Author: Kim Lifton

Write a College Essay That Brings a Smile

This week, during an information session for prospective students and parents at New York University, I asked Assistant Dean of Admissions Julie Kling what makes her smile when she reads an essay.

“Be truthful and write in your own voice,” she said, adding, “We can tell when it is not written in a 17-year-old voice.”

At Wow Writing Workshop, we spend a lot of time discussing the application essay with college admissions counselors, and we keep hearing the same things: The high school transcript is one of the best indicators of how a student will perform in college; extracurricular activities matter; test scores count more at some schools than others; the essay is significant.

Why is the essay so important? College admissions decision makers want to know who you are, why you want to attend a particular university and whether or not you can write. (Of course you can!) The essay tells them something about you they may not know from your high school transcripts. Most schools do not conduct undergraduate interviews, so the essay gives them a glimpse into who you are.

I met privately with Kling after the session ended to talk more about the essay’s role. Like many universities, NYU accepts the Common App and requires applicants to write a few additional short answer essays. Kling said the student who might fall below the school’s academic profile could push himself up in the pile with an essay that stands out, but assured me that an outstanding essay alone will not get a student admitted to NYU.

And how does Kling, who reads about 3,000 applications each season, recommend a student stand out in the essay?

1) On the question, Why NYU?: She said many students write about the larger NYU or their desires to live in New York City, yet they fail to mention a specific program at the school, or why they might want to take certain classes or study abroad. “Write about a program that interests you,” she said. “Find a hook that is special. Name the program; use the name of your tour guide in the essay.”

2) Hook the reader early.  “I look through every essay, but if the first paragraph doesn’t hook me, I might not spend as much time on it as one that does.”

3) Make sure the story is about you. Kling said she reads too many essays about people students admire. “The essay is not about them at all.”

4) Make sure you answer the prompt.

5) Write about something you do that will show admissions officials who you are when you are not at school.

Think of it this way: Your goal should be to write an essay to make the person reading  it smile.

“I want to know what is meaningful to you,” said Hillary Teague, the assistant dean of admissions for Kalamazoo College. “That makes me happy. ”

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start? Contact Wow Writing Workshop. Wow’s  college essay writing coaches are ready to help you to tackle this task so you can stand out from the crowd.

Want Money for College? Write a Compelling Scholarship Essay

Last week, Wow’s Kim Lifton interviewed homeless women at the Coalition on Temporary Shelter (COTS) using the same principles our college-bound students use to write their college and scholarship essays. COTS will use the stories to make this year’s annual report more appealing to supporters and prospective donors.

What does this have to do with you and other college-bound high school students?

Whether you are writing an essay for a $250 college scholarship from the local rotary club or to secure a full ride to the university of your dreams, you need to sell yourself to scholarship decision makers in the same way COTS needs to sell itself to donors. Beyond good grades and test scores, how do you do that?

Think about this: A compelling story about a homeless person who turned his or her life around with the help of COTS might hook a new donor. Similarly, a compelling story about you might hook a scholarship committee so you get some cash for college.

If you’re feeling stuck, contact Wow Writing Workshop. Wow’s  writing coaches are ready to help you compose a great story about you so you can wow your audience and secure some financial help for college.

Young Writers Inspire Wow Founders

As the sixth graders entered the computer lab for Wow’s blogging workshop last week, three boys  sunk into their chairs with long, sullen faces. They were upset; each wished he had been placed in radio personality Mike Stone’s sports writing session. They were not interested in blogging.

Wow’s Susan Knoppow and I, along with an impressive group of local professionals, were at Hillel Day School for the first annual Real Life Writers’ Conference. Susan taught two sessions on how to craft a memorable greeting card, Mike taught them how to create a 40-second sports radio spot, and I introduced them to the world of blogging.

I looked at the boys slouching in the front row. “You can blog about sports,” I told them. “I am sure Mike Stone’s class will be great, but you can write about sports in many different ways.”

I asked the students what they like about writing.  To my surprise, just one boy out of the dozen participants said “nothing.” (We had to peel him away from the computer at the end of the session because he wanted to write more.)  One boy said he liked to write because it was creative; a girl said she liked writing as a tool to express herself. These kid were excited. I was blown away.

Together, we looked at three blogs (sports, fashion and music) written by teens. Then, one by one, the kids talked about their own  blog ideas: music, theater, travel, reading, politics, soccer, hockey. By the end of the session, each student had written a first draft of a blog, complete with fantastic details.

One of the boys who pouted because he was not in the sports session included scary details about a moment during a hockey game when a player got kicked off the ice for chasing him with a hockey stick. A girl who likes musical theater described how it felt being on stage, and a boy who likes superheroes created a new one in his own name.

Thank you to Hillel’s sixth grade teachers Lauren Sterling and Marjorie Jablin for believing in your students and giving them the tools to write – and to like it! Your young writers inspired us.

Want a Scholarship? Apply by Nov. 1

Looking for college funds? Want to be considered for a merit scholarship?

Many schools (including the University of Michigan and Michigan State University) recommend you get your application in by Nov. 1 to be considered for competitive scholarship review. Your application for admission serves as your application for merit scholarships as well.

The MSU website says: Michigan State University uses rolling admission; however, the number of qualified applicants has exceeded available space in recent years. For maximum scholarship consideration, seniors should apply by November 1. (Students applying after November 1 may qualify for scholarships if funds are still available.)

Nov. 1 is also the early action deadline for U of M, and the date to be considered for merit scholarships.

Need last minute help finishing up those essays? Contact Wow Writing Workshop for a professional review before you click send.

Tell Us YOUR Story

Recently,  a student sent us an admissions essay for the Ross School of Business undergraduate program at the University of Michigan. He talked about the building, and said he got this feeling that he just belonged there.

We asked him why he thought he belonged there, and we kept peppering him with questions until something specific came up in the conversation.  He couldn’t recall a single business idea he had as a child, and he wasn’t sure what type of business he dreamed of running. But he was sure he had the smarts and the know-how to learn – plus he was already doing the job of CFO for his youth group.

Aha. That was his story. He first realized he had skills and interests that would serve him well in the business world while overseeing the finances of this organization. He helped build up the group’s savings account, managed the checkbook, tracked expenses and assets, made sure every cent was accounted for.

Turns out, he did have a story to tell, and it was  specific. There is no magic window to peer through and get inside the admissions officer’s head to find the perfect essay topic. There is no perfect story to tell. But you do need to tell a story about you, and it has to be in your voice.

We don’t have any secret access either; no one does. But we listen to what admissions officers say, and we talk to them.  They want stories. They want to know who you are. They want you to show them who you are with compelling stories written in your own words, in your own voice. You don’t have to survive cancer or climb a mountain to have something real to share.

At Wow, we help our students focus on meaningful moments that illustrate what they want readers to know about them. Our business school prospect wanted to show he was smart and ready to succeed in business school.  He told the story of doing a finance job to illustrate his point. It was focused and poignant – far better than the story about the building and feeling like he belonged there. The specific story caught our eye.

So remember: People love to hear stories, real stories – not generic statements.  Tell us about YOU. Admissions teams want to know you too.