52 Weeks to College — Week 8: Revising Essays

Now that you have at least a week of drafting essays behind you, you are ready to tackle the next phase of the writing process – revising. Revising is its own art, so our tips and tricks this week focus on how to do it well.

Week 8 To-Dos 

This Week and Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year. 

This Week

  • Revise your first application. As we noted in a prior post, drafting and revising are distinct tasks. At this point, we expect that you have already drafted all your answers for your first application and that you are ready to turn your attention to revising them.
  • Begin working on your second application. The essay map you created in Week 6 is your writing to-do list. Look to see which application essays are next on your list and start drafting them.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 4's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then. (We’ll have more advice about how to take advantage of these opportunities in a few weeks.)
  • Revise your first scholarship application. Revising your scholarship application should be much like revising your first application, so you can apply the same tips and tricks.
  • Keep prepping for your upcoming standardized tests. In Week 6, you made a test prep schedule for yourself. It will only work if you work it! So go to it.

Tips & Tricks

Revise content first. You will save loads of time if you revise your essay for content before you move on to revising it for things like flow and voice. An easy way to check for whether you have the right amount of content in your draft is to let the word counts guide you. Most application essays have both a minimum and a maximum word count (or character count). These word counts signal how much content your essay is expected to have.

  • If your draft falls between the minimum and maximum word count, then move on to revising for flow and voice.
  • If your draft is below the minimum word count, then you have to add meaningful content, not just words. How could you develop one of your ideas more deeply? What other ideas could you introduce? Stick with it until you have a draft that is the right length.
  • If your draft is above the maximum word count, then you probably have tried to develop too many ideas in the essay. Consider which ideas are central and then eliminate the others. 

Check your essay for flow. An essay that flows well carries the admissions officer reading it effortlessly from one idea to the next. She never stumbles, gets lost or has to reread to figure out what you are trying to say. A logical order and smooth transitions are the keys to an essay that flows well. As you are revising, pay close attention to these aspects of your essay. Is there a logical order to your ideas? If not, stop and reorder. Are there smooth transitions between your ideas? If not, take the time to rework your transitions. After you’ve revised, a good way to check that your revisions have solved your flow problems is to read your essay aloud. You’ll hear missed connections or bumpy transitions long before you see them.

Make sure your voice comes through loud and clear. When an admissions officer reads your essay, he should feel as if he were talking to you and only you. In order to leave the admissions officer with that feeling, your essay must have your voice. Most applicants have plenty of voice in the first drafts of their essays, but strip it all away when they revise. Guard against doing that as you revise your own essays. For example, keep the quirky phrase that you are well known for using or hold onto your signature staccato writing rhythm of short, emphatic sentences. These are the aspects of your writing voice that make it yours and yours alone.

Once you’ve revised your first application, you’ll be ready to finalize it next week. And that means you’ll have one application done by the end of August and a second one well underway. Can you see how you are starting to build momentum and get ahead of the curve? We hope so, because you are! Keep it up.


About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley, August 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our forthcoming book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.