Countdown to the New Year = Countdown to the Deadlines

2015 will be your year, woohoo!
2015 will be your year, woohoo!

For those of you who have finished college applications, congratulations! I hope that throughout the process of describing/promoting yourself to schools, you’ve realized how far you have come and how much there is to be proud of. Remember those nights of panic before a huge exam, audition, competition, game, meet, tournament, etc.? Yes, YOU got through all of that. 

For those of you who aren’t done, don’t worry! 🙂 Please don’t spend your holidays obsessing over the tiniest details – don’t discredit all the other hard work you’ve applied to your studies and other pursuits these past few years. If your essay sounds like you, spending that extra hour rewording that one paragraph might not make a significant difference.

However, what served me best as an applicant (who was scrambling to finish those essays a year ago) was silencing the voices of the countless people I asked to edit my essays, and musing on these instead:

  • Does my introduction pique the audience’s attention?
  • Is my creativity “controlled” and concise enough that a reader can glean a substantial conclusion after a cursory reading of my essay?
  • What exactly do I want to convey in this essay?  What qualities do I want to become apparent after someone reads this? (For me, I wanted to demonstrate conscientiousness, receptiveness, and resilience in my CommonApp essay.)
  • Instead of claiming to have qualities such as “passionate,” “unique,” or “hardworking,” which everyone can “claim” and which describe every other applicant aspiring to attend Pomona, maybe try words that could only describe you. Are you spirited? imaginative? eager? gregarious? inventive? an initiator? intuitive? excitable, personable, warm, resolute?
  • Although it’s fun to include imagination-inducing details, really consider the intention behind including each detail. Does it further an impression you want to create? Does it illustrate your unique perspective of seeing the world? Sometimes, when editors suggest a complete rehaul of your essay (reducing the level of detail here, removing that concept there), a less painful and trauamtic revision may be to first assess whether it is the idea itself that is ineffective (in which rethinking the essay may be necessary) or simply the presentation of the idea.
  • Read your essay backwards – edit at the sentence level by starting from the last sentence, reading it closely, then tackling the second-to-last sentence, etc. This way, you’re not just glossing over your essay again and again from beginning to end, but actively editing.
  • If you feel like your paragraphs are strong but do not cohesisvely convey the ideas you want, perhaps attempt summarizing the main idea of each paragraph, and find a way to connect those summaries in a way that potentially makes your thoughts even more complex / dynamic / nuanced / memorable!
  • I know how painful it can be to pour your energy into crafting pretty strings of words only to realize that you are over the word limit, but it’s truly important to alter them if they do not fit into your overarching thesis. If you’re reading this and applying to Pomona, I know you’re a capable writer! So don’t let your passionate synthesis of ideas and words detract from the power of a simple sentence. Personally, I’m veryyy aware of my tough-to-cure unwillingness to delete sentences I deem “pretty,” but especially with the restraining word limits, don’t fall prey to an obsession with complex, ornate sentences if they muddle the overarching objective of furthering your main ideas. If it’s any consolation, I often wrote an essay I loved for my own sake (complete with flourishes of fancy adjectives, of course), but submitted a simpler, easier-to-follow version to colleges. That way, I knew my words were still going somewhere, even if it was not for an admissions officer to see.

As someone who scoured the interwebs for tips on writing college essays, these are tips that experience has proven personally effective. Wishing you the best of luck, and thrilled at the prospect of possibly seeing some of you on campus in 2015!