11 Tips for Proofreading and Editing Your College Essay
Your college essay matters. Even if you’re not looking to major in English, it’s still important that you write the best essay you can.
Your essay is a representation of you, so make sure it’s accurate. Errors detract from the overall quality and presentation; plus, you want to make sure your essay reads well.
Read on for our tips on how to edit and proofread your essay to make it your best work.
Our Checklist for Writing and Editing Your Essay
1. Does the essay clearly address the selected topic or prompt?
You need to make sure you’re actually addressing the essay prompt. For example, one of Columbia University’s prompts is:
Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or fewer)
Here, you need to address both your personality and Columbia’s, rather than writing a generic essay that could apply to any school. You can craft your own topic for Common App and Coalition Application, but individual schools’ are often more specific.
2. Is the college essay well-organized?
Your essay doesn’t need to be a five-paragraph paper for school (and it probably shouldn’t), but it should have some logical structure. Does it flow well? Does it stay on topic?
3. Include supporting details, examples, and anecdotes.
Details, examples, and rhetorical essays bring your essay to life. For advice on how to make it stand out, read How to Get the Perfect Hook for Your College Essay.
4. Show your voice and personality.
Does your personality come through? Does your essay sound like you? Since this is a reflection of you, your essay needs to show who you are.
For example, using vocabulary you wouldn’t normally use—such as “utilize” in place of “use”—because you’ll appear phony and won’t impress colleges.
5. Does your essay show that you’re a good candidate for admission?
In addition to having a strong GPA, test scores, and well-chosen extracurriculars, you should show that you fit with the school. Make sure your personality meshes well with the campus and that this is clear from the essay by using details that connect you to the school. For example, if you’re interested in the engineering program, discuss your passion for the subject.
6. Do you stick to the topic?
Avoid tangents or writing what you want to write instead of adhering to the topic at hand.
My interest in performing arts began when I was five. That was also the year I lost my first tooth, which set off a whole year of “firsts.” My first play was The Sound of Music.
My interest in performing arts began when I was five. My first play was The Sound of Music.
7. Do you include a good mix of short and long sentences?
Part of making sure your essay flows and reads well includes varying the sentence structure. Try to balance your essay by mixing up your sentence styles. Otherwise, it might sound stilted.
Non-varied sentence structure example:
I had been waiting for the right time to broach the topic of her health problem, which had been weighing on my mind heavily every since I first heard about it. I had gone through something similar, and I thought sharing my experience might help.
I had been waiting for the right time to broach the topic of her health problem. It had been weighing on my mind for some time. I had gone through something similar, and I thought sharing my experience might help.
8. Are all words spelled correctly?
Misspellings are easy to catch when you read your essay over aloud, so your essay will seem sloppy if you miss them. Rather than relying on spell check, try going over your essay with different colored pens to catch errors.
9. Do you use proper punctuation and capitalization?
Again, these errors are easy to catch. Check out these grammar rules, which apply to all your writing, not just the SAT.
For example, one common mistake is misusing commas.
Incorrect: I had an an epiphany, I was using commas incorrectly.
Correct: I had an epiphany: I was using commas incorrectly.
10. Do you abide by the word count?
Some tips to help you pare down word count include:
- Eliminate instances of restating the same sentiment in multiple ways.
- Show, don’t tell.
- Eliminate extraneous adjectives—use them sparingly.
- Cut out unnecessary details.
- Shorten run-on sentences—reading aloud can help (if you’re out of breath before you finish the sentence, it’s too long).
- Make sure each sentence contributes something to the essay.
11. Pay attention to sentence structure.
Does each sentence make sense? Are you following grammar rules? Reading your work aloud can help you catch sentences that sound clunky. You’ll also be able to see if every sentence is correct, in that it has a subject and verb.
For more essay editing tips, read 5 DIY Tips for Editing Your Own College Essays.
More Essay Editing Tips
Tip #1: Read your essay aloud.
This can help you check flow and make sure everything makes sense, as well as allow you to catch errors.
Tip #2: Come back to it later.
Pausing can help you catch mistakes or ideas that don’t make sense later, after you’ve gotten some space and distance from it.
Tip #3: Print your essay
Reading it on a screen is different from reading it on paper. Gain a new perspective by printing your essay out and reading it in multiple ways.
Tip #4: Get another set of eyes.
Teachers, peers, your guidance counselor, others can help you catch mistakes and make sure your essay sounds like you.
Tip #5: Save multiple drafts
You could come back to an idea you may have previously nixed, so make sure you have everything saved so you can revisit it later.
Tip #6: Proofread multiple times.
You may well catch new errors in different rounds of proofing. Grammar apps like Grammarly can help, though they’re not a substitute for actual proofreading.
Tip #7: Choose an ideal setting for writing your essay.
Some environments may be more conducive to brainstorming and writing than others. For instance, perhaps sitting in the park with a notepad and pencil as opposed to typing on your laptop at a desk will help you get into a better flow. Or maybe the quiet of a library helps you concentrate. Try out a few locations—your living room, a coffee shop, or somewhere else entirely—to figure out the best fit.
Why You Need to Proofread and Edit
Your essay is a representation of you and your personality. Colleges will notice if you overlook simple steps like proofreading. Even a careless typo could have consequences.
Editing is also an important skill to help you hone your college papers. Usually, you won’t get a chance to rewrite your papers, so make sure they’re as close to perfect as possible. In addition to helping you write the best college essay possible, think of editing as an exercise to help you with your work later on.
For more essay writing and editing help, read:
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.