The importance of writing an authentic college application essay CANNOT be underestimated!
The biggest mistake students make in this instance is submitting an essay that is not or does not sound like it was written by a high school senior.
This is not simply my own opinion. It is a message I hear consistently from college admission officers.
What they desire to see the most is an essay is that sounds like it was written by a 17-year-old—not something that comes across as done by an older, more experienced, writer.
When they delve into an essay and begin to realize that it is not written in an authentic voice—and they can detect that because they read a lot of essays—it is an enormous letdown for them.
Of course, writing an essay in an original student’s voice and style may not be as sophisticated or polished. It certainly will not come close to what a professional writer would produce. And it may be very hard to submit such an “imperfect” piece of writing.
However, making it “better” does not help the college applicant. Rather, it may actually hurt them.
So, how can parents and students alike avoid this massive mistake?
Consider two ways you can make sure the college application essay truly sounds like it was written by the applicant.
1. Parents: Keep Your (Virtual) Pen Off the Paper
It may be hard to look at your child’s essay and see obvious things that can be changed to make it “better.” But that is a trap, and you must resist that temptation.
Do not rewrite it. Do not edit it. No, do not even change one word!
What you can do is use the margins to make comments or have a conversation with your child and ask relevant questions. It is quite alright to tell them that you do not understand something in their essay. And it is certainly no crime to suggest and encourage them to add more information.
In fact, it is important that you help them to think more deeply about certain passages or paragraphs. That is what a good editor does!
Of course, it would be easier to just fix it yourself. After all, who wants to go through asking a ton of questions about things you see that need to be changed or that need explanations because they are not expressed clearly? But that is the first step down a slippery slope. It is the beginning of making the essay sound like it was written by someone else—the start of it losing its authenticity.
2. Students: Respect the Editing/Feedback Process
Aside from the first and most obvious factor—actually writing your own essay in your own voice, there are two important aspects you must understand about editing.
A) Have your essay ready for feedback
While you are writing, you can certainly get verbal feedback from others. Do not shy away from asking questions of your parents, your English teacher, or perhaps your educational consultant.
But before you ever think about handing your essay to someone else for editing, take time to make sure it is ready. It may just be a draft, but it still should be correctly formatted and spelled-checked. Do not become lazy. Treat your editor with respect and hand them a useful draft. It will help you to get better feedback and give you a real chance to make a better draft.
Moreover, give yourself feedback on your own writing. How? Find a private area where you feel comfortable, stand up, and read your essay out loud to yourself. Listen carefully and ask yourself, “Does it sound correct?” If it does not, go back and make changes before you pass it on to anyone else.
B) Know who to ask for feedback
It may be really tempting to put your essay on a Google document and send it out for feedback to several people all at once—your parents, your high school English teacher, and your college counselor.
Usually, these individuals are caring enough to give you feedback. Often, very serious feedback. It is not a quick matter to them. They consider your essay at length, contemplate what they want to tell you, make notes, and truly put a lot of effort into giving you well thought-out advice.
What happens, though, is that inevitably their feedback will conflict. Some will feel that certain parts of your essay are terrible, and others will say they are not. Which advice will you take and which not? What information will you incorporate and what will you ignore? Are you perhaps just shopping for the best advice? Fishing for the feedback that you like best? Do you think that kind of attitude is respectful to those who provided you the information?
Every one of those people you asked for feedback cares deeply about you getting a great college application together. If you most likely will throw away some of the advice they give you, why are you asking them to work this hard in the first place? That is a waste of their time.
Moreover, as the saying goes, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” You can actually throw yourself into confusion by using too many editors at one time. How will you really choose which advice to take? Being conflicted like that, with way too many choices, will definitely not give you a better essay. Rather, your writing will probably reflect some of that confusion.
How do you avoid this pitfall?
I strongly recommend you use only one primary editor—a person that can help you get your essay crafted. Go back and forth with that editor until you feel really good about what you wrote. Listen to their advice, though, you do not need to take all of it. It is still your choice to make.
Only once you feel your essay is ready and your primary editor agrees, send it to another person, or two. Explain to them that your draft is in the second stage of editing and that you have worked very hard on it. Be very clear about what type of feedback you are looking for—perhaps simply some basic comments.
If you are still struggling with writing an authentic essay after reviewing these tips, consider contacting me for additional advice. I am an Independent Educational Consultant with many years of experience in this field. And I would certainly be happy to help you make the best of your college application essay.