Writing college essays can often be the most daunting and time-consuming part of the application process. Not only do you have to think of a topic to write about, but you have to actually start writing it! As a rising college freshman who had to go through this last year, I feel I can say that starting is probably the hardest part. However, almost as difficult, and perhaps just as important, is what you do after you’re done composing the magnum opus that is your essay. Now, I’m someone who struggles with finally clicking the submit button for essays, and I have peers who say they feel the same way; I always have to adjust the wording of a sentence, change periods to semi-colons and then back to periods, or even get so dissatisfied with my entire piece that I scrap it and start anew–something that, while not necessarily bad, can be inefficient and stressful. Here is a checklist of sorts of things to remember to do after writing your essay that will hopefully streamline the process.
Make Sure You’ve Fully Answered the Question
This should be a “duh,” but it’s something that can be easy to forget to do while in the midst of a writing high. For quick reference, I’d recommend copy-and-pasting the prompt of the essay at the top of the Word document (or Google Doc) you’re writing in. (By the way, with the exception of short answer questions, I’d really suggest against writing your essay in the application itself. Having it saved somewhere else can prevent lots of frustration and tears!)
Also, as a corollary to this, make sure your response fits the given word limit. Nobody wants to spend hours composing a three page essay that you’re finally decently happy with, only to find out that it exceeds the limit by 127 words. Although it is possible to condense an essay that’s gone on too long, it can be exasperating to have to delete what you’ve already written.
I hope this is another obvious one, but make sure you do it. Typos and grammatical errors, while probably not going to make or break your application, can nevertheless hurt your credibility; it’s a terrible feeling to be reading over something, see errors, and not be able to fix them. Furthermore, if you’re submitting your essay as a file, double-check to make sure you select the right one! Sometimes if I have multiple drafts of an essay, I save it them in separate files, so I have to verify that the one I submit is the one I want the officers to be reading, and not the one in which I experimented with stream of consciousness for an entire page.
Additionally, it’s good to not only proofread your essays yourself, but also get a fresh pair of eyes to read them. This can mean asking a friend to look over it–as someone who knows you well, they could more accurately gauge if it reflects your personality well. However, if you want a more objective viewpoint (i.e. one more like that of the admissions officers), it may be better to ask a teacher or someone who doesn’t know you well to see if your words are dazzling or dull. And, of course, it’s ultimately your own discretion how much of other people’s suggestions you use, but make sure you give your essays to others early enough that you can make their advocated changes if need be.
I also find it helpful, if there is enough time before a deadline, to leave my essay alone for a period of time–perhaps a week, perhaps longer–and then go back to it. Usually by then, I’ll better be able to judge whether my essay is actually decent, or whether I only thought it was because of the post-writing euphoria and tea-derived caffeine.
This is really an umbrella term that means more than one thing. It means, of course, to submit your essays before that deadline so they can actually be part of your application. On the other hand, it also means being happy with what you’ve written–or if not happy, at least content. College admissions can so often appear to boil down to a numbers game, be it SAT or ACT scores, number of awards, number of volunteer hours, or number of extracurricular activities. And while those are still facets of who you are and how you’ve spent your time, in a way, essays are the primary way admissions officers can hear your voice with your own words. To have finally completed that is something to be celebrated.