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Make sure you’re ready to submit your essay

Self review your work

This is

a focused and detailed review of your pretty-darn-close-to-finished college essay.

It starts with the same questions you asked at the end of Being a Storyteller, and adds a final set of questions to review the work you just did

Do this because

you want to make sure that, somewhere along the way, you didn’t break something. That happens sometimes. Give yourself an opportunity to catch anything that could make this less than your best work. Its your college essay. You want to nail it.

Sometimes something drops out as you’re finishing a writing project. It’s a omplex system like fixing a car or software: if you fix onesmalll thing it can affect things up and down the line. You need to do one big review to make sure you didn’t break anything, drop out a sentence or strengths, etc.

 

 

Now, do this

 

Answer these questions. However you answer, we have a next step for to do. It may be to pat yourself on the back, or we may tell you what you can do to get to a yes.

We suggest having someone go through these questions with you—remember, professional writers get feedback and input at key points in the process. This is one of them.

If you want to get feedback on your essay (in addition to doing the work on this page), you can share the Be a Writer Feedback Form. Be sure to include your top ten strengths and personal intentions. [[[link or button]]]

But make sure anyone helping you has read our instruction page. [[[link]]]

Does it meet the top-level intentions for a college essay?

Is it an engaging short story (or heading straight in that direction)?

If you’re not sure if it’s a short story, ask yourself if it’s an academic paper, a newspaper article, a legal document, or some other kind of writing. Short stories can look a lot of ways. If you’re wondering, you can always read more sample essays [[[link]]].

Will the bored, frustrated college admissions officers think it’s engaging (when it’s finished and polished that is)? Is it a story worth reading, and story they haven’t read a hundred times already?

Yes
Great! Keep paying attention to the structure and flow of the story as you work. You’ll learn more ways to bring it life and make it even more engaging in the Being a Writer phase.

Keep going through this assessment—dig deeper and look for opportunities to tell an even more engaging story.

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to what makes the essays so engaging. How can you make your essay more engaging?

No

Go back to your last Storyteller version. Was that an engaging (or potentially engaging) short story?

If not, go back to the self review for the Storyteller phase. That will help you see what’s missing.

If the earlier version was on the way to being an engaging short story, what did you change? What can you put back in place? Sometimes people lose parts of the story as they polish their essay.

If your answer isn’t obvious, here’s what to do:

Keep on with this review!

Go all the way through the rest of the questions on this page. That will give you the answers you need (and the next steps to take).

Does it show who you are in your authentic voice?

Will the admissions officer get a sense of what it’s like to be around you? What might you be like as a friend or roommate, student or classmate? Have you given a broad picture?

In a nutshell: have you given them a reason to want you to be part of their community?

Is the story uniquely yours? Other people may have had similar experiences, but if someone who knew you read it, would they be able to pick you out as the author? Does it sound like you?

Yes
Outstanding! That’s what college admissions officers want more than anything: to know who you are and what it’s like to be around you. And, they want to read an essay in your natural voice, with your authentic thoughts and perspectives on yourself and the world.

Not many college essays do this.

Keep going through the assessment—dig deeper and look for opportunities to become even more authentic and show more of yourself.

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to what the students are doing to make the essay uniquely theirs. What can you do to make your essay even more authentically yours?

No

Go back to your last Storyteller version. Was that authentic? Did it show who you are?

If not, go back to the self review for the Storyteller phase. That will help you see what’s missing.

If the earlier version was authentic and showed who you are, what did you change? What can you put back in place? Sometimes people lose parts of the story as they polish their essay.

If your authentic self isn’t coming through (which happens all the time), it’s probably because you missed something that we’ll ask about in the next few questions.

Here’s what to do:

Keep on with this review!

Go all the way through the rest of the questions on this page. That will give you the answers you need (and the next steps to take.

Does it meet your personal intentions?

At this point in the process your personal intentions include your top ten strengths you worked with in the Thinker phase, and the deeper personal intention you created in the Storyteller phase.

Does it show at least five of your top ten strengths from the survey you took in the foundation? This is where these strengths are critical!

Some strengths come through in your tone (humor, gratitude, humility). If these are missing, they may start to show up in the Being a Writer phase.

Our personal mentoring students have at least seven strengths come through, often all of the top ten. You can aim for that as well, but if five come through, you’ll be setting yourself up for one of the best essays colleges will read this year.

Yes
That’s fantastic. Most college essays have one or two at most, and those by accident.

If not all ten show up, look for opportunities to sneak in another strength or two. Sometimes just a phrase or sentence is enough.

Do not force it! You’ve probably heard the phrase, show don’t tell. Let people see your strengths in your actions, and hear them in your language.

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to the personal strengths that are coming through in these essays. How can you add one or two of your own strengths, or enhance one that’s already showing?

No

It’s funny–sometimes people’s strengths show up in their early experiments and, after some work, they all disappear. That’s part of writing.

Here’s the good news:  if you use this process your strengths will naturally appear.

Before you do any of these steps, finish this review. The solution may be obvious as you answer the rest of the questions. 

First, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours? Can you do a little rewriting or rephrasing to bring the strengths out? (Remember, you’re showing your strengths–don’t just tell the reader!)

Second, are there opportunities to bring out a strength through your tone? Some (like humility, gratitude, and love) can come through with just a few words.

Third, look back at your Storyteller draft. Are there strengths in there that have vanished? Can you put them back in?

Fourth, go back to your crap file. Read through that looking for stories that show your strengths. Were they there? Did you use those stories? How can you bring them into your essay? Sometimes, it doesn’t take much. Just a sentence or two can make a strength appear

Finally, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]].

If your strengths are just missing, go back to Being a Thinker section and do these two activities: 

Are your specific personal intentions that you identified in the Storyteller phase [[[link back]]] coming through? Are you communicating what you want to communicate? Is your message coming through?

Yes
Excellent. Being intentional gives you power. Good job.

Keep those intentions in front of you as you work on the essay. They should be guiding you for the rest of the process.

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to what the writers are communicating about themselves. How can you strengthen what you’re already saying about yourself?

No

Don’t sell yourself short here! 

This is an easy place to say it’s good enough. Don’t do that. You came up with your personal intentions after writing thousands of words of raw content and discovering what you said in them. You can show your intentions. You just haven’t done it in this particular draft.

(Happens all the time to the pros, by the way.)

Go back to your last Storyteller version. Were your intentions coming through there?

If not, go back to the self review for the Storyteller phase. That will help you see what’s missing.

If the earlier version showed your strengths, what did you change? What can you put back in place? Sometimes people lose parts of the story as they polish their essay.

If your intentions aren’t coming through (which happens sometimes), it’s probably because you missed something that we’ll ask about in the next few questions.

Here’s what to do:

Before you do any of these steps, finish this review. The solution may be obvious as you answer the rest of the questions. 

First, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]].

Third, go back to your crap file. Which stories illustrate what you want to communicate? Which stories could illustrate what you want to communicate if you got more detailed?

Finally, go back to Being a Thinker section and do these two activities:

Does it have the three key types of content (stuff that happened, in-the-moment experience, and after-the-fact insight, observation, or perspective)?

All effective essays include these three types of content. You don’t necessarily need a lot of all of them, but they each need to be there. There’s no formula of where they go, and it isn’t always obvious. Take a close look.

If you answered ‘no’ to one of the earlier questions, you may find the answer here. You can close a lot of gaps in your writing by adding or enhancing one of these three elements.  

Is there stuff that happened?

There are specific events, conversations, dialog, actions, etc. It’s you doing something in the world (as opposed to talking about concepts, philosophies, or who you are).

Yes
That’s fantastic. Too many college essays are conceptual or vague.

Are there ways to add to the action? Maybe some dialog? Maybe more details?

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to the stuff that happens in these essays. How can you add to the action in your essay?

No

Admissions officers need to see you in action to know who you are. They need a sense of what you do, what you say, how you interact with people, or how you solve problems. This means getting specific.

You don’t need much, but you need something to anchor your in-the-moment experiences and your after-the-fact observations in reality. Otherwise, they’re just concepts.

First, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]].

Third, go back to your Storyteller draft and raw content. Where’s the action? What are you doing and saying? Another way of thinking about this question is asking (as you read your writing), what could be captured on video and shown on YouTube? That’s what you want—something that another person can see and hear. This is another way to think of show, don’t tell.

Finally, go back to the Being a Thinker section and do these two activities:

Have you shared your in-the-moment experiences?

This is what you were thinking and feeling at the time the stuff was happening. It’s what was going through your head.

Yes
Good job. This helps make your essay you. Two people can have the same experience and respond differently. That’s what admissions officers want to know. How do you respond?

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to the students’ thoughts and feelings. What more can you show in your essay?

No

Admissions officers need to see know how you respond in the moment to know who you are. They need a sense of what you think and feel. You may need to dig a little deeper to discover this. Sometimes what we think and feel is invisible to us.

You don’t need much, but you need something to make the stuff that happens personal, and to provide a starting point for your after-the-fact observations.

First, go back to your Storyteller draft and raw content. Where have you shared your thoughts, feelings, or in-the-moment reactions to events? What are you thinking or feeling when the action is happening?

Another way of thinking about this question is asking (as you read your writing), if I’m watching a video of the action on YouTube, what would I have been thinking or feeling at the time?

Second, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours?

Third, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]]

Finally, go back to Being a Thinker section and do these two activities:

Is there after-the-fact analysis, insights, or perspective?

This is what you understand, think and feel today as you look back at the story and experience in the essay.

Yes
Excellent. Those observations and insights help highlight your message and reveal something about how you’ve grown.

Read some sample essays for inspiration [[[insert link]]]. Pay attention to what the students share that they wouldn’t have seen until after the events took place.

No
Admissions officers want to have a sense of how you’ve grown, what you’ve learned, or what you think about yourself and the world. What you see today that you didn’t see when the action was taking place will help give them this sense.

You don’t need much, and you can be subtle. But without this, essays fall flat.

First, go back to your Storyteller draft and raw content. Where do you share observation, insights, or current-day perspectives? Where do share what you see today that you didn’t see at the time?

Another way of thinking about this question is asking (as you read your writing), if I’m watching a video of the action on YouTube, would there be a bit of narration helping me to know what’s going on[[that’s not quite right]]

Second, read some sample essays [[hyperlink]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours?

Third, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the [[get help instructions or whatever we call it]].

Finally, go back to Being a Storyteller section and do these two activities: [[update links/titles when finalized]]

  • [[[I think it’s taking notes on what you’ve written, and a directed version of waboc]]]

Structure and flow

Do the pieces of your essay fit together?

Some essays are about a single topic or event, but many great essays cover a range. Either way, does the content come together as a whole? Does the flow make sense?

Look from the perspective of your audience—how would someone who doesn’t know your story find this easy to follow? It’s ok to have spots where there’s a surprise or you leave the reader confused if it’s intentional and serves your message. Otherwise, would someone who doesn’t know your story have to do extra work to understand what’s going on? Remember, college admissions officers are reading essays all day long, and their eyes may be going in circles in their heads.

Make their lives easy!

Yes

[[[Not sure these all need content–maybe just playful things? Getting repetitive]]]

No

Sometimes you need to play around to find a structure that’s easy to read. Don’t make the admissions officer do extra work to get to the end of your essay.

First, go back to your Storyteller draft. Did that have a structure than made sense top-to-bottom? If it did, look at your drafts in the Writer phase to see where you lost the structure and flow. The solution may be obvious

Second, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours? Is it an issue with the overall structure? Missing content? Ineffective transitions?

Third, go back to Learning the five types of essays. Which one is your essay? Did you mix up a couple of structures? Is it a hamburkabob? A salad cake? There may just be something out of place in your essay.

Fourth, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]]

Finally, go back to these three activities: 

Tone and language

Is your essay a lively read?

Does it have your voice in it? A tone that keeps the reader engaged? Will your reader at the end say, ok, I know some stuff now or wow, that was an experience!

 

Yes
I’m running out of things to say–Great! Fantastic! Keep going!

Starting to think that for this last self review, if they say yes, we just have something fun and playful under each–like this…

Good job. Here’s a puppy.

 

No

First, read some sample essays [[hyperlink]]. That’s always the place to start. What’s different about those? What’s missing in yours?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]]

Third, go back to your Storyteller draft and raw content. Did you polish out some lively language as you edited? Is there language your or someone else highlighted because it just sounded so good? Is there any language in your raw content that you could use? Perhaps something you or a reviewer highlighted?

Finally, go back to these two steps:

Does every word count?

Tight writing is good writing. Please…feel free to have a strong voice, a lot of detail, and evocative language. But every word and phrase needs to contribute to your intention for the message, tone, and reader’s experience.

Think about the sample essays you’ve read. How does the tightness of your language compare? [[[need to avoid comparing the quality of writing–don’t want to demoralize a kid]]]

Yes

[[[not doing yes ones for now–have something playful, thoughtful, inspiring instead?]]]

No

First, read some sample essays [[link]]. That’s always the place to start. Are there words and phrases you see in your essay that don’t show up in those?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[link]]

Finally, go back to go back to these two steps:

Do you grab your reader’s attention?

Grab ‘em by the collar and yell, pay attention to me!

Or, put your arm around their shoulder and whisper, let me tell you a story.

However you start, you have got to make the admissions officer want to read your essay.

Remember your audience—some admissions officers will tune out if the first sentence doesn’t grab their attention (and they see a lot of first sentences). Fair? Maybe not. But that’s what you’re dealing with.

Yes

[[[not doing yes ones for now–have something playful, thoughtful, inspiring instead?]]]

No

First, read the first few lines from some sample essays [[hyperlink]]. That’s always the place to start. Does your opening capture the reader the way these do? Any inspiration?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[[link]]]

Finally, go back to Grabbing your reader’s attention for more ideas and guidance. Sometimes this takes time. Keep at it!:

Do you have smooooth transitions?

Make it easy for your reader to get from beginning to end. It’s ok to leave people confused or to have big jumps, as long as it serves your intentions for your message and the tone and reader experience.

Otherwise it should be a smooth reading experience start to finish.

  • Does each section of your essay move cleanly and clearly into the next?
  • Do the transitions make it clear when you change place or time?
  • Do the transitions make it clear for someone who doesn’t know the story at all?
Yes

[[[not doing yes ones for now–have something playful, thoughtful, inspiring instead?]]]

No

First, read some sample essays paying attention to the transitions (they aren’t always obvious) [[hyperlink]]. Do your transitions work as smoothly as in these essays? Any inspiration?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[[link]]]

Finally, go back to go back to Making smoooooth transitions for more ideas and guidance. Sometimes this takes time. Keep at it!:

Do you end like a pro?

After all this work, be sure to end it well! Read the first couple of lines of your essay and the last couple of lines. Is there a sense of completeness, like something worth reading happened here and this is the end of the story, journey, or chapter in this person’s life?

[[[seems like there’s something else here…not sure what to write. Maybe something about the last line–is it set off in a way that brings attention to it the way it should?]]]

Yes

[[[not doing yes ones for now–have something playful, thoughtful, inspiring instead?]]]

No

First, read the first couple of lines and last couple of lines of some sample essays [[hyperlink]]. Do your beginning and ending work as well together? Any inspiration?

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[[link]]]

Finally, go back to go back to Ending like a pro for more ideas and guidance. Sometimes this takes time. Keep at it!:

Final polish

Are you using the right words?

  • Every word is a word you would use (not a thesaurus word or someone else’s word)
  • You’re not repeating words or phrases
  • You’ve got the pronouns correct (that vs. who, me vs. I, etc.)
  • You avoid the generic you (When you pet puppies, you have to smile)
  • You give people names
  • You get the homophones correct (too, to, two, etc)

Have you taken out the sneaky words and phrases?

  • You’ve gone through the junk word and phrase list and they’re gone
  • You don’t have any college-essay-phrases
  • You’ve hunted down and deleted excess adjectives and adverbs
  • You’ve found and deleted/rewritten your own sneaky words and phrases

Have you handled common punctuation issues?

  • You’ve got the colons and semicolons correct
  • You have no comma splices
  • The hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes are used correctly
  • Commas and periods are inside  quotation marks; other punctuation is inside or out, as appropriate
  • You’ve spelled out numbers in the right places
  • You use the Oxford Comma consistently
  • You vary your sentence length
  • You vary your paragraph length
  • New paragraphs start flush left (no indent) with a blank line between paragraphs

We’d rather you be consistently wrong than inconsistent. Consistently right is obviously the best, but if you just can’t figure out commas, for example, at least use them consistently through the essay.

Yes

[[[not doing yes ones for now–have something playful, thoughtful, inspiring instead?]]]

No

First, go back to Make it flow start to finish by handling the nitpicky stuff and go over any section you’re not sure about.

Second, consider getting some feedback or help. Remember, always use the support and feedback page. [[[link]]]

Keep working through these and do the best you can. Remember that you’re taking the perspective of telling your story to friends around the campfire, but also that your audience is a college admissions officer. You don’t have to follow formal rules of grammar and pnunctuation, but you do need to write it to the best of your ability. 

If it’s not perfect, that’s ok.

Hmmm. Not sure.

We get it. This is a lot.

Go back to Make it flow start to finish by handling the nitpicky stuff and go over any section you’re not sure about.

If it’s a disaster – remember Jacob? Was a jerk with shitty writing. You’ve done a lot of work but not there yet. WHo can you work with to revisit these steps – won’t take as long – but take an hour on each step and rework this–it turned out great but it wasn’t a smooth line. You’ve done a lot of work only now you can go quicker, have the person helping you give specific help on those specific items one at a time. Does voice reflect me? If no, work on that until iit does.

Give yourself a little time if you need. Take a break. Ponder. Go on a walk.

You’re ready to move on when…

  • you have asked each question in the self-review and can answer yes to all of them. They may not all be an exuberant yes, but you’re confident that you’ve checked all the boxes.
  • you’ve addressed any issues you found.

Pro tip: there’s always something else to fix. People reviewing your essay may have small or big comments, some of which you won’t agree with. You’ll see things that you can change. You don’t have to change everything that isn’t perfect! Have you heard the phrase “tortured artist”? Don’t be one of them.