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The Often Overlooked But Completely Essential Last Step to Your College Applications

Before clicking “submit” on your college essays and applications, there’s one essential final step: proofreading.

After spending hours or even days working on college applications, it can be tempting to skip this part. Don’t! You want your applications and essays to represent your absolute best work and make a positive impression on admissions officers.

In this article, we’ll share five methods along with helpful tips for proofreading your college essays and applications. Follow this advice and you’ll be sure to put your best foot forward.

Why Proofread?

Spelling and grammar errors stick out on a college application and are sure to make a negative impression on the admissions team.

Not only do such errors make admissions officers question your academic ability, but they also raise questions about your work ethic and commitment. Not taking the time to proofread documents that will directly impact your future is a red flag.

And remember: Spellcheck does not catch everything. Specifically, spellcheck often will not recognize:

  • Homonyms (e.g. week and weak)
  • Misspelled names
  • Incorrect verb tenses
  • Usage errors
  • Repetition (excessively using the same word or phrase)
  • Subtle grammatical errors

In fact, spellcheck sometimes suggests changes that are actually incorrect. Don’t leave your future in the hands of a computer. Use the five methods below to thoroughly proofread your work.

1. Use a checklist.

Follow a proofreading checklist to ensure you check your essays and applications for a wide variety of potential problems.

Start by checking for the following on all parts of your application:

  • Spelling/typos
  • Correct word usage (e.g. affect vs. effect)
  • Proper punctuation (commas, periods, quotation marks, parentheses, semicolons, question marks, etc.)
  • Capitalization
  • Subject-verb agreement
  • Consistent verb tenses
  • Run-on sentences or sentence fragments
  • Missing or unnecessary words

As you proofread your essay, you should also ensure that:

  • Your essay is on topic (and stays on topic).
  • Your thoughts are clearly organized and make sense.
  • The essay is written in your own unique voice and avoids clichés.
  • You’ve used a mix of short and long sentences.
  • You’ve abided by the word count and followed any other instructions from the college.

In addition, make sure that you’ve spelled the college’s name right! You’d be surprised how often admissions officers encounter this issue, and it certainly isn’t a good look. Even worse, students sometimes use the wrong college’s name. Don’t let this be you.

Must read: 5 College Essay Topics You Should Never, Ever Write About

2. Let it sit.

Stare at any piece of writing too long and it becomes challenging to evaluate it from a fresh perspective. Save your work, wait a day or two, and then revisit it. It’s very likely you’ll discover errors or areas that could be improved.

Of course, this isn’t possible if you wait until the last minute to start on your college applications. So, here’s an important piece of advice: Don’t wait until the last minute. If you start early, you can take all the time you need to produce a polished, impressive, and competitive final product.

Plus, starting early is one key way to reduce the anxiety of college application season.

3. Read it aloud.

Errors can be difficult to see on the page, especially when it comes to your own writing. Since you probably know what you meant to write, your brain often fills in this information, leaving you oblivious to your mistakes.

Avoid this dilemma by reading your essays and applications aloud. This makes it easier to hear errors in your sentences. Missing words, incorrect words, and grammatical mistakes “sound wrong,” making them more noticeable.

You may recognize places where you haven’t transitioned smoothly between ideas or have used sentences that are too long or confusing. Repetitiveness also stands out when you read aloud.

Finally, does your writing sound like you? You want your application and essay to capture the essence of who you are, and reading them aloud can help you determine if you’ve achieved this goal.

As you read aloud, we recommend working from a printed copy of your essay and/or application. If you find errors or places you’d like to revisit later, mark them with a pen or pencil.

4. Read it backwards.

Similarly, reading your work backwards can help you spot issues you might skim over otherwise. This strategy won’t help you find big picture problems with an essay (like organization, flow, or clarity), but it will help you identify spelling and grammar errors.

To focus on spelling, read backwards one word at a time. Punctuation, content, and grammar won’t make sense in this context, forcing your brain to concentrate solely on spelling.

If you want to proofread for grammar and punctuation, read backwards sentence by sentence. You can also circle every punctuation mark, forcing yourself to look closely at each one.

5. Get a second — and third — opinion.

To get truly fresh eyes on your work, you’ll need to consult with trusted friends, family members, or teachers. If your English teacher is willing, ask him or her to look at your essay and provide feedback. It’s best to do this before college application season is in full swing, since your teacher may be overloaded with writing recommendation letters.

Have at least one other person look over your application. For your essay, we recommend two or even three additional readers. These readers may be aware of grammar rules or writing best practices that you haven’t yet mastered. If there are specific areas of your essay that you’re unsure about, point these out to your readers. If not, ask them to provide general feedback on content, spelling, and grammar.

You can also ask friends and family members if the essay represents your personality. On a related note, take the advice of others into account, but don’t lose your voice. Admissions officers want to get to know you through your application and essay. This won’t be possible if you get too much direction from others.

After you’ve listened to feedback and made changes, read through your essay and application one final time before submitting. Read slowly and carefully. Check the spelling of the college’s name once more for good measure. When you’re completely satisfied with all aspects of your application, it’s time to submit.

The Bottom Line

Applying to college is a competitive endeavor. Your goal is to secure one of the limited seats available at the school of your choice, and submitting work that’s peppered with errors will hinder your chances.

So, take the time to proofread carefully and thoroughly. Use a checklist. Read multiple times, read aloud, and even read backwards. Then ask for feedback from a few other people before reading one final time.

These five proofreading methods may sound tedious, but they will ensure that you avoid letting embarrassing errors escape you. After following the proofreading process described here, you’ll be able to submit your application and essay with confidence.

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Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.