“Don’t stop believing! Hold on to that feeling!” Sorry I got sidetracked there kiddies. I was just enjoying my favorite Journey song, especially the version by the cast of Glee. Now, for those of you who watch this marvelous TV show, you know that this week’s episode featured some tough love doled out by former cheerleader Brittany. Brittany, in a moment of sudden self-confidence, tells the ever-ambitious Rachel that she (Rachel) is not a trend-setter because people don’t look to her for fashion advice. Brittany was basically telling Rachel (in a twisted way) to play to her strengths. Rachel realizes that she is a leader of the glee club in terms of singing not fashion.
In my own “Journey,” I needed to face some tough love as well. Now that I had drafted my 600 word personal essay for the UC application (in addition to my 2 200 word essays), I was ready for some feedback. The other parts of the application were straightforward, but the essays required lots of time, editing, and revision. This is going to be the hard part of your application cycle as well because some of the feedback you get is going to be tough. Your initial drafts may not be appreciated by the readers. Try and gather a variety of editors for your essays, including parents, siblings, friends, and teachers. There are professional services out there, but choose them wisely. It’s true that they may be helpful, but many of them craft the essay for you, meaning the writing doesn’t actually reflect who you are.
Some of the best resources are current college students who just went through the application process. Ask people you know in college to read your essay, and you can even ask to see their old essays. You can get an idea of what a personal essay that worked looks like.
Not many people know this, but college admissions officers themselves will give you feedback on your essay(s). I have had people from the UCLA medical school admissions committee give me feedback on my medical school application essay. Try emailing or calling the colleges you are interested in and someone will help you. Whatever you choose, make sure your essay looks like it is written by you!
My AP English teacher in senior year decided to do essay help for the whole class. She offered to read each of our essays aloud to the whole class (anonymously) and then the whole class would peer-grade the essay. This was real tough love. For some reason, when the essay is anonymous, people suddenly speak very honestly about their thoughts. I got some great feedback from this, even though it was hard to listen to the criticism. I was given everything from feedback on grammar to feedback on the theme of the essay. Just like in Glee, I was told to play to my strengths and make music and culture the focus of my essay. In the end, I am truly thankful for those essay help sessions. I also did essay exchanges with my friends, and we really helped each other flesh out the themes of the essays since we knew each other personally.
Another resource I took advantage of is Excel Test Prep! I asked if they would help me with my essays and of course they did. The possibilities for editing are endless.
Note: When getting your application essays edited, remember that people’s corrections are just feedback. In the end, you have the option of choosing to incorporate the given suggestions. If you feel that a certain suggestion is changing the voice of the essay or “it’s not you” then don’t include it.
And so it is that while I catch up on Glee on my DVR, I look back fondly at my days of applying to colleges. Soon you too will be able to draw parallels between your life and Brittany’s one-liners. In the meantime, though, hit the books, relax a little, and try to find your epiphany moment at every street corner. Pay attention to anecdotes by friends, and ask yourself: do I have an interesting story to tell?