So, you’ve slaved over twelve or fifteen copies of your admissions essay or cover letter: it tells your story, and it sounds good, to boot. Big sigh of relief, crack your knuckles, a job well done. Right?
Wrong. Small errors and needlessly wordy sentences—not to mention, the unforgivable typo—keep a solid essay from becoming an excellent one.
Copy-editing your own work is a skill you can cultivate like any other. In this post, I’ve tried to break it down into simple steps you can follow.
Take some time off.
You have to give your eyes a rest, or you won’t catch any mistakes.
Preferably, leave a week or several days between drafting the “final” draft in terms of content and drafting the final final, which consists of a polished piece of writing without any typos, grammatical mistakes, or awkward phrasings.
If you don’t have that much time, leave a full 36 hours between drafts; that means, let a full day pass in which you do not look at the work.
If you’re really up against the wire, leave 12 hours. If you finished your essay in the morning, don’t look at it again till evening; if at night, do it the next morning, when you’re fresh. (The latter is preferable.)
Print it out.
Surprisingly, this makes a huge difference. You will catch mistakes on pen and paper your eyes would have glazed over on screen. Plus, there’s something satisfying, perhaps even nostalgic, about all the red marks.
Read it aloud.
This is an amazing way to catch both awkward phrasings and run-on sentences. In my experience, it’s also the best, if not the only way, to catch typos. Typos are sneaky; they are also your enemy.
If you are unsure, look it up.
Wary vs. weary? “Circles around” or “circles”? A comma after the city but not the state when you inevitably mention where you grew up, right?
There’s no need for the Oxford English Dictionary here: your computer’s built-in copy of Merriam Webster or Googling a grammar question will usually do the trick.
And just in case you’re curious:
“Wary” means “cautious of;” “weary” is more like “tired of.”
“Circle around” is used without an object to describe a repetitive motion, as in, “I circled around in search of truth,” while “circle”—all by itself, without a preposition—takes an object, as in, “I circled the car in search of my keys.”
Both the city and state are followed by a comma. I, for example, was born in Akron, Ohio, in the late eighties. The same goes for countries. My mother was born in Tehran, Iran, in the early fifties.
Do it again. And again.
Like most things in life, once is not enough. I copy-edit anything I care about at least twice, sometimes three times.
Don’t copy-edit your own work.
Okay, so that’s cheating a little. But if the essay or cover letter is particularly important to you, get another pair of eyes on it after you have gone three a few passes yourself. Do this only when you have done your leg of the work, at the point you would normally just save as PDF and upload.
Whom do I ask? We’re discussing copy-editing and not revising, so don’t worry about how much experience or expertise your potential copy-editor/kind, kind friend has with the type of schooling or job at-hand; just pick the person you know with the best grammar who is most likely to respond.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of applying to college. The process is long, confusing, and more competitive than ever. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At Cambridge Coaching, we’ve reimagined the entire process, and we are pleased to introduce an entirely new way of applying to college. Instead of focusing purely on cold, calculated application strategy, we like to think of college as the ultimate motivation to reach your potential, both as a student and as a member of your community. We’ve found that if you can see how this crazy process is actually helping you to lay down a foundation for a lifetime of learning, creativity, and accomplishments, it’s so much easier to stomach all the work involved. That’s why our coaches don’t just help you with application strategy. Unlike our competitors, we know that it’s not essays that make a great application - it’s the stuff you put into your essays. Which is to say: it’s the work you do all along the way.
We take a holistic, comprehensive approach to the college process. Well before you’ve even contemplated your college essay, we’re here to think about the steps you can take so that you have the most fulfilling high school career possible. Our ideal time to link students with coaches is in the freshman or sophomore year of high school, though we are happy to help you whenever you are in the process. Whether this means pairing a student who is struggling with physics with an MIT Ph.D. who loves physics more than anything, or sitting down with families to discuss summer plans, we mentor our students through every stage of the process. Our coaches know what it takes to get into the best colleges in America because they’ve all done it. More importantly, they know what it takes to make high school interesting and rewarding, so that your essays, when you get there, will reflect the integrity of your efforts - and the breadth of your dreams.
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