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College Admissions Essay Revision Checklist

Revision is what separates good writers from the mediocre. This checklist can help you at all stages of development and revision beyond the first draft.

Edit your essay so that it's showing, not telling.
Keep in mind that your paragraphs may not yet be in the best order. Cut your essay up with scissors and move the different parts around on a table to gain a new perspective.
Is your current introduction necessary? Students often start with sentences and even several paragraphs that can be cut. Be hard on your beginning and make sure there's tension and energy. Ask: where does my story really start?
Does your end say too much? Be wary of over-explaining your message to the reader. Remember to show and not tell. Consider editing your essay so that it ends with an image or a small scene that makes your point more subtly.
To make sure your essay is clear, put yourself in the reader's shoes and imagine you know nothing about the experience described. Make sure the reader knows the specific place and time of the story, who the people in the story are, and what the setting looks like. Omissions can usually be cleared up with just a sentence or phrase.
Eliminate all clichés. A cliché is often a sign that you're not being honest enough or specific in that spot.
Look for areas where you need to vary your sentence structure and edit accordingly.
Break up long, complicated sentences. It's better to use two or more simpler ones.
Replace general nouns with more specific ones. Use boulder or pebble instead of rock, or aspen or oak  for tree. Be wary of words like someone and everything, adjectives like tiny and beautiful, adverbs like very and really. Be particular and exact.
Do a "verb check." Go through each verb in your essay and ask "can this word be more vivid and specific?" Edit to eliminate the passive voice as much as possible (is, are, was, to be, etc...).
Cut all unnecessary words, paying close attention to adverbs, adjectives, and other modifiers.
Proofread grammar, spelling, and punctuation by reading your work aloud. Also listen for repetition and awkward phrasing. If you find a lot of errors the first time, repeat this step.
Find spelling mistakes by reading your essay backwards.

 

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