear. As you edit, you'll read through each paragraph a number of times, paying careful attention to sentences and the words that comprise them. While some students can edit effectively on the computer, others find it easier to use a hard copy of their essay. Unlike revising, which entails the possible reworking of large parts of your essay, editing is a word-by-word and sentence-by-sentence task. Taking pen to paper may help you focus more closely on the pieces that make up your essay, rather than the work as a whole.
A WORD ABOUT PLAGIARISM
You are probably aware of the many Internet sites offering essays for sale, and resources claiming they have essays that work. What you may not realize is that admissions committees know about them too. In fact, they can easily check suspicious essays against those found on the Internet and published in books. Having even a phrase or two in common with one of these essays constitutes plagiarism.
Plagiarism is a serious academic offense, and will disqualify you from consideration by the school(s) to which you're applying. It's too high a price to pay after all of the work you've done to get yourself this far. The advice is simple: write your own essay, one that provides a glimpse into who you are and what you're about. Your ideas and your words must be your own.
As you read your essay, ask yourself the following questions. Circle any problems as you encounter them. You might also want to make a quick note in the margin with ideas about how to fix the problem(s).
- Are all of your ideas and details necessary? Do they relate appropriately to the topic?
- Do you repeat yourself? Rework your point so that you say it well the first time, and remove any repetitious words and phrases.
- Do you have enough details? Look through your essay for generalities, and make them more specific.
- Do you reinforce each point with a concrete and/or personal example?
- Is your sentence structure varied? Sentences should not all be the same length, nor should they all be repetitive in any other way, such as all beginning with I.
- Are there any clichés or other types of overused language?
- Do you use the active voice whenever possible?
- Are there too many or too few adjectives and adverbs?
After you've read through your essay a few times and highlighted any areas that need improving, focus on one problem at a time. For example, if a point isn't made clearly and directly, or if it's too general, add a phrase or a sentence to clear it up. Notice how the edit of the following sentence moves it from telling to showing.
- Telling: I stay in shape for my sports teams all year.
- Showing: I stay physically active during the year. I play football and basketball, and in the off-season run and lift weights.
The first sentence is vague, and tells very little about the author. By adding the specific things the writer does to stay in shape year-round, the reader better understands the point, and the writer.
If you're starting to worry about every idea, word, and comma, take a deep breath and relax. While your goal should be to produce an error-free essay that's written as well as you're able to make it, many admissions counselors say they'd rather read an interesting and unique essay rather than a perfect one that reveals nothing about its writer.
In some instances, your point may get lost if you go off on a tangent, or include information that doesn't support it. In this case, you should pare away unnecessary words, phrases, or sentences. In the following example, a sentence about green tea simply clutters the paragraph. Compare the revised sentences to see how the author tightened up her essay.
- Before: The day after that I walked over to my neighbor's house and discussed with her the history of her property. She made us some green tea, which really hit the spot on such a chilly fall day. During the course of our discussion I found out that in the early 1900's the land was part of the sprawling Mitchell dairy farm.
- After: The day after that, I walked over to my neighbor's house and discussed with her the history of her property; it turned out that in the early 1900's the land was part of the sprawling Mitchell dairy farm.
Other types of problems may be fixed by reviewing grammar. Check to be sure, for example, that you use the active rather than passive voice. Note the freshness and originality of the second example as compared to the first:
- Before: A moving speech was made by our principal, and there was much grief and love expressed in the tears of Al's friends.
- After: I listen to our principal make a moving speech, and then saw Al's friends break down as they tried to express their love and grief for him.
Also look for clichés as you edit. Replace any overused phrases and images with fresh words that are uniquely your own. Consider the following sentence—it seems conscious of the fact that it is boring and unoriginal, as the phrase behind the scenes is in quotation marks:
- Before: My interest in an accounting career was inspired predominantly by my parents' business. Throughout my childhood I was exposed to the "behind the scenes" aspects of operating a small family business, and took great interest in the financial components of the operations.
Take look at the author's revision. The writer reworked the sentences, making them more personal and original, and followed the advice of showing rather than simply telling. Notice the use of sensory images that bring the reader into the scene.
- After: Some of my earliest memories are of sitting behind the counter in my family's feed store. I would listen to the ring of the cash register, and watch as my mother carefully entered the sales in a large book. I became fascinated with the rows of numbers—a fascination that continues to this day as I plan a career in accounting.
The goal of editing is to make certain your essay works well on the level of sentences and words. By checking and correcting your writing this closely, you can make your application essay more personal. Eliminate words and phrases that don't work, and add details that show the reader who you are. After success fully completing the editing process, your writing should be fresh and original, and there should be enough variation to keep your audience interested.
The last step in the writing process is to correct any spelling and punctuation errors that you may have made. Good proofreading involves far more than a simple run of spell check and grammar check on your computer. Reliance on these alone to find your errors is a mistake.
That said, they're not a bad place to start. Read the advice for using spell and grammar checks in chapter 6; it will help you use these programs wisely. After you've run them, you'll need to conduct checks of your own to find anything they may have missed.
After completing the proofreading process, it's a great idea at this point to ask at least two other readers to look at your essay. Choose people you know to be good writers and who will pay careful attention when proofreading. Give them each a fresh hard copy of your essay to work on. Whether proofreading yourself, or having another reader check your work, use the strategies provided thus far and consider the following:
- Did you use any words incorrectly? Check the list of commonly confused and misused words on page 85.
- Did you use proper punctuation through-out your essay?
- Did you use exclamation points only in dialogue?
- Is there a good balance of contractions
- Do all subjects and verbs agree?
- Are there any double negatives?
- Have all hyphenated and compound If you're recycling your essay, did you change any reference to the school you're applying to?
Considerations for Electronic and Paper Submissions
Your final step is submitting the essay. Many schools now emphasize that they strongly prefer electronic submissions. Some even waive or reduce their fee to entice you to submit your application online. But the option of completing a paper application is still open at most schools.
What should you do if you have a choice? Hands down—choose the electronic option. Admissions offices are going paperless, and they enjoy the ease of sharing applications electronically. If you do send a paper version, don't expect it to make the rounds of counselors who notice how neatly you filled it out. Once it arrives, your application will be scanned immediately, and look much like the rest.
You may also have the choice of completing the Common Application or the school's own. Although admissions counselors often say they have no preference, there can be a slight advantage to using the school's version.
However, if you use the Common Application, you won't just be making it easier to submit the forms that you must fill out. High school reports, teacher evaluations, mid-year grade reports, and final reports are all electronically sent to where you're applying. Not only does that save time, but it takes some of the worry out of the application process. Therefore, there are fewer details for you to remember and follow through on.
A major complaint about the Common Application—that you must use the same essay for each school—just isn't true. The following procedure will allow you to use different essays, which is especially valuable if you've opted to write a Demonstrated Interest essay:
- Submit the Common Application to at least one school, then log out of your account.
- Go to the following website: https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Default.aspx?allowcopy=true. Enter your existing username and password on the screen and click on Login.
- You will be taken to a screen titled "Common Application," where you'll find information about the application you submitted. Click on Replicate, which will make another version of your submitted application. When done, this version will be visible, along with a special drop down in the upper right corner of the application. This will allow access to all of your applications.
- Upload a new essay to the new version of your application, and connect it to the school(s) you want to receive that essay.
A Word of Warning
Electronic application submission is fast and easy. But fast and easy could mean you don't take the time to check and recheck your work. It's much simpler to click Send than it is to print out a number of pages, put them in an envelope, get the proper postage, and put the application in the mail. Unfortunately, students tend to treat everything online more casually than any other type of communication.
If you're submitting your application electronically, keep these potential problems in mind. Proofread for errors—and make sure the application for school A doesn't include any information about school B. The time you invest in making sure your applications are in great shape is time well spent.
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