6 Proofreading Habits for Your College Essay and Beyond

Writing the first draft is only the beginning. Proofreading and editing your work will make your essay much more memorable and impactful.

You know when you rewatch yourself back in a video or hear an audio recording of your voice and can’t help but cringe? Well, rereading your writing often has the same effect—that uncomfortable feeling of “do I really sound like that?” This pang of embarrassment has always been the hardest part of proofreading my writing, especially for more personal essays. You can imagine, then, how much trouble I had with writing and rewriting my Common Application essay back when I was applying to schools. Each time I dove back into edit, I became overwhelmed and instead ended up in a procrastination rabbit hole.

In the admissions process, proofreading your college essays is essential. Even the smallest grammatical error or incorrect word choice affects how the committee views your writing. That’s why developing strong proofreading habits is necessary. Below, here are some tips and tricks for making proofreading part of your writing routine.

Spongebob Squarepants sitting at a desk preparing to write.
We've all been here.

1) Find a quiet place to read your essay aloud to yourself.

Find a place with zero distractions and read your words aloud, as if practicing a speech. This calls attention to simple errors that otherwise go unnoticed. It also helps you figure out a pacing for your essay. After you read aloud and pinpoint what you need to fix, block out distractions. My strategy? Put my phone on airplane mode and fire up some “lofi beats to relax/study to.”

2) Have everyone and anyone look over the essay.

English teachers are an especially great resource for you as you complete your essays. Guidance counselors are also experts at knowing what colleges are looking for, so ask for their help! Of course, your friends can also give feedback about voice (see our next point) to make sure the essay sounds like you.

3) Keep your voice consistent.

This next tip is an important follow-up to the previous one; having people look over your essay is important, but be sure their feedback doesn’t overshadow your own voice. It jars the admissions committee when an essay starts with one writing style and ends in an entirely different tone. Make sure you can be heard throughout the whole essay!

4) Say as much in as few words as possible.

Challenge yourself to capture big ideas in concise statements. The word count is there for a reason. Effective writers can say a lot with a little. Don’t be afraid to cut down on unnecessary extra sentences or adjectives that don’t contribute to the overarching goal of your essay.

There are even a number of apps (some for purchase, some free) that can help guide you through this process—see what other resources you can find!

5) Use active voice.

Keep your writing as active as possible. The admissions committee reviews many, many essays—you want your writing to keep readers invested in what you have to say! Simple shifts from passive to active voice instantly make your writing more sophisticated and engaging.

6) Trust your instincts.

At the end of the day, the college essay is supposed to be about you. Ask yourself what you want to convey to the committee and make sure that feeling is captured by your writing. What do you want us to take away from you after we finish reading? What excites you? Proofreading with these questions in mind will make your writing much more successful and relatable.

Of course, these tips are just the beginning. The only way to know what proofreading methods work best for you is trial and error—so get writing!