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Elise Gout

Getting the Most Out of College Essay Revision

We’re well into the school year which means, ideally, you should be about a month or three into writing your college application essays.


I know from experience that just getting something down on paper is the most grueling and torturous experience. Once that first draft is finally scraped together, it’s oh-so-tempting to just let it lie and never look back. But don’t let exhaustion jeopardize your chance to submit a well-crafted, representative piece. There’s a lot of magic to be had in the revision process, if you know how to approach it right.


Read it out loud to yourself

Yes, this is unbelievably elementary. It’s also an important first step in ironing out the preliminary, most evident wrinkles: incoherent sentences, redundancy, grammatical errors… Go through the entire essay one time without marking anything (even those missed commas and accidental apostrophes). Then make notes on the “problem areas” you noticed, asking yourself if the idea of the piece came through, if it was fluid, and if it was coherent.


Have someone read it to you

One of the most uncomfortable things to have happened to me at college thus far was when my writing professor read my first paper back to me. It was horrifying – but wound up being crucial to be the betterment of my work. As soon as you let someone else speak your words, you’re able to understand where your reader (in this case, where the admissions advisor) will speed up, slow down, pause for clarification, etc. Whatever comes out sounding far different than what you intended it to should be revisited and reworked.


Use “Say Back”

A popular strategy for academic essays is to ask your editor to “say back” to you, after reading your work, what they found it to be about. In other words, to conversationally summarize it. Where this can be particularly monumental for your college essay is in asking the simple question of, “What does this say about me?” Remember that, no matter what, you are trying to convince the admissions advisor of something. Whether it’s that you’re well-rounded, close with your family, humbled by the world around you, etc., the reader needs to have gained a level of understanding about who you are. To ensure that the impression they get is what you want it to be, recruit a few acquaintances (the less they know you, the better) to do preliminary test-reads.


Guide your editor

As a writer, it’s important to recognize the roll you play in the editing process. The person looking over your essay is going to be able to provide much more meaningful feedback if you give them an idea of what you need. It can be as simple as jotting down a few bullet points at the top of the page. This will also help deter editors from residing on the polar ends of the spectrum: scrawling nothing but “it’s good” at the end or nit-picking every tiny mistake they come across.


Maintain control

If you’re determined to get as many opinions on your essay as possible – that’s great. Massive props. Just be careful not to lose the “you” in your writing. College essays should be representative of your voice, not your Mom’s or counselor’s or best friend’s. And if you ever feel like you’re getting contradicting advice, or that you don’t agree with a constructive comment, remember your trump card. At the end of the day, the final verdict is always yours to decide.


Leave time for marinating

One of the best things you can do is let your essay sit for awhile, even after you’ve put it through several rounds of revision. Often times, too much focused work with one piece can fog your judgment. You very well may look back at it after some space and still feel 100% ready to send it in. Or, as happened with me, you may reread it and realize that you got carried away with cutting out the parts that made it unique. In either case, the less rushed you can be prior to submitting an application the better.


The revising process should be a rewarding one, not something to be dreaded or abhorred. After all, polishing and refining your work can take it to places that you didn’t think were humanly possible just a few weeks before.


About Elise Gout

Elise writes articles for the Magoosh SAT blog to help teenagers during an exciting time in their lives. Despite residing in Southern California, where she attends San Dieguito Academy high school, she has no surfing abilities whatsoever; it’s actually rather sad. She is your typical senior high school girl who sword fights daily, and is pretty much convinced that bananas are a food sent from heaven. Elise will attend Columbia University next fall to study environmental science.

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