Grab a red pen and get ready to whip your college application essay into shape.

At some point in your college search process, you'll need to edit your application and not just the essay, but the whole thing. Because everyone makes mistakes, and those mistakes can cost you. Granted, if you use a comma when you should've used a semicolon, it's not the end of the world. But a college application with multiple grammar errors, confusing answers, and a sloppy essay will hurt your chances of admission.

It's about showing admission reps you're college material. That means writing coherent sentences, using proper spelling and grammar, and answering questions fully and accurately. Editing your application for content and proofreading it for errors will help you do that. You're not just checking your application essay for wayward punctuation you're editing for your future! (No pressure.) But I promise it's not that hard to do. These tips should help.

First things first...

DON'T TRUST SPELLCHECK. Don't trust grammar check either. Yes, pay attention to those red and green squiggly lines when you see them, but remember they won't catch everything. They even make mistakes too! It's up to you to make sure your college application is truly error free.

Set the stage

Make sure you're in the right editing mindset and environment before diving in. Whether you're reviewing your application on your laptop or a printed copy, set aside some time just for editing (more on that in a second) and find a quiet place to do it.

Read and reread each question carefully

It's easy to read an application question, especially essay prompts and short-answer questions, one time and miss what is actually being asked of you. Make sure you answer each question correctly. And if you're unsure, ask for help. (That's what your admission counselor is for.)

Make note of your weaknesses

Prone to using the wrong "there/they're/their"? Confused about when to use a semicolon? Keep those things in mind when you edit your application. This common mistake cheat sheet might help:

  • Its/it's: "Its" is an adjective indicating the possessive; "it's" is a contraction of "it is." For example: The car had lost its value. It's 15 years old.
  • There/they're/their: "There" is an adverb used to describe a place. "They're" is the contraction of "they are." And "their" is an adjective used to describe possession. For example: They're tired of taking their old car all the way over there to the repair shop.
  • Your/you're: "Your" is used to describe ownership; "you're" is a contraction of "you are." For example: You're talking too much about your car.
  • Then/Than: "Then" describes a place or sequence in time; "than" is used to make comparisons. For example: He got out of his car and then said, "I'm happier than a NASCAR driver!"
  • Freshman/freshmen: "Freshman" is both the singular of "freshmen" and the adjective form. "Freshmen" is the plural. For example: I'm glad I can have my car on campus freshman year. The other freshmen will be so jealous.
  • Semicolons/colons: Semicolons (;) separate complete but related sentences or a series of items within a series. (This comic explains semicolons better than I ever could.) Colons (:) introduce a supporting thought or examples. For example: He brought everything we needed for a road trip: snacks, snacks, and more snacks.

Change up how you read

Try at least one (if not all three) of these reading tricks to help you proofread better:

  • Read slowwwwwly. Like, painfully slowly. It will feel weird, but it will help you catch more errors.
  • Read aloud. This is one of my favorite editing tricks, because it's so easy but so effective. You will hear when your writing sounds convoluted, and you'll pick up on missing words.
  • Read backwards. Your brain will see the words differently. This isn't a good tactic for editing for content or overall "flow," of course, but you'll pick up on misspelled words and other oddities.

Come back later

Don't edit right away. After you've finished filling out your application or a draft of your essay, take a break. (I'd give it at least an hour, if not a day.) You'll come back with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective which are better for catching mistakes.

Do it more than once

Go over your application multiple times, and look for different things each time. For example, review your application one time for content, making sure you sound as smart and college-ready as you are, and another time for nitty-gritty grammar mistakes.

Get a second opinion

Even if you're the rock star of your English class, you should still have someone else edit your application. (Even editors need editors, trust.) This is important not just so they can catch any spelling or grammar errors you missed, but because they can give you an overall critique of your application, ensuring you answered the prompts correctly, are representing yourself well, etc.

And there you have it. A few easy steps and your college applications will be as polished as"something that's really shiny. (Just because I can do grammar doesn't mean I'm good at metaphors.)

P.S. You can use these tips with all your writing, from blog posts to term papers. And eventually it will become second nature. Then, when you're an editing guru yourself, you can turn editing your friends' papers into a lucrative side hustle. ?