Whew. You’ve finished your essays. Take a moment to pat yourself on the back—the hardest part of the process is now over. No more frantic brainstorming, midnight crises over the *true* meaning of supplemental essay prompts, or fending off well-meaning adults’ topic ideas. But hey, wait a moment—were you rushing off to hit “submit”? The English major in me has some advice before you do, because what takes an essay from good to great often comes in the fine-tuning. Here are five simple steps for polishing your drafts.
Step 1: Put your essays away.
Counterintuitive, I know. But if you’ve finished your essays a little while before the deadline, the best thing you can do is put them away for a few days. This will allow you to clear your mind and gather some perspective. Then, when you return to your essays, you’ll be returning with a fresh pair of eyes. Is the story as vivid as you remembered it? Is that joke still funny? Is there a key detail you omitted that your reader should know? Looking at your essays after putting them away for a few days will most closely mimic how the reader of your application is going to see them. When we open an essay, we have no idea what it will hold—we’re just excited to dive into something new. Let yourself approach your essays in the same way. (And at the risk of sounding parental, this is a REALLY GOOD reason to finish your essays more than a couple of hours before the deadline.)
Step 2: Hand them to someone who doesn't know you very well.
At some point in your process, you might have asked your parents, close friends, or a teacher to look over your essays. While their insights might have been helpful, these are people who already know something about you. They come to the page with a fully-fleshed-out idea of who you are, what you value, and what interests you. The admissions officer reading your essays won’t already know these things. So it can be a good idea to have someone less close to you (a friend’s parent, an elementary school teacher, your favorite bus driver) read over your essays if they’re willing. Ask this kind volunteer to describe your personality as it comes through in your writing. If what they say is accurate—if it captures the important pieces of who you are—then you’ve done a good job. If the person they describe sounds totally different from who you are, or if they can’t describe anyone at all, this probably means you need to go back into the draft and rework it so that your authentic voice comes through. Remember: the reader of your application has rarely met you in person, and if we have, it was briefly; we’re learning everything we know about you from your essays. Are they telling us what you want us to know?
Step 3: Print those babies out.
In my job as editor of JUMBO Magazine, I spend a lot of time proofreading. I can go through four rounds of edits on the screen and feel confident that no detail has been missed. But no matter what, when the proofs arrive on paper for sign-off, there will always be a few typos I didn’t catch on the screen. Printing an essay out will help you to notice the little details—an extra “the", a misspelled "Tufts" (read Jason’s guide if you’re struggling with that, by the way)—so you can feel confident nothing has been missed.
Step 4: Read your essays out loud.
After you’ve printed your essays, read them out loud. This isn’t about having an audience (read aloud to your wall, or the stuffed animals you keep hidden under some pillows on your bed). This exercise is about making sure that the words sound natural coming out of your mouth. If a phrase trips you up, why is that? Could it be that “sauntered homewards beneath an azure sky” isn’t something you would normally say in conversation? Also pay attention to the rhythm of your essays. Are the sentences choppy? Are they flat and sort of lifeless? Do they run on for so long that you lose your breath? Notice all of these things while you read your essays aloud. Anything that feels a little bit off—anything that doesn’t sound like you—is a sentence you can rework.
Step 5: Hit submit (and try not to think about it).
Once you hit submit, you’re really truly done! And while you might feel tempted to re-read your essays every day while you wait for your decision, in a subtle form of self-torture, don’t do that. Your job is over. Which means mine is just beginning. Our whole team is so excited to get to know you—not just you as a student, but you as a human being, you as a community member, you as a future classmate and roommate. Thanks for sharing your stories with us (and yes, thanks for proofreading them).
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