You’ve done the grunt work writing your college application essay draft and you’re not sure how you feel about it. Moment of truth: who is the best reader for your essay now, before it’s time to submit the application? Who should vet your ideas? It matters who you pick, and here’s why.
The obvious possible candidates
In some cases, the reader is decided for you: you have to turn a draft in to your English teacher, your guidance counselor, your college counselor.
In other cases, a family member wants to weigh in as a reader– your well-intentioned parents, your I’ve-gotten-you-this-far guardian, your brother who’s already in college and should know, and so on.
In still other cases, you’ve hired someone, supposedly for their skill at reading and evaluating your essay: your college coach (if you have one), your essay coach (if you have one).
Whatever your situation looks like, when it comes to writing, it’s rarely a good idea to do it all on your own. You already know what you meant to say in your essay, and it can be hard to have critical distance necessary to see its flaws and omissions. You’re apt to be predisposed to love or to hate it, to cling to your ideas whether successful or not, and to supply background information that a reader ignorant of your life story won’t be able to. All of these things cloud your ability to be your own best reader. So while you must reread to revise and edit well (Never submit an essay without doing this, duh!), you should NOT be your only reader.
Recruit family, friends, and flatterers?
Your parents and guardians, because they have loved you for so long, and probably changed all your poopy diapers for months, might have their own agendas about what they think would be the best topic, given that they know so much of the history of your life, and may also assume (rightly or wrongly) they know you better than anyone. But they are usually not experts in the requirements of this genre and, beyond that, it’s important that you be in charge of the process. Decide carefully whether and when your parents should weigh in.
Your best friend? That person might have the same biases and error-clouding pre-knowledge that you do.
Your sweetie? Hopefully, same problem. Loves you, and everything you do, in advance.
And then there are those people who will tell you they like your essay just to be nice. We all like to feel good about ourselves, but this person is the most threatening to the outcome of your essay. No writer is served by a reader who just wants you to feel good about yourself no matter the reality. Get your compliments in other ways, like washing someone else’s dish.
Ways in which a pet can help
And then there is your goldfish. The reason I DO recommend reading to your goldfish is:
- Your goldfish cannot read to itself. Therefore, you must read aloud in order for your goldfish to appreciate your work. Reading your college essay aloud is the best form of proofreading. And your essay will get fifteen times better from doing so.
- Your goldfish will not judge you. Or, if your goldfish does, you’ll never know. The worst thing it can do after it hears your essay is die, but then you’ll still never know if it was an acute reaction to what you wrote or if its time had finally come.
- Your goldfish is a captive audience. It’s not going anywhere. It never has other plans. More importantly, see reason #1. Still, your goldfish is not adequate if it is your ONLY audience.
So who is the most helpful reader, then?
To answer our own question, aside from the people already required by your school, anyone who fits the following description could serve as a good reader for your essay:
- A peer who is a friendly acquaintance. The same person you might call to find out what the math homework was. This person likely won’t know enough about you to bring that foreknowledge to the table while reading, and so can ask good questions about missing information and be truthful about your essay’s strengths. Also, if you ask a peer for help, always offer to be a reader in return. It’s just kind. If your offer is declined, don’t take it personally. Your peer may have an advanced goldfish at home.
- A teacher who actually has the time to take the time. All the better if this teacher has some ideas about the components of strong writing and what a personal statement is supposed to do. And may I suggest– do something for the teacher in return! Straighten up the classroom, bring a cup of tea (my bias), offer to sort papers, anything! A real read takes time, effort and care. Teachers already do waaaaaaaaay more than they are paid for. And yes, you know one who doesn’t, but that person is the exception).
If someone says, “I like it”, “I don’t like it”– don’t stop there! Ask your reader, “Why? How could it be better? What’s working?”
How many readers are best?
A few, but not too many. Otherwise, your already overtaxed brain could become clogged with differing opinions, and you are back where you started. It’s tempting to think “the more, the merrier”, but with writing your college application essay, it’s often true that “the more, the messier.”
But I still got
kind of crappy not helpful feedback!
And then, of course, if you still need a reader, reading essays is pretty much all we do at Essay Intensive (along with changing our baby’s numerous poopy diapers and rehabilitating exhausted goldfish.) So contact us for candid, zippy, expert feedback.