We asked professors around the country to give their advice on how to make your college essay stand out.
Read it loudand proud
There is a reason reading aloud is an almost universal staple of composition classrooms: It works. A wide variety of research has shown that vocalizing your own writing causes your brain to process language in a different way. You hear mistakes you never would have caught otherwise.
“As a writing teacher, it’s my No. 1 go-to,” says Josh Ambrose, director of the McDaniel College Writing Center. “It’s like when you listen to your own voicemail message, and you’re like, ‘That’s not what I sound like.’ There’s always this disconnect between the voice we hear in our head when we’re writing and the voice that comes out on the page.”
Let the first draft be s—
Eloquently coined by author Anne Lamott, a “s— first draft” is nothing to be ashamed of. Many professional writers say it is the key to doing their best work. Yet, professors often cite a fear of embarrassment as an enormous barrier in composition courses.
Research has shown that editing on actual paper helps the brain focus on the task at hand. “Your eye doesn’t take the same care when engaging with a computer screen,” says Samra Bufkins, a writing professor at the University of North Texas. “As soon as the words are on paper, things start jumping out. Your mistakes become more tangible.”
Remember: It’s not math
Nobody — not even James Joyce — can claim to be 100 percent correct when it comes to grammar. (After all, he did exhibit some funky punctuation in “Ulysses.”) “It’s an imperfect science. Some people try to make it as rigid as math, but that just confuses students — and makes them reluctant to write, because they can’t win,” says David Robson, who teaches composition at Delaware Valley Community College. “Sure, there are hard and fast rules, but you need to bend them from time to time.”