The Perfect Admissions Essay
The admissions essay wasn’t mine, and I have no plans to go to Australia any time soon. But an editing client’s news is always exciting for her online editor. The excitement I felt was just as intense as if it had been my own acceptance we were celebrating. Part of that excitement was as ever, with clients whose documents are so personal in nature—relief.
A couple of days ago I got some exciting news: that admissions essay had worked, someone was going to medical school in Australia!
I was relieved that my suggestions to clean up her grammar for clarity hadn’t muddied her voice. I was relieved that I hadn’t suggested she expand an area that the admissions-essay readers didn’t end up caring about. I was relieved that none of the sections I’d found redundant and had her pare down ended up being the one thing the admissions panel wanted to see.
The thing with admissions essays is that it’s hard to know what makes them “perfect.” As a professional editor, I’m always looking to improve the clarity and grammatical correctness of what my clients submit. But, as someone who’s submitted her fair share of admissions essays (undergraduate and beyond), I also realize that the criteria for admission can be hard to decipher.
What do They (the ominous, vague, “They” of the admissions panel) want to hear? They want to hear a unique voice, to see evidence of an impressive education (both in and outside of the classroom), to know that you’re excited about whatever it is you’re applying for.
They want your admissions essay to show yourself, yes, but they also want it to be tailored to them. They want to know how you’ll be a good addition to their public image, that you’ll be excited to join them and to help them further that image. They want you to do more than prove you’re qualified to join them—they want you to convince them that you’re an asset they’d be foolish to pass on.
This is why it’s so hard to craft the perfect admissions essay. You’re too wrapped up in that nervous desire to appeal to Them, to hit every bullet point of why you’re the ideal candidate, to remember to let your voice shine through. Or you’re too wrapped up in sounding like the perfect candidate, and you forget to show how you are the perfect candidate.
It’s a nerve-wracking experience, the writing of an admissions essay. And once you’re done, it’s tempting to throw that admissions essay away from yourself, never wanting to subject yourself to such deep introspection ever again. To submit it, unedited, fingers crossed that They will forgive the typos that crept in as you feverishly poured your hopes and dreams over the keyboard.
Resist the temptation
Every piece of writing—every single piece of writing—could use the insights of a professional editor. At the very least, your admissions essay deserves to be re-read. Your soul-pouring deserves an impersonal perspective (prior to the impersonal perspective that will decide your fate), someone who’s not your friend or your family who can honestly tell you that you sound impressive on paper.
Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am just such a professional editor. And I’m always excited when my clients get in.