Author: Susan Knoppow

Get FREE College Essay Crash Course

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop 

Juniors, we know you’re super busy right now, staying involved in school and extracurricular activities, keeping up your grades, thinking about your college lists and prepping for standardized tests. Have you thought about your college essay yet?

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Get our College Essay Crash Course FREE

While you plan for life beyond high school, it’s important to start thinking about the final phase of the journey to college, which is just around the corner. In a few months, you will begin applying to college in earnest. Will you be ready?

Good grades and test scores aren’t enough to land a spot at a top college, but a standout college essay can send your application to the top of the pile. We’d like to teach you how to write a college essay for the Common App.

Our Gift to You: College essay crash Course, the COmmon App

For a brief time, we’re giving away our  College Essay Crash Course, the Common App,  a 1-hour video workshop taught by our senior writing coach, Joe Kane. You’ll get instructions to simplify the college essay writing process, plus the confidence you’ll need to write genuine, meaningful college essays that will get attention where it matters most — inside the admissions office.

A Peek Inside the College essay Crash Course

Joe will walk you through Wow’s unique, step-by-step method to help find your personal writing voice, understand the Common App college essay prompts, brainstorm ideas, and gather all the details you’ll need to write a meaningful personal statement in your own words and your own voice. As he moves through the writing process, he’ll pause for a few brief writing activities; by the time you’re finished, you’ll be well on your way to an effective college essay.

college essay Crash Course Highlights

With the College Essay Crash Course, you will learn:

  • How to find a great topic
  • What colleges want in a college essay
  • What mistakes to avoid
  • What your writing voice sounds like
  • How to write your story

Get the College Essay Crash Course now and watch it at your convenience. It’s free!

Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essay
Wow President Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton, named one of 10 LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education, 2018 , is President of Wow Writing Workshop,  a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. Click the Wow Method to find out how we help students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. We also help business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials.  If it involves words, Wow can help. High school juniors, don’t forget to sign up for your free College Essay Crash Course.  You can sign up now, and and watch it at your convenience. 

College Essay Tips from the Admissions Office

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

We talk to admissions officers all the time at large, small, public, and private colleges. Just in the last few months, we’ve checked in with Michigan, Barnard, Indiana, Northwestern, Cornell, Michigan State, Columbia and UC-Berkeley.  Their advice is worth listening to.

Time and again, these and other admissions officers (who can decide a student’s fate) tell us exactly what they want in the essays.  No matter the type of college essay or whether it’s 50 or 650 words, they want to read meaningful narratives that:

  • Answer the prompt
  • Are written by the student
  • Demonstrate insight into who the student is beyond grades, scores and accomplishments

At its core, a college essay is all about reflection. At Wow, we offer many services (including free ones!) to help parents and other adults teach reflection. Meanwhile, here are some of our favorite tips direct from our friends inside the admissions office:

Shawn Felton, Cornell University, Director of Undergraduate Admissions
“What are we looking for? We are creating a class. We look at numbers, grades and test scores. But there’s more to it. We are trying to put a face with all of this information.”

Christina Lopez, Barnard College, Director of Admissions
“The whole application process is one big “” process. The students are creating their ‘profile’ within their application and reflecting in the essays on who they are as scholars and people.”

Tamara Siler, Rice University, Senior Associate Director for Admission
“Students think it has to be a discussion of their most traumatic experiences. If you have a relatively peaceful existence, that is fine.”

Jan Deike, Vanderbilt University, Assistant Director of Admissions
“Sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer, they have nothing to share.  Life is truly lived in the smaller moments, and that can be a powerful essay.”

Jim Cotter, Michigan State University, Director of Admissions
“The essay is value added. At a moderately selective school, it can pull a student on the cusp up. At a highly selective school, a poor statement can make the difference between being admitted or not.”

Christoph Guttentag, Duke University, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
“By the time (the application) comes to us, many of them have gone through so many hands that the essays are sanitized. I wish I saw more of a thoughtful voice of a 17 year-old.”

Lorenzo Gamboa, Santa Clara University, Senior Associate Director of Admissions
“Students do not need to compile an entire season into an essay. Just give us one place, one time, one moment, and that will do it for you. The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school.”

Calvin Wise, Johns Hopkins University, Director of Recruitment
“I never run into a colleague’s office and say ‘look at this 4.0 GPA.’ I will run into an office with a good essay to share; that excites me.”

 Kim Bryant, University of Michigan, Assistant Director of Admissions
“This is your interview. Let me know who you really are.”


Want to learn more? Join us for a free parent chat, where we’ll answer questions and share our latest tips.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communications and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, has made it her mission to know everything about college admissions, and the essay’s role within it. She speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges almost every day. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits. 

Life Just Got Easier for Students Who Need Accommodations on ACT and SAT

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Are you taking the ACT on April 8 or the SAT on May 6? If you have a disability and need extra time, a reader, or space in a separate room to take either test, you should not have any trouble getting accommodations.

Both the College Board (which administers the SAT) and ACT Inc. have increasingly faced criticism and questions from the U.S. Department of Justice for testing practices that allegedly put students with disabilities at a disadvantage compared with students without disabilities.

But at the end of 2016, high school counselors and families with 504 and IEP plans got some welcome news:  Both the ACT and the College Board loosened restrictions that critics believed made it too difficult to receive special accommodations. As a result, students with documented learning disabilities who have special education plans at school will automatically receive testing accommodations.

This move follows years of complaints by counselors and families who said the testing companies unfairly rejected requests for accommodations from students with learning challenges – even for those with school accommodations already in place.

At Wow, we guide with students of all abilities through the college essay writing process, and we are delighted by this positive news. Here are some articles and links to accurate sources that explain the news in greater depth:

Learn How to Ace the ACT & SAT Writing Tests
At Wow, we know what it takes to succeed on any writing test. Sign up for a private workshop with a Wow coach to learn how to ace the SAT or ACT writing test. We  teach students how to read and evaluate the prompts; how to organize their thoughts; and provide valuable tips for writing quickly, clearly, and effectively on either test.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communications and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, has made it her mission to know EVERYTHING about college admissions, and the essay’s role within it. She speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges almost every day. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits.


I’m 17 and Not Hemingway! A Realistic Approach to College Essays

Susan will share Wow's approach to the college essay with PACAC secondary school counselors
CEO Susan Knoppow

High school counselors, what approach do you use to help your students craft application essays? Would you like some new time-saving techniques that can help you reach students who have difficulty with the college essay process (and make your job a little bit easier)?


Wow CEO Susan Knoppow will join the Pennsylvania Association for College Admission Counseling (PACAC)  next Wednesday, February 8th, to present:  “I’m 17 – and I’m Not Hemingway! A Realistic Approach to College Essays,” an online professional development workshop for Secondary School Counselors.

The workshop is for high school counselors and independent educational consultants throughout the U.S. who want  resources for students and colleagues. Pennsylvania counselors can get a ertificate of Attendance to submit for ACT 48 credit through your district/IU. (Note: counselors must be registered and logged in to the Online Workshop individually for the entire hour and a half to receive the certificate.)

Susan has 20 years experience working with students of all ages. She has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, a BA in Psychology from the University of Michigan, and has taught college and high school creative writing and composition.

In 2009, she co-founded Wow Writing Workshop and developed the Wow Method, an approach used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills.

Workshop Details:

When: Wednesday, February 8th, 11am-12:30pm EST (1.5 hours)

Cost:  FREE for PACAC Members. Non-Members: $10

**Join PACAC today ($25 individual annual membership) and attend online workshops for FREE!

Registration: Click here!

Space is limited in the seminar room.

Registration closes at 3 p.m., Tuesday, February 7th

Questions? Email

Contact us if you would like Wow to present a similar workshop for your professional group.


Common App Wants You to Know: Essay Prompt Changes Don’t Matter

Scott Anderson of the Common App
Scott Anderson, The Common App

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Every few years, the Common Application, a tool used by more than 700 colleges to help students apply seamlessly to multiple schools, makes noticeable changes to its essay prompts. The changes are based on feedback from students, parents, high school counselors, educational consultants and member schools following each admissions cycle.

This year, the Common App has added two new prompts for the next group of college applicants; they also clarified some of the current questions.

What does it all mean for high school juniors who are about to start the journey to college? Nothing, really. The task is the same. The purpose is the same, too. Some of the existing prompts are more specific, and the new questions simply provide a few more options for students.

I asked Scott Anderson, the Senior Director of Education and Partnerships for the Common Application, what he would advise students so they do not overthink the changes.

“The prompts have changed slightly, but the instructions remain the same: what do you want application readers to know about you?,” Anderson told me. “The prompts simply serve to help students approach that question from as many angles as possible, whether it be maturity, identity, curiosity, pastimes, aspirations, community, relationships, or anything else.”

Anderson added, “Students should pick the prompt that supports and gets them excited about the story they want to tell about themselves.”

That’s sound advice straight from the source. You can read Anderson’s piece in the Huffington Post for more information about the changes. (He says the changes don’t matter!)

The best prompt is always the one the college applicant prefers.

No prompt is better than any other. And, despite what you may have heard or read in the past, or what you might hear in the coming months, colleges that use the Common App do not prefer any particular prompt.

At Wow, we talk to admissions officers all the time; they confirm what Anderson told us: they are more interested in what a student has to say than which prompt the student chooses.

At its core, the college essay is all about reflection. No matter what the prompt, we approach every one the same way. We tell our students an effective essay will answer these two questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why does it matter?

Why it matters to a student (the reflection) is more important than what happened (the experience, the activity, or the person who influenced that student).

Here are the 2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

Parents, find out how you can help your child respond to any prompt in our next monthly Parent Chat. It’s Feb, 21, and free. If you cannot make it, sign up anyway, and we’ll send you a recording.

Counselors and other professionals, our parent chats have been so popular we are offering free 30-minute sessions for you, too. Sign up here. Join us live or listen to the recording.

How Are You Going To Pay for College?

Jodi Okun

Last August, Wow’s Kim Lifton was the featured expert on #CollegeChat, a live Twitter chat hosted every Thursday night by Jodi Okun; we shared our expertise on the college and scholarship essay (the process is the same!) that evening. We asked  Jodi to share her best tips about paying for college in this guest blog. Contact Wow to learn how to write a standout scholarship essay. 

By Jodi Okun

Worried about paying for college? Confused about securing the best financial aid package? You are not alone.

Regardless of your family’s income or financial circumstances, most parents like you have one of these concerns:

  • You make too much to qualify for aid.
  • You make too little to afford college at all.

No matter what your financial situation, there are plenty of opportunities to help you and your family pay for college. Before starting the search for financial opportunities, you’ll need to understand how financial aid works, whether you’ll qualify for any – and know where to turn for help when it gets confusing.

Managing college financial aid strategies – from scholarships to work study jobs to student loans – is challenging. But it does not need to be overwhelming.

Begin the process by asking yourself these three questions:

  • How can I afford college for my child?
  • How can I navigate this complicated financial aid system?
  • And how will I make the best decisions for my family?

While no single answer is right for everyone, you’ll be able to find an answer that is right for you. I help parents navigate the process, but I cannot give you a step-by-step manual of what to do; I would need to update that manual daily. Useful information will help you move you in the right direction to secure the funding you’ll need for your child’s post-secondary education.

Meanwhile, try to stay calm, and don’t let fear get the best of you. College is a lot of work, and it costs a lot of money. But most parents and students I know feel that a college degree is well worth the effort.

Jodi’s Top 6 Tips to Navigate Financial Aid Process:

Start early – Don’t wait till senior year before making financial plans. If you do, you’ll be limiting your options. The more information you acquire early, the better off you will be.

Involve your child in the process – I’ve seen parents exclude their children from the financial aid decision-making process, and then turn around and complain that their child doesn’t understand anything about money. Everyone involved should know the facts behind the decisions made; it helps them understand how to be financially responsible.

Maximize free money – Use scholarships, grants, and other awards that don’t need to be paid back.

Pay as much as you can out of pocket – This includes savings, contributions from parents and relatives, 529 savings plans, part-time jobs, and work-study programs.

Borrow with caution – Maximize federal loans first, and then use private student loans – only if necessary.

Talk about money with your child – One of the reasons why student debt is at an all-time high is that parents fail to talk about money and student loans with their children before college. Student loans can have lifelong financial consequences if they are not repaid. Make sure your child understands the amount of money borrowed and who is responsible for repayment.

Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisers and a former financial aid consultant at Occidental and Pitzer colleges, has helped thousands of families successfully navigate the financial aid process, no matter what their financial situation. She is the bestselling author of Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, and is recognized by the Huffington Post and other media outlets as a top social media influencer. She blogs, speaks to industry and parent groups, and hosts weekly #CollegeCash Twitter chats that connect families with higher education professionals – and receive more than 10,000 impressions each week. To learn more about navigating financial aid for college, sign up for a free financial aid strategy session with Jodi.


How to Prepare for the College Application Journey

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

This time of year, every year, many moms and dads with high school juniors (and even sophomores!) start to get nervous. Seniors are either done, or at the end of the college admissions process; some have been admitted to their dream schools, while others were deferred or rejected. College talk is all the rage.

It can be overwhelming. Confusing. Distressing. But there’s no need to panic. We want you to get through this process with minimal stress inside your home.

Here’s our No. 1 tip to share with students to start preparing them for the application journey: Writing a college essay is all about reflection. Students need to learn how to reflect!


How to Teach Reflection

Despite what you might believe, writing is not the most challenging part of the essay. The tough part comes at the beginning, when we ask our students what matters to them and why. You can help your son or daughter explore how they exhibit their most significant traits or characteristics. That’s the first step toward reflection.

We know that most high school students spend a lot of time thinking and talking about friends, moving out of the house, figuring out life, choosing a career and deciding which college to attend. If you teach your child how to reflect before the next admission cycle starts in late spring, you will all be better prepared for the last phase of this journey to college. Find out what’s important to them and why.

The good news: You are more than ready for this challenge.

At Wow, when we help our students reflect and focus up front, the rest of the process moves much more smoothly. Too many students start in the wrong place. They come to us full of ideas about topics, with little consideration of the essay’s purpose.

All too often, students look for activities that might lead to stories, and they waste a lot of time talking about their experiences and their accomplishments. When they do this, they do not answer the prompt, which, no matter how it’s worded, is really asking students to show some insight into those experiences or accomplishments. That’s reflection.

Encourage your child to start at the beginning of the process – a conversation with you. You know what’s amazing about your child; help your child figure this out, too.

Make a list

  • What makes your child so wonderful?
  • What do you love about this person you’ve raised?
  • Is your son kind? Resourceful? Compassionate?
  • Is your daughter industrious? Funny? Patient?

Think about qualities and characteristics, not accomplishments.

What are you waiting for?

Find a time to sit down with your son or daughter, then share and listen with an open mind and heart. This is a journey into self-discovery to teach your future college student how to be introspective and find meaning in life experiences.

This is a key conversation to help your child answer the one question that can really help hit that essay out of the ballpark: What do you want to share with colleges that they don’t already know about you, beyond grades, test scores and extracurricular activities?

Once your child can answer this question with a specific trait or characteristic, he or she will be able to find a meaningful story that illustrates that trait and also answers the prompt.

If you can get your child to this point, your son or daughter will be ready to continue the process of discovery – and will be prepared to write those essays this spring or summer.

5 Tips to Trim Your College Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Recently, I reviewed a student’s personal statement for Michigan State University, which requires that each student submit a short essay of up to 400 words from a list of designated topics.

The draft, which he assumed was ready for a final edit, was 751 words – 351 words more than the school wanted. He didn’t think he could shorten it.

Nonsense, I told him. We read and suggest cuts to our students’ essays every day, and we’ve never seen a personal statement or supplemental essay weakened by the editing process.

While some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, others suggest a few words too many will not matter. No matter what, it’s not worth the risk. Just answer the question within the specified word count, and you will not need to worry.

Here are five simple tips for trimming personal statements and supplemental essays without destroying their content:

  1. Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely.
  2. Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma. These include because of this, in fact, first, last, hopefully, to be frank, quite frankly and in conclusion. Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Take out the ones that do not enhance your story.
  3. Delete helping verbs. Example: Replace “is going to be attending” with “will attend.”
  4. Delete to be verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
  5. Turn some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

After you trim that essay, there’s one more thing to do before clicking send: review it! Would you like a professional review to make sure it is really ready to submit to college?

Wow’s trained writing coaches pay attention to factors that admissions officers tell us matter to them, like reflection, theme and flow. We know how to help untangle that messy essay. We also make sure all the “I”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.

Don’t Let College Applications Ruin Thanksgiving

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

The clock is ticking for students applying to college for next fall as the regular admission deadlines loom.

Are your child’s essays stressing you out? Are they done? Do the essays you’ve already read look messy? Or is something missing from the story?

We don’t want your child’s college applications to ruin Thanksgiving. We’d prefer to give you some peace of mind. That’s why we’re going to share some tips so you can help your college-bound son or daughter master the college essay, which is arguably the most daunting task of the application process.

The first and most important tip: Make sure you understand why students are being asked to write essays, and know what you can do, as well as what you should not do, to help! At its core, the college essay is all about reflection.

We talk to admissions officers all the time, and they say they use the essays to:

• Find out something that is meaningful to the student and is not apparent in the rest of the application package.
• Gain insight into an applicant’s character.
• See if the student is a good fit for the university.

“There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office,” cautioned Calvin Wise, Johns Hopkins University’s Director of Recruitment. “We are trying to predict future potential. We need to dig deeper where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student.”

The admissions essay is an opportunity to support the student’s application – to help a student show who he or she is. It is a chance to speak directly to the admissions office.
Make sure those essays are written by the student. Wise (and every admissions officer we’ve ever asked) says he can tell when essays are over-edited or written by someone else.

Christoph Guttentag, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions for Duke University has similar advice. He told us he would love to see more personal statements that are authentic.

“By the time the application comes to us, many of them have gone through so many hands that the essays are sanitized,” Guttentag said. “I wish I saw more of a thoughtful voice of a 17 year-old.”

Your role is critical. You can help your child reflect so that they are prepared to write a thoughtful answer to any type of essay prompt. When you read your child’s essay, or when you try and help your son or daughter come up with a topic, remember that they should not start with a preconceived notion of where they will end up.

Students can have a vision and ideas, but they need to be willing to be surprised and open to ending up somewhere they didn’t expect. Allow yourself to be surprised, too.

How do you do that? Set expectations. Help your child present the best possible version of himself, not a vision you imagine. Let your child take the lead. Be supportive and positive, but don’t suggest topics or tell your child which words to use.

Ask yourself:

• What is the real goal of this process?
• Am I too invested in helping my child create a beautiful essay?
• What message am I sending my child by making suggestions and changes?

Next, make sure your voice does not show up in the essay. Leave it alone. Drop the word “editing” from your vocabulary. You are a reviewer, not an editor. This is a challenging distinction. It involves sitting on your hands and hiding your red pens.

You can learn more about how to teach reflection in our new book, “How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for Parents” (9.99, Amazon). All you need is the free Kindle app; buy the guide, then download it to your favorite electronic reading device.

Would you rather get a professional review? Wow can take the writing task off your plate. We’ll give your child’s essay a professional review to make sure it is ready to submit. We know how to help untangle that messy essay. We can work with your child no matter where they are in the process.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving.