It’s December, and there are still regular college application deadlines around the corner. What do you do when your students show you application essays that just don’t seem ready to go?
This is the point in the process when professionals and other well-meaning adults can overstep their roles. No worries. We’re going to share our simple approach to reviewing essays on a tight deadline.
This time of year, we get countless requests to review essays before students submit them as part of their applications. We know students have poured a lot of time into the essays; we know they want to be done; we also know there is limited time to make any major revisions.
HOW TO REVIEW A COLLEGE ESSAY
Begin by letting go of any preconceived notions about what makes a good essay. In fact, we suggest replacing the word “good” with the word “effective.” It’s important to let each student write their story in their own voice using their own words.
There is no rubric for an effective college essay, but the ones that stand out all share a few common features. Regardless of the prompt, they:
- Answer the question.
- Showcase a positive trait or characteristic.
- Sound like a high school student.
- Illustrate something meaningful about the student.
- Demonstrate reflection.
- What happened?
- Why does it matter?
We recommend reading without a red pen in hand, and without your hands on the computer keyboard. Just read. Make sure you know what the essay is about and why the student chose this topic. Then ask two key questions:
- Is anything missing?
- Is the college essay’s purpose clear?
Double-check the prompt. If the prompt asks the writer to reflect on an experience and its influence on them, be sure your child has talked about both the experience and its effect.
Use the checklist below to evaluate a traditional personal statement, such as the Common Application essay, the Coalition application, the University of California personal insight questions, ApplyTexas or any primary prompt from schools that use their own applications.
College Essay Review Checklist
- Does the essay answer the prompt?
- Can you tell why the writer chose this topic?
- Is the essay about the student, or is it really about the place, person or experience featured in the essay?
- Does it illustrate a trait the student wants to share with colleges?
- Does it tell colleges something meaningful about the writer that is not clear from the rest of the application package?
- Does the essay sound like the person who wrote it?
- Does the first paragraph make you want to keep reading?
- Does the essay move smoothly from beginning to end?
- Does the essay use the same verb tense throughout?
- Has the writer avoided sentence fragments and run-on sentences?
- Is the punctuation correct and consistent?
- Is every word spelled correctly?
- Does the student feel confident and proud of the work?
That’s it. No magic. No special tricks. If you have more questions, let us know. We have more good information, and we’re always happy to share.
Find out how to inspire your students during our free webinar
We’re launching a new
professional development program for counselors and consultants in January
called The College Essay Experience, and we’d love to include
All you have to do right now is sign up for the informational webinar. We’ll give you a taste of our process, and we’ll even do some writing. And there’s a giveaway – a free gift for everyone who signs up. You can join us live or listen to the recording.
Learn more on January 15, 1-2 pm Eastern. Sign up here, and then forget about it. In the meantime, enjoy your family and friends.
Wishing you a happy and healthy holiday season.
About the Author
Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. The Wow Method helps business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.