Something extraordinary happened: my teenage daughter told me I had a great idea.

(OK, I exaggerate, but only slightly!)

My daughter is a senior in high school and in the midst of the college application process. Her Common Application essay is tremendous. Truly meaningful. Memorable. Authentic. I’m crazy proud of her.

She needed to pare it down, as she exceeded the word limit. After practically begging her, and after telling her I do this sort of thing ALL THE TIME for work and I’m really good at it, she allowed me to give it a shot. We worked together on some edits, but we kept coming back to my daughter’s first critique of her work: the beginning of her essay wasn’t that exciting.


Start with a Zinger

During my grant writing workshops, I like to encourage people to begin their grant proposals with a “zinger first sentence.” While a college essay isn’t a grant proposal, I think the principle applies here as well, because in a college essay, the student needs to stand out from a very crowded pack. My daughter’s essay needed a beginning that packed a punch.

Without getting too heavily into the details… I suggested editing with a machete, not a scalpel. I suggested that she chop off the whole first paragraph of her essay, move much of that content to the end, and start with a sentence that originally was further down in the essay.

To my surprise, she loved it! She even said, “You’re not gonna believe this, but… I agree with you!” The essay went from great to KILLER. We both jumped up and down in the living room when we read the finished product. The essay has re-energized her around the entire college application process (which is fraught and tedious, to say the least).

Edit boldly

Instead of plucking out words here and there, instead of small edits and tweaks, things went from good to great when we edited boldly.


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