It has been a wonderful summer. I am so impressed with the diligence of this year's students.
Now, some of you are beginning to wonder about your personal statement essays: Is it done? How will I know?
Perhaps you've even hit a “rut,” that it’s not quite done yet but there’s nothing that comes to mind that you should add or scrap. Here are a few reminders about how to figure out whether or not the time has come to call it Finished.
Strategy #1: Write Anew
The first involves putting your piece away. Where you can’t see it.
Then, try rewriting it from scratch -- but feel free to write it with a different starting point. There might be an insight that jiggles loose as soon as you break free from the structure of rereading the same draft. It also might turn out that indeed it’s MUCH more powerful for you to start your essay with that moment, say, at the basketball game, instead of what happened when you got home. But turn your structure on its head, and you might be surprised by how well some small change works.
Cognitively, even the act of breaking your rigid attachment to one specific draft will also help you see it more objectively, and know whether or not it works as it was already written.
Strategy #2: The Red Pen Exercise
The second way to shake up a stale draft is with the Red Pen Exercise.
When you either have your personal statement so well memorized that you can’t possibly think of anything to change, or you’ve been staring at the same Google doc for weeks and need to know whether or not you’re done, this is my favorite trick. Print out your essay (I know-- a revolutionary concept). I’ve watched students do this for ten years, and as soon as they print out their piece and read it out loud, the awkward bits and final touches become glaringly obvious in a way that they simply weren’t when the piece remained static on a computer monitor. You’ll be able to cut unnecessary words, and maybe even realize that several paragraphs were out of order.
Strategy #3: Check Your Mission Statement
Lastly, you need to revisit the question: What are you trying to say? What should my reader know by the time they get to the end of my piece? Make a quick list right now of 3-5 things that should be clear to your college admissions readers. These could be ways that you have grown, qualities that you now have, or ideas about the impact of an experience or challenge on your life.
Then read your draft and identify precisely where those ideas are coming through. If you’re satisfied, that’s a good start. But it’s also a good idea, if you’re ready, to enlist an outside reader. Ask them to read your draft, then ask them if it reads clearly. Then, ask them what they hear you saying -- before or after you share with them your list of what you want your piece to say. If they don’t understand what you want them to understand from your essay, then you know you have more work to do.
I would love to hear about your experience revising with one (or more) of these strategies!
Jessica Brenner is an educational consultant, counselor and parent.