Image from Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

I’ll state the obvious: college applications are stressful. Looking back, I was stressed about the wrong things and should’ve focused more on just being myself. If I could go back and rewrite my college essays, here’s what I would change:

I would use simpler language.

It probably didn’t help that I was really into poetry when I wrote my essays, but I would definitely cut back on the complex language and sentences. There’s a time and a place for experimenting with sentence structure and the Common App probably isn’t that place (unfortunately). Obviously, it’s great to show off your writing skills and be creative, but I would’ve simplified my language to make my message more straightforward.

I would be more concise.

My essays were repetitive. Instead of packing a lot of great content into one essay, I went on and on about one experience or feeling. It’s great to make sure you’re being detailed, but you can achieve that with a lot less words than you might think.

I would put my passions above my doubts.

I got a late start on actually writing my essays because I spent so much time brainstorming topics and changing my mind. While it helps to brainstorm before diving right in, I should’ve questioned myself less and gone with what I was passionate about. Instead of thinking, “but what if colleges don’t like this topic?,” I should’ve thought, “which topic do I like the best? Which topic could I genuinely write the most about?”

I would care less about what my classmates were doing.

At some points, I was done with my essays until I heard what other people were writing about. Suddenly, I felt as though I had to improve mine. You don’t have to submit your essays immediately; revising is obviously beneficial. However, that revising should not involve comparing your work to that of someone who is completely different from you. Other people will take a different approach and that doesn’t mean yours is wrong.

I would stop comparing myself to imaginary perfect students.

When writing my essays, I would think of students with perfect test scores, high GPA and endless extracurriculars who already started their own businesses, traveled the world and won 10 prestigious awards their freshman year. Did I actually know anyone who achieved all of this? No. But did I worry that I wouldn’t even compare to this student that I didn’t know? Of course. I shouldn’t have done that. I accomplished what I accomplished and instead of worrying that it wasn’t enough, I should’ve thought about everything I learned and incorporated it into my essays.

I would be myself.

In that way, I guess choosing a college is kind of like dating. I should’ve wanted to go to a college that likes me for who I am, not who I pretended to be. Writing my college essays was like that time I tried to impress a guy I liked by acting like I cared about football. The point is: if you don’t love something, you don’t have to pretend like you do. If your service trip didn’t actually change your life, you don’t have to say that it did. If you’re filling out a college application, write about your real interests. Sure, there’s always going to be that fear that a college you admire won’t like you back. It feels like elementary school all over again when you had a crush and passed them a note (do you like me? Check yes or no), except this time, it feels way more important and that “no” is 100 times more upsetting. But believe me: there is more than one college in the world that you can thrive at. Looking back, I would take rejection less personally, and I wouldn’t try to avoid it by being who I thought colleges wanted me to be.

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the author

Paige Sheffield is a student at Central Michigan University. In addition to writing for The Prospect, she writes for her campus newspaper, You On Top Magazine, and more. She is also a TP Editorial Internship Co-coordinator. She loves poetry, coffee, statement jewelry, zumba, politics, and the Great Lakes. She is passionate about arts education and currently volunteers and interns with organizations that provide art-related programming to underserved populations. You can follow her on twitter @paige_sheff.

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