5 Tips to Trim Your College Essay

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Recently, I reviewed a student’s personal statement for Michigan State University, which requires that each student submit a short essay of up to 400 words from a list of designated topics.

The draft, which he assumed was ready for a final edit, was 751 words – 351 words more than the school wanted. He didn’t think he could shorten it.

Nonsense, I told him. We read and suggest cuts to our students’ essays every day, and we’ve never seen a personal statement or supplemental essay weakened by the editing process.

While some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, others suggest a few words too many will not matter. No matter what, it’s not worth the risk. Just answer the question within the specified word count, and you will not need to worry.

Here are five simple tips for trimming personal statements and supplemental essays without destroying their content:

  1. Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely.
  2. Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma. These include because of this, in fact, first, last, hopefully, to be frank, quite frankly and in conclusion. Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Take out the ones that do not enhance your story.
  3. Delete helping verbs. Example: Replace “is going to be attending” with “will attend.”
  4. Delete to be verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
  5. Turn some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

After you trim that essay, there’s one more thing to do before clicking send: review it! Would you like a professional review to make sure it is really ready to submit to college?

Wow’s trained writing coaches pay attention to factors that admissions officers tell us matter to them, like reflection, theme and flow. We know how to help untangle that messy essay. We also make sure all the “I”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.