After you finish any modification of your essay, read it again (or better yet, have someone else read the essay) to make sure that it doesn't sound choppy or awkward. Find someone who has not read the original essay and ask that person to read the recycled version to see if it is still clear and understandable—you want to make sure that you have not inadvertently removed a critical piece of information that is essential in order for the essay to make sense.
Be willing to polish the recycled essay. The adapted version needs to be just as refined as the original. It's easy to get careless when reading the same composition for the fiftieth time, so make sure that you get a second or even third set of eyes to review your final essay before sending it to a college.
There is nothing more frustrating than cutting, clipping and reworking your essay for the 14th time only to find that it is still 126 words too long. When you are trying to trim a too-long essay, word or page restrictions can be an insufferable burden. You can cut a word here or scrap a word there, but it always seems that you need to do more.
Your first step to downsize these overweight essays is to read through your entire essay and mark the key segments that are absolutely—without a doubt—necessary. Among what's left, look for parts of the essay that are not essential but merely add detail. Your goal is to divide your essay into sections that are essential and sections that can be discarded for the sake of word count.
As you eliminate sections of your essay, ask yourself repeatedly if the reader really needs the extra information. It may be hard to accept, but some of the best-written sentences in your essay may only add details that are not really necessary to support the point. You may be very proud of creating such wonderful prose, but remember that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Eliminate these sentences, no matter how personally attached you feel to them, since they really are only overburdening your essay. To help separate the icing from the cake, ask yourself the following questions:
It's a toss-up about which is more difficult—slimming down an essay or adding to one. Chances are you won't even encounter the second problem because with the limited amount of space you have, it's just too easy to use it all up! However, occasionally you may find that you have not written enough. If so, don't worry. Admissions officers have a reputation for preferring less to more. Case in point, Princeton's instructions for writing the essay once contained this note: "Remember, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was only 272 words."
Still, if you have a phobia of too much white space on paper or feel that there is something missing in your condensed work, there are a number of ways you can expand an essay. One of the first things to do is add more detail. Try to include information that aptly portrays your physical environment: What can you see, smell, touch, or hear? What is the weather like? Is it hot? Humid? Freezing? What time is it? What are the people around you doing? Just make sure that the added descriptions support the topic.
Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
Learn how to write the essay that will get you into your dream college with this step-by-step guide that includes writing strategies from top students and admission officers. Read over 50 successful essays, and learn the 25 essay mistakes you must avoid.
By: Gen & Kelly Tanabe
The only how-to book which shows all students how to get into the school of their dreams. Based on the experiences of dozens of successful students and authored by two graduates of Harvard, this book shows you how to ace the application, essay, interview, and standardized tests.