October 15, 2013

How to Review Your College Essay and Application

After a recent post on writer's block in the college essay process, you now know how to inspire creativity. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind during the next steps:

Go through the process several times. The old saying goes “don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” and it is very applicable in this situation. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes to mind. The more you have the better the chances of discovering something truly excellent.

Take special note of your more unusual ideas. A student of mine wrote an essay titled “I am an Artichoke.” She got into MIT. Remember, the people reading your essay are reading hundreds of essays. Most likely they will spend no more than 5-10 minutes on your essays. Most essays are fairly typical and eventually these essays will undoubtedly all begin to blend together for the reader. You have only those 5-10 minutes to get their attention. Grab their attention with a striking title and interesting subject matter.

Show your idea to several people. Getting lots of input from friends, teachers, and parents is essential to this whole process. The most important thing is to ask these people not which idea they think is the best but which is the most interesting. If you can capture the attention of your peers and your mentors, you will do the same for the people reading your essay because they are essentially the same people.

Keep in mind the biases of the people reviewing your ideas. This is a small but important point. If you decide to write about how your grandmother inspired you, clearly your parents will be very pleased with this idea. These are the types of things you will need to take into account.

The best strategy is to take an aggregate of the opinions you receive. There is an important social theory based on the wisdom of crowds. It contains a great deal of value in processes like these. The best way to cancel out people's biases is to put everyone’s opinion together. The idea the largest number of people considers to be interesting is likely to be the most interesting.

Don’t discard your other ideas quite yet. Remember you have to be able to turn these ideas into an essay with some specific constraints. Take your two or three best ideas. Outline them in the process described in How to Start Your College Essay.

Now, you have to ask yourself several questions. Can you write a complete essay without loose ends with this topic? Don’t be afraid to throw away your best idea and go with your second choice. Forcing an interesting idea into a specific format can easily ruin it. You may end up with unfinished strands or may just not even have enough to say to fulfill the word count. The solution isn’t to add fluff; this will only serve to lose the attention of the reader. Removing information may result unfinished thoughts and loose ends that leave the reader with an incomplete feeling.

So now you have your most practical idea ready to be elaborated upon. Next week's post will go through the do’s and don’ts of the writing and reviewing process.


  1. Yes all steps discussed above are good and very impressive. But still i think we can do much more while reviewing our college essays and applications.
    More creativity makes work more interesting. So lets discuss more techniques in this regards.

    1)Don't trying to include all of the accomplishments and activities in application essays.

    What do you say??

    Keep posting.....

  2. I agree with Gary...don't try and include everything! Chances are it will not get read if it's too long and uninteresting. Find a good angle!

  3. Wonderful advice, it's definitely important to find something that makes you stand out but don't think that a hundred little things will make you stand out more than one amazing thing.