Your college essay is complete. Youve poured your heart and soul into it ... but its too long by 100 words, and could use a bit of polishing before it goes out into the world. Its time to change from being an author to being a copy editor, and to drop the emotional attachment to your words. Remember ABC: Always Be Concise. Consider the word limit to be analogous to a speed limit--you don't have to reach or even exceed it and it's definitely not a race to see how many words you can use.
Many of us that do some form of copy-editing professionally use a series of editing passes, each concentrating on a specific type of problem or problems. Doing so lets you distance yourself from your essay and copy edit your own work more effectively.
1. Begin by reading the essay out loud. Doing so uses a different neural pathway than reading silently. If the application deadline is looming, this step will probably catch a great many errors in a short amount of time.
2. Consider the tone of the essay, and avoid pretentiousness. Showcase yourself without bragging. Don't be shy, don't hide behind formal and ornate prose...let the adcoms see *you* as a person. Write as if you were telling the story or having a conversation with a respected adult you don't know too well. If you think your essay sounds egotistical and pompous, chances are your intended audience does, too.
3. Remove tangential paragraphs. If a paragraph is not integral to your essay, it will lead the reader down a dead-end path and just leave them there. The flow of the essay will be disrupted, and the reader wont be so eager to see whats next.
4. Check to see if there is too much setup and explanation in your essay. Its natural to go into great detail when first explaining or describing something. These passages can be frequently shortened or deleted without loss of clarity. The adcoms, though adult, are not stupid.
5. Go through the essay and remove every or almost every - instance of to be. Using the active voice will almost always shorten and improve your essay.
6. Next, remove redundant phrases. You dont have the luxury of repeating yourself for emphasis in a 500 or 250 word essay.
7. Finally, remove redundant words. If a sentence is equally clear without a word, then it should be cut.
8. Make sure your essay makes grammatical sense. Check your tenses. Trace each modifier (adjective, prepositional phrase, etc.) back to the item it's describing; match each subject with its predicate. Check specifically for misplaced modifiers and singular subjects with plural predicates, e.g., "none of them know."
9. Check your spelling and word usage. Catch all the common errors like "noone" for "no one." Do not rely on spell checking software; it will not catch misused homonyms ("their" for "there") or misspelled words or typos that are other words "hat" instead of "that", "to" instead of "too").
10. Look at your word choices carefully. Don't use the ten-dollar word when the fifty-cent one will do. Using ostentatiously literary words usually leads to problems of tone.
11. Good writing is not the result of a democratic process; it requires a unified vision and execution. When seeking the editing advice of others, don't let their suggested changes change the overall "voice" of your essay unless the voice needs changing. By incorporating too many "editing suggestions" for word changes, sentence structure, etc., the essay can quickly fall apart and lose the sense that it's coming from you.
12. Wait at least a day (if you can), and then read the essay again - OUT LOUD - and really listen this time! With all the deletions and changes you have made, chances are good that you introduced a few errors or typos in the process. This last pass is needed to correct your corrections.
(Thanks to the other parents that helped with this project - SBmom, cangel, TheDad, andi, mootmom, Little Mother, digmedia - and whomever I'm forgetting!)