52 Weeks to College: Week 34

Here's the best way to revise your college application essay drafts
August 24, 2021

Now that you have at least a week of drafting essays behind you, you are ready to tackle the next phase of the writing process: revising.

Revising is its own art, so our tips and tricks this week focus on how to do it well.



1. Revise the essay drafts you wrote in the last week. If you didn't draft anything, don't try to skip ahead. Instead go back to week 33 and do your drafts before moving on to revising, because drafting and revising are distinct tasks.

2. Draft 1-2 additional essays. The Writing Map you created in Week 31 is your writing to-do list. Look to see which application essays are next on your list and start drafting them.

3. Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like if you will be submitting them. See our advice about these materials in Week 30 and these blog posts on arts supplements and academic work samples.

4. Check the websites of colleges on your list to see what they are planning in terms of fall events for prospective students. Given the pandemic, it is unlikely that they will be doing their usual rounds to high schools, but they may be organizing specific virtual events for students from your school or your area. See our tips and tricks in Week 31 for why we recommend you make it a priority to attend these events.

5. Continue researching scholarships. Refer back to Week 31 for tips on scholarship search services.


1. Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.

2. Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year


1. Revise content first. You will save loads of time if you revise your essay for content before you move on to revising it for things like flow and voice.

When you review the content, make sure it is focused on showing, rather than telling. When you show the admissions officer something about yourself, the admissions officer actually has a direct experience of it. Not only that, but if you show, then the admissions officer also gets evidence that what you are saying about yourself is true. Direct experiences are far more memorable, and evidence is far more convincing. That’s why showing is the best way to influence an admissions officer in your favor, and why all great essays show rather than tell.

An easy way to check for whether you have the right amount of content in your draft is to let the word counts guide you. Most application essays have both a minimum and a maximum word count (or character count). These word counts signal how much content your essay is expected to have.

  • If your draft falls between the minimum and maximum word count, then you’ve hit the target for content. Move on to the next steps in revising.
  • If your draft is below the minimum word count, then you have to add meaningful content, not just words. How could you develop one of your ideas more deeply? What other ideas could you introduce? Stick with it until you have a draft that is the right length.

If your draft is above the maximum word count, then you probably have tried to develop too many ideas in the essay. Consider which ideas are central and then eliminate the others.

2. Structure your essay as a story to make it flow and keep it interesting. An essay that flows well carries the admissions officer who is reading it effortlessly from one idea to the next. They never stumble, get lost, or have to reread particular sentences or the whole essay to figure out what you are trying to say.

Most of you have learned to structure an essay with an introduction, three main points, and a conclusion. That organization is a logical flow that works great for an academic essay, but it makes for a deathly dull personal essay. So ditch that structure, and structure your essay as a story instead. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can and should use the first person as needed (I, me, etc.) That structure grabs the reader and keeps them interested until it releases them at the end. Capturing and keeping the attention of your reader – the admissions officer – is the name of the game, and structuring your essay as a story is the way to do it.

3. Make sure your voice comes through loud and clear. When an admissions officer reads your essay, they should feel as if they were talking with you and only you. In order to leave the admissions officer with that feeling, your essay must have your voice. Most applicants have plenty of voice in the first drafts of their essays, but strip it all away when they revise. (Or their parents strip the voice out for them thinking that that’s the safe way to go, and that safer is better. But safe is not the way to make an impression.) Guard against doing that as you revise your own essays. For example, keep the quirky phrase that you are well known for using or hold onto your signature writing rhythm of short, emphatic sentences. Use those aspects of your writing voice that make it yours and yours alone.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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