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Articles / Applying to College / 3 Easy Steps for Improving your Admissions Essay Draft

3 Easy Steps for Improving your Admissions Essay Draft

Brad Schiller
Written by Brad Schiller | Feb. 5, 2021
3 Easy Steps for Improving your Admissions Essay Draft
Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

You've gone and got yourself a pumpkin. It wasn't easy, but you did it. Now if only you could wave a magic wand to turn it into a glittering carriage.

Well, just like a Disney movie, a Prompt blog post is a place where dreams do come true. Let's show you how to transform your first draft (no matter how rough) into something admissions-worthy.

Step 1: Be a content-seeking missile

Read your essay over with content only in mind. Not grammar, not spelling, not witty metaphors — no pumpkin/carriage intros, please — but just full-on: what happened?

Ask yourself three questions as you read:

  1. What traits do you see on display? Broadly, what three adjectives would you use to describe yourself after reading this piece? More specifically, which (if any) of the five traits do you see exemplified in the essay? Do the experiences you covered show you'll be successful in college and beyond? Use these questions to identify content that you need to add in — or cut.
  2. What did you learn about yourself? In most essays, the student should cover a realization they had about who they are as a person. Make sure that you covered that realization in your essay and that you explained it clearly.
  3. What actions have you taken since? This is the big one. If you learned something about yourself, prove it! Write about your actions since the realization you just described. For example, maybe you wrote about how your community service experience made you realize you enjoy helping others. Well, how have you helped others since this experience? In other words, prove that you really changed as a result of your experience. Don't skimp here — this is the content that really proves you've got something special admissions officers want.
Now that your content-seeking-missile self has found important information to add (experiences that show your ability to succeed in college and beyond), make those changes. Don't worry about length just now. Just get the content in there.

Step 2: Outsource

Got a fairy godmother or two? (Metaphorically. Someone whose opinion you respect.) Call them in!

It's important you don't have too many people helping you out. One or two, tops. More than that slows the process down without adding much additional value.

Give them clear instructions — you can't leave them to their own devices, or you'll get lots of thoughts about the oxford comma, and how "They don't teach spelling like they used to," and precious little advice on whether an admissions officer is going to see potential in you or not.

Guide them by asking them to answer three questions for you:

  1. What did they learn about you? What traits do they see depicted here?
  2. What didn't they learn that they wanted to know? (What content do you still need to add in?)
  3. How can you restructure the essay to make it clearer?

Finally, ask your metaphorical fairy godmother not to focus on grammar. Tell them instead to circle where they found your writing to be unclear.

Step 3: Revision-y Revisions

At this point, the most important part of the essay should be in pretty good shape: content that shows you will succeed in college and beyond. That means you can now put on your more traditional "essay" hat and start thinking about things like length, sentence structure, and yes, even grammar. Typically, you'll need to do 4 things:

  1. Revise your essay based on the feedback. For a lot of students, so much has shifted that they need what we call a "radical revision" — i.e. writing out a new outline to work from. (Helpful for many, many students.) And, possibly, writing it all again from scratch. (This tends to be a lot faster and easier than it sounds, as you know exactly what you need to say.)
  2. Get within the word count. Most students are over at this point. We suggest focusing on a part of the essay where you feel you can shorten things. For that section, write out each of the points that are integral to making the essay make sense. This becomes an outline that will help you rewrite the section more succinctly — we've noticed this technique tends to cut about 60% of the words from a first draft to a final one. Another strategy involves hunting down prepositional phrases — phrases that start with "with," "off," "in," "at," etc. — and killing them. At the risk of stating the obvious (prepositional phrase alert - get it?), they don't tend to add much.
  3. Read the whole thing out loud. This is one of the best ways to unearth unclear writing. You'll probably stumble across long and overly complex sentences. Cut these down — a good hint is to break up any sentence that goes to three lines or has more than four commas.
  4. Use a grammar checker to spot any remaining errors. Just beware that it may not catch all issues and may make incorrect suggestions. Often, a human grammar checker can be more trustworthy than one made of code.

Sure, these 3 steps are a bit more involved than waving a magic wand. But they're straight-forward and doable. Better yet, they're guaranteed to improve your chances of getting in. Remember, the essays are your best chance of propelling your application beyond your "academic destiny."

Attribution: This article was provided by Prompt.com, the world leader in admissions essay coaching and feedback.

Written by

Brad Schiller

Brad Schiller

Essay Expert

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