Polish The Essay To (Near) Perfection!
In the last post, I advocated for college-bound kids to work on their introduction last. (Shocker!), and I likened the introduction paragraph to a “tasty appetizer that makes readers eager for the main course.”
To continue the metaphor, have you ever seen a video of a chef emerging from a kitchen to a round of applause from his satisfied patrons? Well, this is the reaction you want from college admissions and scholarship committee readers. Editing and proofreading are the final steps to making your essay so engaging that readers want to meet the writer. And that’s what college-bound writers want!
So, here are some key strategies college bound writers can use once a great draft is written:
Read Your Essay Backwards
This tricks your brain into seeing errors you wouldn't normally have seen. Of course, I don't mean to literally sound like a piece of audio run backwards. What I mean is read the last word first, then the next to the last word second, and so on, and so on. I don't know about you, but there are times when I read back my writing and I realize I've left out articles like "a," and "and," and "the." This technique catches those kinds of omissions.
Improve Your Attention Grabber
Here is a key area where college-bound kids can really create an opening that builds and emotional bond with the reader. In a previous post I talked about using a quote to open your essay. Here I will show you how to use a metaphor. Below is a screenshot of the beginning of an essay that won its writer a large scholarship:
The writer is comparing himself to steel. We know steel is created from forging metals together in extreme heat. He is also hinting at the adversity he’s overcome and how, though it was “ the hottest hell life had to give,” like steel, he came out as something new and stronger.
This is such an effective technique and such a gripping opening. You could imitate this strategy except with a different metaphor. Here is an example:
“My dad always called me his princess. I was his delicate daughter he wanted to protect from the world, and when the time came, hand me over to another man he deemed worthy to take over his job of being my protector and champion. I guess one could say that this is the story of a girl who became her own hero, and in the process, shook up her family’s notions of gender, and became the queen of her own destiny.”
There so many other metaphors that could be used. Try this technique and see if it works for you.
Improve The Wording of Your Claim
The claim is a sentence or group of sentences that tell the reader what the essay will be about. The claim should use the language that is in the prompt. This may seem simplistic, but much the same way that your resume should use the language of the job posting, this is one area of the writing process where you shouldn't get overly creative. Here are a couple of examples of claims college-bound kids could create from the 2016-17 common application writing prompts:
Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
Claim: Although I have participated in several extracurriculars that would look great on my application, no introduction of myself would be complete without mentioning the role Muslim school has in my life.
Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later sixes. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
Claim: Making a terrible mistake that could’ve cost me everything I’d prepared for taught me that by asking for help, and working together you can overcome almost anything.
Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
Claim: When I was able to convince the other debutantes to walk out with me, we started a movement and eliminated the cotillion’s sexist policy that disqualified teen moms, but ignored teen fathers.
Make Sure the Words You’ve Chosen Mean What You Think They Mean
In some of my videos located on my Get The Acceptance Letter YouTube Channel, I've talked about overuse of the thesaurus because college-bound kids are worried that they are using language that is too simplistic. This can go very badly. You can wind up using words that are obviously inserted and don't fit the real sense of the meaning you're trying to make. For example, here is a sentence that might be in a college entrance essay:
My heart dropped when I heard the spelling bee judge say that I had spelled the word incorrectly.
Here's an example of an “overuse of the thesaurus” error:
My heart plummeted when I perceived the spelling bee judge say that I had made a fatal error.
“Plummeted” feels over done. “Perceived” and “heard” have different connotations and aren't perfect substitutes for one another. “Fatal error” might work without the other choices, but the combination sounds like a person who does not have a sensitivity to the audience. And really, those fundamentals we were taught in middle school – audience, purpose, and tone – still reigns supreme in the instance of the college entrance essay. Remember they want to know you, not your verbose and snooty representative.
Develop (Lengthen and Strengthen) Your Body Paragraphs.
The best way to do this is to add examples that illustrate your topic.
I call this unpacking. For instance, let’s say a student had a sentence like, "Losing my friend to the two suicide drove me into a deep depression."
This writer may think, "what more can I say?"
But, through the process of unpacking, this can be developed (which means lengthened and strengthened), to a greater extent.
The writer could:
- Describe the day/moment she found out about her friend’s death.
- Use a metaphor to describe the feelings she was flooded with at the moment of realization.
- Describe what it feels like to descend into deep grief and depression.
- Paint a vivid picture of what her depression looks like. Did she stay in bed for days, weeks? Did her dog scratch at the door with his collar in his mouth in an attempt to draw her out of her room?
- Did counselors and teachers at school pull her in to offer support?
By providing the answers to these unpacking questions, what seems like a sentence that can't be expanded further becomes one in which the expansion possibilities are limitless.
Fatten Up Your Conclusion
I'm a big advocate of college-bound kids tying their claim to their college goals, which I talked about in a previous post.
Another way to develop your conclusion is to project into the future and paint a brief picture of your future self. This is the self that has matriculated through the fine institution to which you're presenting your college entrance essay, and is now making use of all the skills and preparation you've received from their college or university.
Here's an example:
I know that the preparation I have received in high school is just the tip of the iceberg. The important lesson I learned here about being your authentic self, will only be expounded on once I've received the extraordinary training that your institution is so well-known for. I see myself collaborating with women all over the globe to improve the lives of women and girls. Right now, I'm just a young woman with a big vision, but I am certain that with your help, I will be an alumni equipped with all the tools to create change in the world.
Practice this. Imagine what your life will be like once you’ve gotten your degree. Then work on how you might tie that vision to one of the prompt choices on the common application.
These are just some of the ways you can polish your essay to (near) perfection and Get The Acceptance Letter.
Come back each week for strategies like these that help college bound kids write an extraordinary college entrance essay, opening the door to the safety, financial security, and choices that a college degree provides.