If you’ve already read Part One of this post, you’ll have ensured that your college application essay has a consistent main point, that its ideas flow in a logical order, and that it represents your own writerly voice. In Part Two, we’ll address more local concerns: although the questions below might seem limited to “smaller” editing or proofreading issues, they are essential boxes to check before sending in your college application. Remember that college admissions officers are reading very quickly—you want to do everything you can to give them the best first impression possible!
Does your college application essay make sense to a reader?
Now is the time to call in a trusted adult—this could be a parent, a teacher, an older relative, a coach, a clergyperson, a good neighbor—and ask them to read your college application essay. Even if you feel hesitant or shy about sharing your writing with others, remember that the goal of your application essay is for other people to read it. After all, that’s how you’ll get into college! So start with a friendly reader whose opinions you respect. It will be helpful if they use writing regularly in their daily life, whether that’s writing books or writing emails.
When you ask them to read your application essay draft, ask specifically for them to note anything that is confusing or doesn’t make sense. Were there any moments when they didn’t understand what you were saying, or when they didn’t quite follow your point? Getting an outside reader’s perspective will help you identify areas in your essay where you need to work on clarity, or communicating your ideas directly and understandably.
Your reader may also want to give you feedback on grammar, spelling, or other things. This is great, and you should listen! But the most helpful thing they can do is describe their reading experience to you—when were they engaged, interested, or excited, and when were they confused or distracted? Talk to your reader about what you could write to make those confusing moments more clear.
Is your college application essay appropriate for an audience of college admissions officers?
Imagine an admissions officer sitting down to read your essay. (If you’ve been to a college information session, then you’ve likely already seen an admissions officer in the flesh.) This is an adult whose full-time job is choosing students to attend their college. What are they looking for? UCLA says they are looking for “responsibility, insight, maturity, and demonstrated concern for others and for the community.” Harvard says they are looking for “maturity, character, leadership, self-confidence, warmth of personality, sense of humor, energy, concern for others, and grace under pressure.”
You’ll notice some repetition in these examples—maturity and concern for others are pretty important! While your recommendation letters will hopefully speak to the ways you demonstrate these qualities, you should also look for them in your application statement. If your application statement is about a mistake you made or a failure you experienced, do you acknowledge it gracefully and explain how you improved, or do you whine? If you’re writing about your high school, are you fair and considerate when you talk about your classmates, or do you try to make yourself look better than them? Often, the places you’ll want to double-check are places where you are using sarcasm, cynicism, or snark to convey your point. It’s fine to let your voice come through in your essay—and some of us are just naturally snarky!—but err on the side of kindness, rather than mean humor. If you’re unsure, this is another time when an adult reader can tell you how the tone of your essay sounds to them. Remember that admissions officers are looking for applicants who sound like enthusiastic students and thoughtful roommates.
Is the college application essay “immaculately proofread”?
One of our favorite terms at Cambridge Coaching is “immaculately proofread.” Immaculate means “spotlessly clean; perfectly neat and tidy.” This is your goal for your final draft of your essay; review it with a fine-toothed comb for any possible errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, or formatting. My favorite proofreading tip is to read the essay aloud, sentence by sentence, backward. That is, read the last sentence of the essay aloud slowly. Is everything in it correct? Then read the second-to-last sentence. Reading backward helps you to focus on the small details, rather than getting swept up in the essay’s overall flow.
You should also use whatever proofreading strategies you’ve already learned in your high school classes. If you want more help, ask a teacher or guidance counselor, consult Purdue’s online guide to proofreading, or consider working with a tutor to make sure you have the strongest essay possible.
Are you interested in getting support from one of our coaches on your college application essay?
Are you craving more on the subject? Feel free to browse some of our previous blog posts on the process of applying to college: