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Before you push the button…

2 Oct

You are finally finished with your essay. It’s time to copy it into the online application and send it off. You’ve worked hard. Why not make sure it’s fabulous?Follow this checklist to double check that it’s as good as it should be:

  • Read your prompt (the question) one more time. Often a prompt will ask you to answer more than one question, or address several points. Make sure you address or answer them all!
  • Did you make your point? (Yes, that’s the same thing as your “main point.”) You should be able to state it in a sentence or two. And it should be stated somewhere in your essay as well. If you can’t do this, chances are your essay is too broad, and too broad means boring.
  • Do you prove the (main) point you are making in your essay? Did you provide examples?
  • When you give examples in your essay, or describe something, are you specific? Use details!
  • Continue reading

have you written your “shitty first draft” yet?

3 Sep

Ok, time is up. Well, almost. As long as you can quickly identify a couple of strong topics for your essays, there’s still time to pound out good ones.

Here’s the best advice I know on writing first drafts, from one of the best writers out there. A quirky woman named Anne Lamott (check out her picture at the bottom!). Ignore the weird hair. She’s THE BEST.  Read on:

“For me and most of the writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Anne Lamott, from the best book on writing, called Bird by Bird.

“All good writers write them (shitty first drafts). This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts. …” more from A.L. and Bird by Bird.

Okay. Do you love her? Despite the potty language–or because of it–she’s spot on. To move forward, you have to take a good idea, get a simple plan and sit down and write it out. It won’t be great at first. That’s just how it goes. Then all you do is go back, and fix it up.


here’s anne.

what do you skip?

12 Jun

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” From author Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Writing.

What do you skip when you read? The long paragraphs that go on and on and lose your interest, right? So when you read back your own essay, and you hit one of those dull spots, either cut it back or take it out.

who should you show your essay?

4 Jun

Students often want feedback on their college admissions essays, but are not sure where to turn. Here’s my advice:

1.Be very selective who you show it to. Remember, writing is subjective: one person might love your essay and another might hate it. Parents can be great sounding boards, but so can teachers, counselor and friends.

2. Ask for specific feedback. Hand the reader a print-out and red pen and ask them to underline the parts they like and put stars by the parts they find dull or confusing. Don’t ask for anything more. If you agree with their feedback, keep the good stuff and work on the bad—either change it or cut it.

3. Be your own editor. Read it out loud to yourself to spot places where it bogs down. Trust yourself. If you like what you hear, chances are others will, too. If it sounds awkward or too wordy, it probably is—so fix it!

4. Always make sure you proofread one last time. Once you are done with your essay, and want someone to proofread, tell them you only want feedback on errors, not content. Also, you need to proofread it yourself right before you push the button to send it off—often students make last-minute changes and accidentally add errors.

Word Counts: Cut it out!

13 Aug

Most of the college admissions essays have word count requirements, as do other questions on the applications. Do not ignore them. Stick to their numbers. If it says 500 words, make sure your essay is under that number. If nothing else, it shows you can follow directions.

If your essay is too long, start cutting. This is a great opportunity to actually make your essay better. My dad, a retired English professor, told his students that one way to gauge the best length of a piece of writing was to think of it as a woman’s skirt: keep it long enough to cover the material, but short enough to make it interesting. (No intention there to be sexist–the metaphor just doesn’t work as well for men’s shorts.)

Seriously, when you trim your essay, you almost always improve it. Read it for redundant words and sentences. A lot of times you will find you say almost the same thing in back to back sentences, even though you might have thought one supported the other.

The best place to start slicing is when you read your essay out loud and you hear for yourself where it starts to get dull or wordy. Trust yourself and cut it out! Also, go through your essay word for word and if you suspect you might not need a word, take it out. Is your meaning still clear? Then chop it!