Check out all of the blog posts in this series:
- Identifying the Ingredients of a Winning Essay
- Finding a Theme for Your Statement of Purpose
- Writing Your Career Goals Essay
- How to Start Your First Draft of an Application Essay
- Revise and Polish Your Application Essays
You’ve completed your first essay draft – this is a great milestone! Now it’s time to revise and edit that draft. Outstanding essays are not sprung into the world on the first try. Here’s how to edit and polish your essay until it shines:
1. Let your essay rest for a day or two, particularly after an intensive writing session. You’ll return to your writing with fresh eyes and undoubtedly see ways to strengthen it immediately. One of the most common problems plaguing application essays is bland, forgettable prose. As you look at your essay anew, root out generic writing, such as in the following sentence:
“Although I have been responsible for a lot of exciting projects, I want to move into management, which might not happen on my current path.”
What kind of projects? What made them exciting? Why wouldn’t a management path be open to the writer? Has this been explained? Let’s resuscitate this prose by adding appropriate details.
“My role as a product manager for a midsized giftware business has allowed me to develop my creativity as well as my communication and market research skills. As exciting as it has been to have helped plan and release our innovative kitchen giftware, whose designs are based on famous Impressionist paintings, I want to move more into management, which seems unlikely at this family-owned and -managed company.”
Adding details takes more room, but it’s so worth it, because those details make your essay come alive. When you are pressed for space, it’s better to include fewer examples but flesh each one out in greater detail, rather than offering a laundry list of vague accomplishments or character traits you feel you possess. “Show, don’t tell” remains a cardinal rule in writing.
2. Ditch the passive voice. This will further liven up and tighten your writing. Consider the following passive-voice sentence:
“Negotiations over the extent of the website design were carried out by a team of managers and me, representing the technical team.”
This passive construction is draggy. Move the “doer” of the action to the head of the sentence for a remodeled statement that makes you sound like a leader (and is six words shorter):
“I represented the technical team in negotiations with management over the extent of the website design.”
3. Read your essay aloud. Hearing your essay allows you to catch any small mistakes that you inadvertently missed during the editing process and that are easily overlooked when reading silently. Reading aloud, you will also notice which sentences can benefit from some tightening, expanding, or other improvements.
4. Assess for overall quality control. Has your essay achieved the goal you set for it? Do you sound like the irresistibly focused, thoughtful, and energetic individual you want to sound like? Make sure that the voice you created on the page resonates positively.
- Step away from your draft for a day or two so you can return to it with a fresh perspective.
- Root out instances of bland writing or passive voice and replace them with more specific, active prose.
- Read your essay aloud so you can hear any weak spots, as well as hear the overall voice you have created. Does your essay meet your goals? If not, keep revising and enlist an experienced editor to help get you to the finish line.
Congratulations! You’ve taken an important step toward planning, drafting, and editing a successful application essay. Now it’s time to move from general tips to personalized advice tailored just for you. Here’s how it works:
- Explore our admissions consulting and editing service to find the option that best suits your needs.
- Partner with an admissions expert who will work with you directly. Your partner will help you discover your competitive advantage and use it to get accepted to your dream school.
- Shoot us an email letting us know when you’ve been accepted. It makes our day!
Need help figuring out which service is best for you? Click here for more guidance.
Work one-on-one with an expert who will walk you through the process of creating a slam-dunk application when you check out our catalog of application services. Our admissions consultants have read thousands of essays and know the exact ingredients of an outstanding essay.
By Judy Gruen, former Accepted admissions consultant. Judy holds a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University and is the co-author of Accepted’s first full-length book, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools. Want an admissions expert help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Five Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Personal Statement, a free guide
• 3 Tips for Showing Strengths in Your Application Essays
• Bring Your Personal Statement to Life With Vivid, Active Verbs