Quick Tips for College Essay Proofreading

If you’re planning to submit any EA/ED college applications, hopefully you’ve finished your essays by now (if you haven’t, get in touch asap!). For anyone still putting the final touches on any college essays, check out these quick tips for college essay proofreading.

1. Watch for repetitive word usage

It can be easy to slip into the flow of using the same phrase over and over again (especially when writing the same essay over and over again… we’ll talk about that later). When writing your first draft, this is okay but once it’s finished, step back and review.  Every new sentence is a chance to introduce new and exciting information. Challenge yourself to use a word no more than once per paragraph.

2. Contractions are fine (for the most part)

At some point, we began to conflate expanded contractions with high falutin’ speech. But when writing, language can become stilted as we expand our contractions (opting for phrases such as “is not” and “will not” instead of “isn’t” and “won’t”). The general consensus still tends to be that we think this makes us sound more intelligent.

However, it’s not necessary to go through the motions of expanding contractions in order to make writing more eloquent. In fact, having to read every single expanded contraction can actually have the opposite effect  –– causing writing to sound clunky and difficult to get through.  Instead, focus on making your writing expressive and communicative.

If you need a contraction or two to make your sentences flow better, go for it! Instead, avoid unnecessary slang and obvious colloquialisms such as the “shoulda, woulda, couldas” of the world, as well as the most nefarious contraction of all: “ain’t.”

3. Get friendly with a thesaurus

Your career as a student should be an active, vibrant phenomenon. Use a variety of verbs to communicate this effectively. Use a range of adjectives to express how you truly feel about a subject — Interested? Curious? Fascinated?  Engrossed?

Similar to my first point, it can be easy to slip into a routine of using the same handful of phrases over and over again, so use a thesaurus to liven things up.

4. Don’t feel like you have to use big words

Same as above, the desire to “sound smart” while writing can have the opposite effect.  By all means use the thesaurus, but only within reason! Don’t say “beleaguered” when “troubled” will do.  Don’t push for “ubiquitous” when you can simply say “everywhere” and get your point across.

However, I’m a big advocate for using exactly whichever word is needed. So if you feel strongly pulled to using a big word over a small one, go for it! Just be sure that you can justify it.

5. Spellcheck!

It seems so simple, and yet so many students still submit essays with misspelled or misused words. Take the time and review your work slowly. Print out your pages and read over them with a marker in hand.

Misuses also tend to be prevalent. Double check your uses of “affect” vs “effect” as well as the usual culprits of “then” vs “than” and “might haves” vs “might ofs.” If you happen to miss one or two of these errors, it won’t be too much of a problem. Mistakes happen. But a paper riddled with simple mistakes will likely cause an admissions official to question your college readiness.

What else do you look out for when proofreading your college essays? Anything you still have questions about? Let me know!

Admissions Mentoring provides personalized one-on-one application mentoring services for students applying to colleges and other elite institutions. I work with students and families around the world to craft competitive applications. Click here to schedule a free consultation. 

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