Top Tips to Trim College Application Essay

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

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Early applications to college are in, and now many students are scrambling to finish personal statements and essay supplements for regular admissions, beginning Jan. 1.

Whether you are writing a personal statement for the Common App, Coalition App, or a supplement for an Ivy, private liberal arts college or public university, make sure you follow the directions and stick to the word count!

Recently, I reviewed a student’s personal statement for the Common App that he assumed was ready for a final edit; it was 1,560 words –that is 910 words above the 650-word limit. He did not think he could cut his story, and he did not think it mattered. Yes, it matters.

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 make a difference. In any case, it’s not worth the risk. Just answer the question within the specified word count, and you will not need to doubt yourself.

6 Tips for trimming your college essays
  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. Circle “transition” words and phrases used to begin a sentence, such as “similarly,” “as such” or “moreover.” Take out the ones that do not enhance your story.
  6. Turn some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

After trimming 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 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.

About the author
Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essay
Wow President Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton, named one of 10 LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education, 2018 , is President of Wow Writing Workshop,  a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. Click the Wow Method to find out how we help students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. We also help business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials.  If it involves words, Wow can help.