Let's face it: having people read through your essays is not fun. It's especially embarrassing with almost scripted pieces like college apps, where it's nearly impossible to avoid hyping yourself up. You want to put your best foot forward, but your friends are in the corner laughing at your essay on the importance of National Honor Society, even though your school's chapter used meetings as an excuse for pizza parties. Your parents seem too far removed from the application process to even get past questions about mechanics: do they really not put two spaces after the period anymore!? Or, being the supportive parents they are, mom and dad are unable to offer any helpful criticism. To them, you're the Jackie Chan of college application essays. While family and friends serve as excellent editors in the preliminary stages of drafting and editing, chances are slim that either group truly understands what college admissions boards are looking for.
Still, someone needs to scan over your work, if at least to prevent spelling and grammar errors. Luckily, I attended a high school that aided college-bound students extensively. It was made clear that staff serving with Career Services or as college liaisons were more than happy to help students with all facets of the college admissions process. Regardless of whether or not your school offers college-specific services, academic institutions are one of the best places to seek essay assistance.
- Many schools maintain writing centers, run by English-proficient/honors students and/or English instructors. However, typically, few students will take advantage of this service. This means you should easily be able to snag a spot with an English tutor, with ample time for discussing the course of your essay(s).
- Teachers, of all disciplines, revise student's essays for a living, and understand the level at which your essay needs to be. Peers, on the other hand, write at a variety of levels, and may either critique too harshly or not adequately. AP students at my school, however, were notorious for being too critical of each other's writing. Secondary education instructors are familiar with student writing styles, and are therefore, less likely to suggest edits that would dilute the voice of a piece. Though AP teachers seem like the obvious choice for revision, understand that these instructors are extremely busy. Don't overlook the new Physics teacher if you like the way she writes her lectures and test questions!
- And lastly, contact tutors here at TCE-yes this is a shameless plug. But it's true. The College Essayist is a free service, which links accomplished college students with prospective-student-mentees. This means your essay will be reviewed by individuals who are updated on current admissions processes and essay expectations. Similarly, if you don't feel comfortable discussing essays with a mentor, find a recent high school graduate/college student who attends one of your prospective schools. They will likely better understand the university's environment and be able to offer university-specific information that will show admissions boards you are eager to attend that school.
Regarding the number of people who look at your essay, keep the number low. 2 to 4 editors should be all you need to fix thematic, syntactical, and mechanics errors. Any more and you run the risk of submitting an essay that is the average of all writers/editors and not representative of you as an individual.
In all, treat your essay like an unpublished manuscript and guard it with your life. Show it only to people who will offer effective criticism. Be wary of sharing essay ideas with peers applying to the same/similar schools. And most importantly, revise, revise, revise.