Katherine’s College Essay Breakthrough: First Drafts Aren’t Final Drafts

"I’ll tell you what I realized when I wrote my college essays: none of them are interesting the first time you meet them."

Consider meeting someone for the first time.

You say, “Hi, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Katherine.”  Well, your name probably isn’t Katherine, but the point is, we all say it the same. At this point, nothing about us is interesting. But with every conversation we have with that new person, our personality will shine through more.

I’ll tell you what I realized when I wrote my college essays: none of them are interesting the first time you meet them. The good news is – first drafts aren’t final drafts.

I must have come up with twenty topics for my common app essay… and I’d dig into each one with the same anxious optimism, hoping THIS would be the one that carried me over the edge from “eh” to “excellent.” And then, after a few lines or a paragraph – or even after drafting the whole thing – I’d make the same face I make when eating olives or anchovies and throw the whole idea out. They all seemed boring, contrived, lifeless. I despaired of ever being able to write something with some spark.

Eventually it got to the point where I had no choice but to continue with a topic I’d rather reject: I’d run out of ideas and was running (from a goody two shoes perspective) out of time. So I decided to keep a story about my 6-year-old self’s brief foray into plagiarism and how it taught me to be creative later on in life.

Back in high school, I never really “revised” anything. I’d write an assignment, proofread it, and hand it in – end of story. So revising my rambling, overdone essay was a new experience for me. To no one’s surprise but my own, I found that the more I revised my essay, the more I liked it. Eventually, it was good.

I repeated this process with my other college essays and found it worked pretty much the same. My first effort at a given essay was NEVER very good – it was just the necessary process of figuring out the story behind the idea. Only after I had blocked out the structure by writing it out could I begin to shape my essays with the details and style that made them work.

Luckily, most of us don’t judge strangers based on how scintillating they are at the first hello. So don’t judge your essays that way either. If you give them a few polishes, it’s likely that they’ll start to shine.

Episode 4 – Preparing for Your College Essays