By Kim Lifton
This is the second of two blogs analyzing the new Common App essay prompts for the 2013-14 college admission cycle. Our goal is to help you better understand what you need to do to stand out in the crowded field of college applicants. We will focus on prompts 3, 4 and 5 in this blog; Wow explained what we think prompts 1 and 2 mean in the our last blog.
#3) Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
During high school, you are constantly asked to look toward the future: Where are you going? What do you want to do with your life? Where will you attend college? What career will you pursue? Your college application essay offers an opportunity to look back, and this prompt is a prime example.
In this case, the central story will be a time when you challenged a belief or idea. Maybe the idea was religious or political. Perhaps it was a family rule or a school requirement. Did you challenge something you had always believed in, or question something but never spoke out against it?
The prompt asks you to reflect on one specific time. Again, think of yourself as a storyteller. Choose a single, vivid story that illustrates your point.
#4) Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
By asking why the place or environment is meaningful to you, readers hope to learn something about you, not the place. You might describe your uncle’s auto repair shop or your favorite city park in vivid detail, but that description is meaningless unless you focus on why your favorite place is meaningful to you. To do this, show some reflection. What do you do in your favorite place? What does it mean to you? Choose a story that illustrates why this particular place or environment is important to you. Draw the reader in.
#5) Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
Do not assume you must write about your bar mitzvah service, confirmation ceremony, Quinceañera party or debutante ball. The key phrase here is “marked your transition” from childhood to adulthood. Maybe you were recently invited to sit at the adults’ table for Thanksgiving dinner, or you bought a car with your own money. Why was this experience important? Why do you consider it a transition point in your life? Whether that experience is related to your culture, your community or your family, it can be equally relevant. In this case, you are being asked to demonstrate how you changed as a result of an experience that marked your transition to adulthood.
No matter what question you select, remember that what you have to say is far more important than the prompt or word count. Your job is to get the application reader to like you and make that person want to know more about you.
The questions are out, so it’s not too early to start writing. And we’re sweetening the deal! For a limited time only, you can save $50 off one student license for Wow Online – College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for writing college application essays. The price goes up to $149 after July 1.
*A license allows one student access to Wow Online – College Essay from now till the end of the application essay season.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students how to write compelling college admissions essays using a proprietary 10-step Wow Method. Wow also teaches ACT/SAT writing prep courses.
By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop will parse each of the five new Common App prompts for the 2013-14 college admission cycle in this blog so you can better understand what you need to do to stand out from the crowd.
Before you begin the application essay writing process, ask yourself, “What do I want the college to know about me beyond grades, activities and test scores?”
This blog focuses on Common App prompts #1 and #2.
Prompt #1: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
The key words in this prompt are “central to their identity.”
Ultimately, your essay is not about the experience; it’s about you. What did you learn about yourself? What did you gain from this experience?
Admissions officers read these essays to find out something they don’t already know about you. They can tell from your application that you are on the lacrosse team or in the school orchestra.
They know you worked as a researcher or a hospital aide or a bagger in a grocery store. And if your transcript says you took American Literature, they can assume you read books like A Raisin in the Sun, The Crucible or The Bluest Eye. read more
Last month, high school senior Suzy Weiss penned an op ed piece about getting rejected from the Ivies for the Wall Street Journal. The piece attracted national attention and landed her an interview on the Today Show. Wow Writing Workshop CEO Susan Knoppow understood what Ms. Weiss was going through; she wrote this blog.
I feel your pain. In 1985, Brown University told me no.
To be honest, I blamed Amy Carter.
So what if she was the former president’s daughter? I was certain Amy had snagged my spot. She could have gone to college anywhere. I belonged at Brown. I didn’t get into Yale either, but I wasn’t mad at Paul Giamatti or Mira Sorvino; I hadn’t heard of them yet.
I was destined for Rhode Island. I had no doubts. How could Brown say no to me?
I was co-valedictorian at my high school, first chair clarinet, concertmaster of the symphony band, drum major, National Honor Society member and geometry tutor. A friend and I brought flowers on Friday afternoons to residents of a nursing home. I had a real job in the summer. I was a good citizen.
I did everything a high-performing student could in the 1980s, long before the Common App was a big deal; long before the University of Michigan had more qualified applicants than it could handle; long before parents hired people like me to teach their children how to write their personal statements. If I recall correctly, I composed my essays in pen sitting at my desk one evening in early fall. I have no recollection of what I wrote. I am sure it was pithy and eloquent. I got A’s in English. My teachers all told me I was a strong writer.
Still, Brown, Yale and Harvard all said no. read more
By Joan Didion
This piece appeared in The Saturday Evening Post April 16, 1968.
“Dear Joan,” the letter begins, although the writer did not know me at all. The letter is dated April 25, 1952, and for a long time now it has been in a drawer in my mother’s house, the kind of back-bedroom drawer given over to class prophecies and dried butterfly orchids and newspaper photographs that show eight bridesmaids and two flower girls inspecting a sixpence in a bride’s shoe. What slight emotional investment I ever had in dried butterfly orchids and pictures of myself as a bridesmaid has proved evanescent, but I still have an investment in the letter, which, except for the “Dear Joan,” is mimeographed. I got the letter out as an object lesson for a17-year-old cousin who is unable to eat or sleep as she waits to hear from what she keeps calling the colleges of her choice. Here is what the letter says: “The Committee on Admissions asks me to inform you that it is unable to take favorable action upon your application for admission to Stanford University. While you have met the minimum requirements, we regret that because of the severity of the competition, the committee cannot include you in the group to be admitted. The Committee joins me in extending you every good wish for the successful continuation of your education. Sincerely yours, Rixford K. Snyder, Director of Admissions.” read more
By Kim Lifton
Last year, Danny asked me to review a college admissions essay he had written for AP English. His teacher gave him an A.
Danny’s essay, a beautifully written story about his many fabulous trips overseas, offered vivid descriptions of buildings and places and emphasized how much he loved traveling. His sentences flowed; the spelling was perfect; the essay had a beginning, middle and end. It was clear Danny knew how to write.
While Danny’s essay was excellent by high school standards, it was not ready to be submitted with a college application. The essay lacked reflection and needed more focus. read more
By Kim Lifton
It’s hard for financial aid guru Mark Kantrowitz to imagine why a student wouldn’t apply for college scholarships; more than 1.5 million scholarships worth some $3.5 billion are awarded annually by donors, philanthropists, foundations, corporations and other charitable organizations.
“Kids say it is too much work. They don’t like writing the essays,” said Kantrowitz, publisher of Fastweb and author of Secrets to Winning a Scholarship. “Well, once you finish half a dozen, the rest get easier.” read more
By Kim Lifton
Nationally, the SAT is scheduled for March 9; the ACT is slated for April 13. Both the ACT and SAT include timed writing tests. Are you ready?
Wow has been teaching writing preparation for standardized tests for many years, and we score the essays. As you can imagine, we see quite a few common, avoidable mistakes. read more
By Kim Lifton
The Common Application just released its new essay prompts for the 2013-14 college admission cycle. They are focused and clear and will not stifle your creativity. Your job will not be any more difficult – and it won’t be any easier.
By Kim Lifton
Last week, I met with my friend’s 12-year-old son to help him prepare his bar mitzvah speech. I interviewed him, asking what he had learned from the experience of becoming a bar mitzvah. Then I asked him what he wanted his friends to know after listening to his speech. read more
by Kim Lifton
Emily got into Princeton, and Nikhil was accepted to Penn. Columbia U. said yes to Anusha, and the University of Chicago made offers to Tate and Temisan.
Wow’s Class of 2013 is hearing yes to top choice schools. Many got in early decision to the University of Michigan, and a few more have been invited to apply to the honors programs at both U-M and Michigan State.
It’s been a good year for our students, who came to us from coast to coast in the U.S., and India. Several students this year used Wow Online – College Essay, our new self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing. read more
Subscribe to our blog
- What Do the New Common App Prompts Really Mean? Part 2
- How to Parse the New Common App Prompts
- On Rejection: “I Was Suzy Weiss”
- On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice
- Is AP English Paper a College Application Essay?
- College Search
- Colleges That Change Lives
- The ACT
- The Choice Blogs
- The College Board
- The Common Application
- Wow on Facebook
- Wow on Twitter