How to Tell if Your Essay Is Ready to Send to a College (Sample Essay Included)
November 14, 2013. If you already have an essay draft, how can you improve it? Try this simple and new technique that we developed to help students see clearly how to strengthen their essays. Before you start to look at grammar, spelling, and paragraph structure, make sure that your writing shows some of your best qualities—qualities that can help you be successful in school, and in life.
You probably have heard people talk but they are not saying anything. They might as well be saying, “blah, blah, blah” or even not be there at all. The same thing can happen with an essay. Make sure you don’t have an INVISIBLE ESSAY. You want just the opposite to happen—for your essay to stand out, and clearly show some of your best characteristics.
The first thing an admissions officer will think after he or she has finished reading an essay is “What have I learned about this student?” For example, she might say, “he’s confident, perceptive, friendly, likes the environment, and positive.”
Try this technique to quickly improve your draft. You will need: two copies of your essay, pen and paper, and a friend, parent or counselor with good judgment. This should take approximately 20 minutes.
- Sit down with your friend or parent. Each of you should have a copy of the essay in front of you, and pen and paper.
- Now, one of you read your essay out loud. Afterwards, your friend writes a list of everything he has learned about you from reading it. Also, you write a list of everything that you hope a person will learn about you from reading your essay. (See example below.)
- Now you have two lists. They are rarely the same. Sometimes, your friend will have items you don’t have because he might see good qualities in you revealed in the essay that you didn’t even know you had. But what if you have listed qualities that you think are in the essay that your friend didn’t notice? That’s not so good. That means you are writing an INVISIBLE ESSAY. Now is time for the detective work. Try and find the sentences that backed up the qualities that you think were described in your essay, but your friend missed. Circle the sentences that validate or prove each item on the lists.
Common essay problems that this technique uncovers:
- Your main points are near the end of the essay. Don’t make someone read to the end to figure out what you are trying to say! Try to get your main point across in the first paragraph.
- Other main points are buried within a paragraph. Move them to the beginning of a paragraph.
- You think you’ve written about a good quality but you haven’t. Add sentences that back up your point, then reread your essay with someone else.
- You haven’t been detailed enough about the quality to make it stand out. Use sensory information (smells, sounds (including dialogue), touch, taste, sights (use colors!) and reflections to add detail.
Here’s an example. In the following essay, the writer thought the reader would learn this about him:
|Points Revealed in the Essay||Sentences that Back Up the Point|
|He can make a change when needed||“After much thought, I transferred to the academically-rigorous Greenhills School, a local college prep school.”|
|Attentive||“My teachers noticed I was sitting in the first row;”
“For example, I’m not able to listen to music while studying; I’m drawn to focus all my energy on listening to the music, and can’t give studying the attention I want to.”
|Plays many instruments||“I realized that I wasn’t going to get any better at bass, piano, guitar, or any other instruments I play.”|
|Hard worker||“I couldn’t expect to be fed all knowledge on a silver platter, I needed to work for it. This meant that if I didn’t understand something in class, I wouldn’t just sit and whine about how I didn’t get it, I would go and read or reread the text book, look it up, or ask the teacher in order to find out.”|
|Passionate about books and writing—
|When the writer looked to see where he backed up this point in the essay, he couldn’t find anything. He didn’t really say how much he liked English, or why. All he said is he started getting A’s in English.
To show that he is passionate about writing, he would need to write about either how much time he spends writing, some books he has read recently that he loves, a writing group that he is in, or a writing project that he is working on.
Common App Essay Example—by Lang Delancey, who is now attending U of Michigan Honors Program
My life changed when I realized that “you get out what you put in.” I began to ponder this idea in 7th grade at Tappan Middle School, when my grades were suffering because I wasn’t paying attention to the subject matter or doing the work. After much thought, I transferred to the academically-rigorous Greenhills School, a local college prep school. During my first year at Greenhills, I was way behind everybody else and totally overwhelmed with the work load. During my sophomore year at Greenhills, I began to realize what I needed to do. I realized that “you get out what you put in,” meaning I couldn’t expect to be fed all knowledge on a silver platter, I needed to work for it. This meant that if I didn’t understand something in class, I wouldn’t just sit and whine about how I didn’t get it, I would go and read or reread the text book, look it up, or ask the teacher in order to find out.
I started to get excited about learning in school. My teachers noticed I was sitting in the first row; my classes seemed more relevant and relatable to me. This helped get the ball rolling for me, and I was able to go from almost failing 7th grade English to getting all A’s my junior year. School still excites me every day.
The same principle also applies to my love for music. Around the same time that my grades began their uptrend, I realized that I wasn’t going to get any better at bass, piano, guitar, or any other instruments I play by simply sitting there and wishing I was better. I began to practice my instruments and listen to live and recorded music more intensely and passionately than ever before. If I wanted the deep emotional expression of the jazz bass, I would need to spend time working on my improvisation and music theory; if I wanted the high energy expression of punk or ska, I would need to practice timing and intensity while playing. The same applies to listening to music, I mean really listening, for the sake of listening. For example, I’m not able to listen to music while studying; I’m drawn to focus all my energy on listening to the music, and can’t give studying the attention I want to.
The fact that you “get out what you put in” is the single most important principle in my life, and I owe my realization of it to Greenhills School. This principle started with academics and spread to the rest of my life. It is only through seeing the consequences of my own actions that I can achieve whatever I want to and be whoever I want to be. I often think of words of the artist William Henry Johnson, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
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