I think my college application essay is very strong, but my counselor keeps suggesting I should have it edited by friends/adults and revise it. How many drafts should an essay go through?

Answers

Scarlet Michaelson, English and Writing Teacher

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As I read your question, I can't help but wonder why your college counselor isn't reading your essay and offering you feedback. Isn't that part of her job? In any case, I'd say no more than 3 drafts as an estimate. First you write, then you get feedback and rewrite. Another cycle of feedback and a final rewritten draft should be fine. There are some excellent suggestions here from other experts on how to write a good essay. I'd like to add that if there aren't many people around who you can get feedback from, try putting the essay away for a couple days and doing other things. It's amazing how when you come back to something you've been working on after a break, you can see it differently!

Nina Berler, College and Career Readiness Specialist

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I always say that if you ask 10 different people for opinions, you'll get 10 different answers. The same goes for essay reviewers; the more you share with people, the more suggestions, directions, and edits you'll receive. So here goes . . .

It's not a question of drafts or how many people see the essay; rather, those who are reviewing your essay need to understand whether the tone and spirit of the essay are appropriate and, even more, if your response addresses the essay prompt. I have counseled students from schools that require an essay class in school, either in the junior or senior year, and when I see the essay, the tone is incorrect, the essay is too general for the prompt, or the essay lacks elements that bring it to life such as anecdotes.

Contrary to popular belief, I wound not waste too much time sharing an essay with peers. While that has some entertainment value, it is unlikely to result in an essay that is clean and appropriate. So stick to the prompt and have someone you really trust as an editor.

Maryann Aita, Writer and Expert Tutor

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It's hard to say how many drafts you should go through of any essay, but you can generally plan on going through more than one. For a college essay, which will have an impact on your college admission, its especially important to draft and revise as much as you can.

But how many drafts? I think that depends on how many people you have reviewing your essay and how much feedback you get. And yes, you should definitely have others review it.

I'd suggest choosing 3 people that you trust look at your essay. You don't know how many people will be reading your application and they may all have different perspectives, which is why it's important to get several viewpoints. Teachers, parents, a guidance counselor, or a peer that you know is a strong writer (not just your best friend) are all good people to ask to review your work. Be sure to have them read for:

1) Clarity - Does your essay make sense? 2) Flow - Does anything feel abrupt or out of place? 3) Grammar and spelling - Did you miss a comma? 4) Word choice - You want to show your vocabulary, but don't get carried away with SAT words.

You can either have everyone review it at the same time and try to incorporate the comments you think are most helpful (it's good to have advice, but you sometimes you really know best) or it may be easier to have one person read the essay, revise it, then give it to someone else to look at. Do what is easiest for you.

After you've considered everyone's comments and made your changes, give it another read for grammar and, as long as you feel it's your best, there's not much more you can do. Good luck!

Nadin Broun, Help with editing the essays

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You should remember that writing the essay it's just a half part of the process itself. Even if you have finished your essay - the process continues. What you have written it's not the finished essay, it's just a first draft, and you have to rewrite drafts as more times as possible. I advise you after you have finished with your first draft, leave it for a while (maybe for a couple days) and then read it again. Try to read it aloud. Trust me you will find out a lot of sentences and ideas to rewrite. Then show it to your friend or relatives (just someone who can really help you with it) or you can ask professional writers to help you with your admission essay here. Only after deep revision, after 7 or more drafts you will get the perfect, finished essay in your hands.

Dave Nguyen, Education Consultant, College Lecturer, PhD

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It’s always a good idea to having several adults read your essay and comment on it. The best people to read your essay are the ones who are most similar to the people hired by colleges to read applications. Though the judging of writing styles is subjective, there are key features to great essays. Do they have a catchy introduction? Do unnecessary details need to be removed? Do certain parts of the story need more development? Your essay should go through at least 3 drafts.

Alyssa Elizabeth, Current H.S. senior who has written many personal statements

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If you feel that it is complete, submit it. If you keep having other people make changes to it, it isn't a PERSONAL statement anymore. It just turns into a story about you, written by everyone but you. I kept my editing to only 2 people: My English teacher, and my best friend. You want the essay readers to read about you from your point of view, and nobody can do that better than yourself. Don't lose your voice by allowing so many other people to edit. Your essay shouldn't be perfect, because you aren't perfect. If your essay is edited too much, people will be able to tell, and you won't have any affect on the readers. So my advice is to stick with your guts. If you like your essay, submit it, because in the end it's your application, not anybody else's

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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As a person who reads a lot of these documents for students, I would suggest you ask a trusted teacher if you have a good rapport with one. Or a family friend who knows her way around words. Too many cooks in the kitchen is never a good idea with writing, yet you want to make sure there are other eyes on your essay. You could ask each reader to read for one of the aspects that Maryann suggests. If you know someone great with grammar, ask her to read it just for grammar, etc. The key is to answer the question you are being asked. So, choose wisely and make sure the readers know what to read for. I wish you the best of luck!

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Anonymous, Former graduate student

There are no rules to how many revisions an essay must go through, although I would highly recommend at least 2 look-overs of it before submitting it as a final draft. That being said, I agree with your counselor that with each draft, you should have another person look at it, so that you have a different pair of eyes reviewing it each time. I would suggest you asking an English teacher looking over it in addition to some friends. I remember my English teacher offered her help to our class and she ended up giving me some invaluable advice with writing mine. Plus, they probably have more experience than anyone else with college essays.

I would also suggest having a counselor looking over it as well. Perhaps you can also ask your counselor to look at it, if he/she has time. I would imagine counselors having good experience with college essays as well. Best of luck with your essay!

Amy Yvette Garrou, College admissions expert (US and international colleges)

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Lots of great advice here! Having worked in a couple of admissions offices, and as a college counselor in a high school, I'd say two things:

  1. I don't think there's a specific number of readers you need to have look at your essay; and

  2. I do think the fewer and more knowledgeable, the better. By "knowledgeable," I mean that it would be great to run it by someone who has worked in college admissions before. You'd be surprised how many college counselors have actually worked on the other side of the desk, in college admissions. Or, it may be worth paying a well-regarded private counselor (preferably one who's had college admissions experience) for an hour or two of her time to help with your essay.

English teachers are wonderful in terms of helping you with structure, clarity, word choice, grammar, punctuation, and tone. They may have also had college admission experience. If they haven't, here's a third way to get information from a knowledgeable source: Ask an admission officer--maybe one from a college that's visiting your school--on how to start and what the specific features are of a college admission essay. Easier still, there are lots of colleges that have essay samples on their admissions sites. (Try Tufts and Johns Hopkins' sites, for example). Start by getting your essay advice "from the horse's mouth," i.e., from the people who read these essays and make admissions decisions.

Then, once you've written a first draft according to the guidelines of a college admission officer, take it to your English teacher, your counselor, or someone else you trust to give you sound advice on whether your essay says what you want to say.

Lastly, read it aloud to one of your best friends or another person who knows you very well. Ask her if the essay sounds like you. Ask that friend if your essay would pass the "drop-it-on-the-floor" test: If you accidentally dropped a paper copy of your essay--without your name on it-- in the hallway near your locker at school and someone picked it up, would that person know who to give it back to?

All the best as you write. Stay strong!

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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Read it out loud, ask one more person to edit it, and move on. It is easy to go down the rabbit hole with writing. It sounds like you have already done a lot of work on it. If you are considered, you could ask an English teacher to give it a once over. Otherwise, put it to bed so you can move on to other elements of your application.

Pamela Petrease Felder, College Applications

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There are some great responses here thus far. I recommend multiple drafts of an essay before submitting a final draft. Some experts here have suggested a specific number and I think that's fine for some. However, you may need more or less depending on what you've written and what you've determined to be a final writing goal. Consider reaching out to folks who can give you meaningful constructive advice on your writing.

Anonymous, Sam Museus is a professor of Higher Education

I think a lot of good ideas have been offered here, and I would add a couple things that you might want to consider. Do not forget that there are lots of good resources on the web to help craft a strong essay (which you can find via a simple Google search). In addition, if you have friends who have been admitted to the colleges that you are hoping to attend, I would suggest getting copies of their letters so that you can see a concrete example of what a strong letter looks like. Of course, I am not suggesting copying them, but it can be useful to observe what they did really well and think about how you can use that knowledge as you write your old letter.

Carrie Hagen, Nonfiction Writer and Researcher, Teacher

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I agree with Colleen and Nena -- the danger of having too many readers is having a paralyzing amount of opinions to consider. I trust that your counselor has your best interest at heart and wants to push you to do your best work. Ask at least one teacher and one other person to give you opinions. Compare their answers, revise, perhaps ask a third reader, but then let it go ... and feel confident in telling your counselor that you have done your best and you don't want another to write it for you. That should put an end to it. :)

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher

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I would say that on the whole, you'll probably go through 2-3 drafts, perhaps only 1, and most likely two. People reading your drafts will almost certainly catch some grammatical or spelling errors, as well as some run-on sentences or logical fallacies somewhere. They will also likely point out a couple of areas in which you could have said more, or a part that should be omitted, or suggest similar or better examples that could be added to your original essay. This will no doubt help you improve your essay greatly from the first draft. Then, the second rewrite will likely just be a matter of fine-tuning some things or tweaking a couple responses to make the essay perfect. And as they said above, don't ask too many people to give you an opinion on one essay. Keep it to one or at most 2 people that you really trust, take what they say to heart, make changes, and your essay should turn out to be greatly improved. Good luck!

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