Editing Your College Essay: The 3 P's

The process of editing one's personal college essay is very similar to how one manually applies the shine to their car, or add a coat of finishing gel to their recently-painted fingernails. It's all about patience, persistence and perspective.
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It's been quite a few weeks, coming up with topics for our personal essays and then making sure we followed the rules of standard English language -- and, with the stress of college application deadlines on the horizon, there is no doubt your essay needs to be polished as soon as possible.

And how exactly do you do that? Well, the process of editing one's personal college essay is very similar to how one manually applies the shine to their car, or add a coat of finishing gel to their recently-painted fingernails. It's all about patience, persistence and perspective.

The girl who just put on her nail polish has to wait a few minutes before even considering slapping on that clear, shiny layer. It's only common sense, and, just like your essay, the nails need time to dry.

Take a serious break from your personal essay, and by serious, I really mean -- close the Word doc (after you save it!). Then, put it in a safe folder. This prevents the temptation to click on it sooner than 24 hours, and assuages the fear that you might accidentally delete it. After all, the title "Essay" could also be the essay you turned in about Hamlet two years ago.

It might hurt, but this "time apart" from your essay will do you both good.

You will be able to remove the personal connection you've made with your essay. In other words, you will be able to come back to it with an open mind. You will see more mistakes than you did earlier, just because psychology tells us that we subliminally read what we think we wrote. Why do you think we suggest going back to proofread your SAT essay the last two minutes?

As soon as the clock strikes the 24th hour, open up that Word doc and go to town. Read it over and over, because the second 'P' is...

I always used to watch my mom apply the wax on top of the family car when I was about half my current age; mostly because she wouldn't let me hold the can. But also because I didn't have much persistence. I wanted to throw the wax on the car, only spend a minute or two spreading it with the cloth, and go back to watching Sunday morning cartoons. Editing your essay is kinda the same.

Just one read through will not suffice. You will find errors hidden in the crevices of every nook and cranny of your essay, whether it's in the opening line or the closing remarks. You will see that words are jumbled, or that a word is missing. Again, we sometimes think we included certain words because we wrote it, and we know what we want there -- however, if it's really there is up to your revisions.

Reading through your personal statement thrice, four times, and maybe even five times in one sitting is preferred. To take it a step further, read it out loud to yourself. Add a little presentation. Read like those people do on the tape recordings for books.

By emphasizing certain words and taking breaks after commas -- as opposed to reading it in a monotone voice -- you will begin to see if a voice is present in your essay. Or, better yet, your voice.

And, I have to tell you once again, take a break. Go read something else, or do a jog. Do your homework. Look for scholarships. You know those couples that spend every waking moment together? Don't be like that with your essay. Everyone needs a little breathing room.

Once you've come back from your trip to the pool or a few video games, print out your essay and start thinking of who to ask to read it.

The stereotype of an admissions counselor is an old man, probably wearing a paisley tie paired with penny loafers and has the tiniest spectacles tipped on the edge of his nose. Ironically, I have never seen an admissions counselor who looks like this, but, after watching too much television, it's almost hard not to picture this man once you're thinking about college admissions (as I write this, That '70s Show character Eric Forman sits for a interview with Princeton's admissions officer).

Anyway, think about your audience. In most cases, it is someone of the older crowd, so getting your friends to read your essays might not be as helpful as you think it is.

Instead, turn to your teachers. But before you start practicing your best "please-do-this-for-me-I'm-desperate-and-you're-my-English-teacher-so-you-obviously-know-what-you're-doing" face, consider instructors who might have more experience with the college admissions process.

Or maybe even just more personal experience. Better yet, it might help to ask your favorite teacher. If they're familiar with you, they could help develop your voice in your essay, seeing as they already hear it in their class everyday.

At the same time, be weary of taking too much advice. It might be helpful to get some tips, but reconstructing your entire essay might be too far.

In the end, the personal statement is personal and should reflect your thoughts and your voice. It can be hard to filter the opinions of others on whether a certain sentence sounds right, but sure enough, you're the only one who is turning it in. If your essay contains the word "naked," and you're fine with it, keep it there.

Have any other concerns when editing your essay? Check out the previous posts on the series "Personal Statements and What They're All About," or leave a comment on The Collegiate Blog's article for more help!

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