Tell Your Students: Don’t Revise College Essays When You’re Nervous!

It’s October, the season for falling leaves, scary movies, and college application deadlines. The November 1 early action and early decision deadlines are almost here!

Are you ready to click send on your application(s)?

As a college essay coach, it’s exciting to see my own students’ hard work coming to fruition, but I’m also preparing for the predictable mini surge of anxiety that many students like you feel when you are about to let go of control and trust your fate to the admissions office.

I will share with you the same advice I share with my students: Don’t revise when you are nervous, or when you are about to click send!

It won’t help your students, and it might even hurt them.

It’s perfectly natural for students to feel nervous when they are about to send in an application to any college. Everyone does. We all know that applying to college is a big step in their lives. For weeks, months, or maybe even years, they’ve been thinking about applications, building resumes, and writing  essays.

Now they’re on the verge of submitting and, as soon as they hit that button, the application will be out of their hands. That feeling of letting go makes everyone feel anxious, at least for a moment. That’s okay! It’s a normal human reaction and part of the process that everyone goes through. Feeling anxious does not mean they’ve done something wrong. It just means that you are taking a big step.

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 Do Your Students Have Butterflies?  That’s Healthy

I do a lot of public speaking and performing on stage for work and personal creative projects. Many years ago, I got a great piece of advice during rehearsal for a play that I believe applies well to this anxiety students feel about submitting their college essays.

The director told us that feeling butterflies on opening night was both healthy and predictable. It’s perfectly understandable to feel nervous when a show that we’ve worked so hard on is finally going to find an audience. She wanted us to know that feeling nervous before the curtains open is not a sign that we were going to mess up. On the contrary, that little rush of adrenaline can sharpen our senses and help us perform at our best. Instead of trying to avoid that nervous feeling, the director said that we should expect it, embrace it, and trust ourselves.

When I’m about to give a big talk or perform for a big crowd, I know to expect that nervousness even before it arrives. For me, the butterflies start fluttering about 15 minutes before I go on stage. The feeling never trips me up because I expect it and recognize it’s a healthy part of the process.

That advice is on my mind now because our Wow students are about to submit their applications. 

I know it’s natural for students to feel anxious right before they hit the submit button.

This is a high-stakes situation and the application that they’ve been polishing is about to leave their hands. That moment of letting go is a little unnerving, even for the most confident teens. It’s important that you (and your students) know to expect this feeling and recognize it as a healthy part of the submission process.

This is NOT the Time to Revise an Essay

Last-minute changes to applications are often focused on the essays. It’s too late to raise a GPA or join a new club, and the essays might feel like something that our students can still control.

In school, they often get the message that more is better—more studying, more effort, more extra credit. That leads some students (and parents and pros) to the mistaken belief that more revision always results in a better essay.

Students don’t always realize that they run the risk of undermining the hard work you have already done. And when they feel surprised by that last-minute feeling of anxiety, they might want to try to soothe it by making ill-advised, last-minute changes to their essays.

Please tell your students not to do that.  

How they respond to that anxious feeling can have a big impact on their application. Sometimes, people think that they’ll stop feeling worried if they “fix” something in the application, make one more change, or add one more detail.

Making last-minute changes to any essay that is ready to be submitted to college is an emotional response; at this point, students are not in the right state of mind to communicate clearly. They might also create additional content that has not been proofread. Any last-minute revisions will be rushed and prone to grammar errors.

Revising when students are nervous is a huge mistake and will not improve their essay.

Tell your students: Resist the temptation.

Want to Improve Your College Essay Coaching Practice?

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It doesn’t have to be that way!

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Joe Kane

Joe Kane

Joe Kane is a Senior Writing Coach with Wow Writing Workshop. Outgoing, thoughtful and imaginative, Joe loves hearing his students’ stories and helping them reflect on their life experiences in compelling college essays. Perpetually optimistic, Joe is grateful for the things he has learned from working with Wow’s students about life in distant countries, VEX robotics competitions, cloning extinct species, and so much more! Joe joined Wow after working as a writer-in-residence for the nationally recognized InsideOut Literary Arts. He now lives in Nashville, where he is the Program Director of The Porch’s youth programming arm, SLANT (Student Literary Artists of Nashville, TN). Joe’s poems and stories have found homes in a number of magazines, including RHINO, Elimae, theEEEL, Clapboard House, The Splinter Generation, Cricket Online Review, Psychic Meatloaf, Temenos, Right Hand Pointing, and Admit2. He holds a BA in English and an MA in Creative Writing from Central Michigan University.
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