It’s getting damn close to the due date for college applications. So, in the midst of all the pressure, you might well be getting to that place of just crashing and saying, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m just sending it. No one deserves to live this way. I want my real life back.” Problem is, you won’t have a real life next year if you don’t get through this. Yeah, we’re not so much with the soft and fluffy. Anyway. Man up. You’re almost there. Do not succumb to crazy town until you go through the following with the essay. Then you can push send, start to drool, or curl under the bed. But you probably just need some cupcakes and sleep.
1. Read the essay out loud to another person. You didn’t write the essay for yourself, you wrote it for someone else (the keeper of the keys to the School You Really Want to Get Into), so read it aloud to someone, it always reveals something different about the writing than reading the paper in your head. And reading aloud to yourself doesn’t work either. Don’t know why. Doesn’t matter.
2. “Read” it backwards. You’ll in fact, stop reading and actually look at each word, making it more likely that you don’t skim over spelling errors. The more you’ve worked on the essay, the more you’ll benefit from this trick, because you’ve basically begun to memorize bits of the essay and now you are not reading, you’re reciting, which means you are not actually looking at the words on the paper. Neat, huh? No, not neat. You’re supposed to be making sure that this piece of paper is in top form. So look at each word in reverse order to force your brain to stop with the mental gymnastics and play editor.
3. Rethink your title. There is an instinct to slap on a title as an afterthought, but actually it’s a missed opportunity to make a great entrance into the room. The title isn’t a deal breaker – a great essay will save itself — but why not start strong? Just stop and reconsider the title.
4. Rework your first line. No, rework it again – you just paused briefly and told yourself it was ok. Probably isn’t – sorry, it’s just that when you start writing an essay, you just…start. And that’s great, that’s how you get sh*t on a piece of paper and start moving forward and have anything productive. But then begins the heavy lifting of revising. And often people are a couple of lines into the essay before they really start concentrating. And this happens every time you revise, so every time that first sentence is the stepchild of the revision process. So write just the first line of the essay in the center of a blank sheet of paper. Is it powerful? Professional writers are constantly told how they can seduce a reader (and an editor, which is the keeper of the readers, and in your case, the admissions officer, which is the keeper of the thick envelopes) with just that first line. If you don’t believe it, walk into a bookstore and flip through a couple of books and read the first few lines of each and see which ones you want you want to keep reading. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” No, you can’t use that one.
5. Check spelling. Check spelling. Check the spelling!! Do you know how annoying and embarrassing and awful it’s going to look if you misspelled a word on your college application essay? If you’re on the Common Application, it’s 650 words. Max. And you might have done it in less. If you must, do 20 words at a time, eat an apple, come back and do 20 more. Come to 5 Hundred Words and have us do it, if you don’t trust yourself – that’s not a shameless plug, it’s not — what we’re saying here is, there is zero reason for anything to go out with something as basic as spelling not perfect. Consider this: “I saw her walk out the door, and thought to myself, ‘their goes the love of my life’, and I collapsed.” We don’t love the sentence anyway (never mind) but now we’re so distracted by the misspelling that…ick, ew…just…moving on. In fact, if we were college admissions officers and saw a misspelled word we’d stop reading, cuz, really, screw you. Last year Columbia had over 33,000 applicants, and even with a team of 20 essay readers (which might well be generous) that’s more than 1500 essays per person, and now we gotta read the joker who either 1) doesn’t know “their” from “there”, or 2) didn’t care enough to spell check? Next.
6. Punctuation too. Why? Because you can seriously damage your whole sentence with mucked up punctuation. Spelling crap looks sloppy; punctuation crap will ruin your life. “I’m about to eat that bro.” which obviously should have been, “I’m about to eat that, bro.” Again, the sentence itself is a hot mess, but the first one is also fratricide, which pretty much moots the grammar quality control issues. And your chances of admission, since that isn’t the kind of thing schools want on campus, if they can avoid it.
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