Is My College Essay Done?

  • Robyn
  • 02 Nov, 2019

Guidelines to determine when Common/Coalition App Essay is done!

Robyn Lady, College Counselor, Virginia.

As a counselor, before I answer this question, I need to know if the essay is working, i.e., is it doing what it is supposed to do. Having said that, one of the hardest things for an applicant to do is abandon an essay he/she has spent a lot of time on that is not working.

The essay is a critical component of your College Application. It is your chance to introduce yourself to the Admissions Officer of your Dream College and share information that is NOT anywhere else in the application.

 That said, the information below will help a student figure out if the essay itself is working and if it is done.


Is there a framework or rubric or some broader considerations to evaluate an essay? 

Yes and no.

  • Great college essays are personal. They reveal details about the applicant that are not already evident in other parts of the application. They invite the reader into the world of the student and should reveal definitive traits and core values and answer the question “so what”. The best essays often show vulnerability on the part of the writer and make the reader “feel” things. The goal of all essays is to convey to the reader that the applicant will do great things in college and in life.
  • Your topic must WOW admissions. YOU are the topic, but you are writing about yourself through a “lens” of sorts.
  • Does the essay show “diversity of thought”? Can it ONLY belong to the actual author or could it be submitted by a “similar” student?  Could someone else put their name at the top and make it their own? Are you bringing interesting and distinct perspective? Are you using vivid anecdotes?
  • Does the topic lend itself to NEW information for the admission officer to learn about? (No grades, classes, test scores, activities, mission trips, etc.)  It must have some element of your personality and your why? It must NOT mention information found in the honors and/or activities section of the application. Avoid volunteer work, internships, clubs, etc.
  • Is the topic memorable and something an admissions officer will remember? Can an admission officer summarize what it is about in one sentence phrase or description of who you are? 


Should the evaluation be considered in terms of targets/goals for the overall College Application?

  • Have I learned 4-5 valuable things about you? Core values, feelings, etc. that are NOT conveyed anywhere else in the application.
  • Did the reader get real – write from the heart and NOT with their brain. Selective colleges will see transcripts and test scores. The reader MUST make their long essay personal in nature and steer clear of trying to impress. Most colleges will have additional essays/short answers. Some of them will require a more cerebral answer. The long essay (Common App/Coalition App) cannot be academic in nature.
  • Does the essay have 3-4 “so what” moments? Is the writing insightful, revealing, unpredictable, etc. Does the writing endear me to the candidate and create a vivid picture of the student impacting the college upon arrival on campus?
  • Every word matters. Writes cannot waste words. Stay away from “filler” sentences. Readers are very bright and to not need “background” to follow and understand an essay.


Are there some "tests" that can be carried out to answer the “Is it done?” question?

  • Applicants should read their essays out loud. Sometimes they hear things they don’t see when editing.
  • Candidates can vet the essay with a teacher, counselor, or trusted adult and have that person tell them what they learned about the writer, how they felt when reading the piece, what impression they have by the end, etc.


Are there any emotional or other qualitative aspects to consider?

  • When students get vulnerable, the writing is usually better because it is easier to reveal core values and if done well, it will leave an impact on the reader.
  • Students should be careful not to repeat definitive traits/core values in the essay. Using words like industrious, hardworking, persevering, etc. all say the same thing. Writers need to use the word limit to add not repeat.


Hope this information helps you with your essay writing process. You can use it to also help determine if your Supplemental Essays are ready. Some of those might require you to be cerebral and discuss things that are also included somewhere else in your application. ONLY repeat if answering the question requires you to repeat information. 


If you have questions about Essays or any part of the College Application process, please ask your question(s) on the Alma Matters Forum and we can help you.

Good luck with your Essays and Common Application!

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