Let’s get back to getting creative on your college essay. First take a look at Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this blog series. Once you have brainstormed, refined your ideas, and finally gotten them down on the page, the most taxing part of the creative process is arguably behind you. No longer must you stare into the infinite void of a blank page. However, the fun doesn’t end with the first draft.
The finished product you ultimately send to the college admissions committees ought to be something you are proud of. Not only are you communicating to the college about your background, life experience, and perspective, you are demonstrating how adept you are as a writer—a skill that happens to be immeasurably important for any college student.
On the most basic level, your essay must be polished and wholly devoid of grammar and spelling errors. These sorts of errors can be “automatic fails” when it comes to the college essay, but they can be easily fixed with careful review (your computer’s spell check is far from sufficient).
More importantly, you will need to transform the rough-draft content of your essay into a more coherent, well structured, engaging piece of writing without losing your personal voice and narrative style. How can this be done? One of the best ways to see whether your draft makes sense is to show it to another reader. Many college counselors recommend showing it to people who know you well because they will be able to tell how well the essay reflects you as a person.
However, beware of feedback and be sure to stay true to your voice. The people who know you have an outsider perspective on what you are like. In other words, they know what it is to know you, but not to be you. As a result, they can steer you in a direction that isn’t as genuine as your work originally was. The more people that offer their opinions on your essay, the greater the risk of your essay being taken in multiple, perhaps conflicting directions. When you show your essay to a reader, no matter who it is or how trusting you are of their opinions, listen to their advice with a critical ear. You’re writing your own story and are the best judge of how it ought to be told.
When reading over your essays, make sure to be equally critical of word choice and the way your paragraphs are structured. In all likelihood, your finished product will have morphed time and time again from the initial seed that was your rough draft.
I leave you with a quote. Walt Whitman was a firm believer in the importance of maintaining the self and identity:
“Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it by yourself.
It is not far. It is within reach.”
– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
Best of luck to you in your college application process!
Michael Rothberg is a Veritas Prep SAT instructor. He began tutoring his freshman year of college and is excited to help students conquer the SAT by unlocking their academic potential. Currently a rising sophomore at Harvard University, he is a Cognitive Neuroscience and Evolutionary Psychology major and Staff Reporter at the Harvard Crimson.