Tips to Overcome College Essay Writing Anxiety

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop

Every writer feels nervous in the moments when they are revising, starting over or drafting a new piece of prose. So it’s not surprising when even students who are well-prepared, understand the college essay prompt, and have a great story to tell also get the first-draft jitters, or writing anxiety.

College application season is in full gear, and just like every season, we see a lot of students who have difficulty starting their first drafts. That’s okay. Don’t panic. We know how to calm them.

Some students think that their nervousness is a sign that they’re inadequate writers or that they’re doing something wrong. It isn’t. College essays have high stakes. Feeling a little anxiety is normal, even healthy.

I am a college essay coach, and also a creative writer and teacher. I regularly attend an annual writers’ conference that attracts big names in fiction and poetry, plus thousands of aspiring writers and publishers, for a weekend of readings and craft discussions. At my first conference, I was surprised to hear how openly authors talked about their own writing anxiety.

Even authors with four or five books already on the best seller list said that they feel a bit anxious every time they start a new writing project. Their previous works might have been hits, but what should they do about the half-written chapters on their kitchen tables? How do successful writers manage those nerves?

Here are three strategies for managing writing anxiety that work for the pros, and help our Wow college application essay students:

Keep the Faith; calm the anxiety

Accept that some anxiety is normal and trust yourself to write the first draft.  Moments of doubt require a little faith. When you’re feeling nervous, just keep writing and don’t stop until the draft is finished. Successful writers keep writing even when they are feeling unsure of themselves.

Trust the Process
It's important to trust yourself when coping with writing anxiety
We tell each Wow student: Trust Yourself

Take comfort in revision. No one gets it perfect on the first try. Refining your ideas over several drafts is an essential part of the writing process. That also means there is less pressure on you to perfect your first draft. You don’t need to worry about finding the right words in your first draft because you’ll reread and revise anything you write (hopefully more than once). It’s okay for first drafts to be messy. They’re supposed to be. Just get your ideas down on paper. You’ll be able to polish your words later.

Get Advice from Someone You Trust

Every successful author has a go-to person who reads their work before anyone else. It might be a relative, friend, another writer, or an editor. You can usually find that person’s name listed on the acknowledgments page at the beginning or end of a book. A trusted reader can offer valuable big-picture perspective, and also catch small mistakes that are hard to see when you’ve been looking at a piece of writing for a long time.

Finding the right reader can be a little tricky with college essays because the world of college admissions is always changing. At Wow, we have ongoing conversations with admissions officers across the country to make sure that we offer the best college essay advice that reflects what admissions readers are hoping to see.

Let a Wow Coach Guide You

We’d love to be your guide. A Wow coach can show your child how to write for college admissions officers without a pre-designed structure, without reading sample essays and without so much added stress. Learn more here.

About the Author
Meet Wow's Senior Writing Coach Joe Kane
Joe Kane

Joe Kane is Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop, which is still accepting essay coaching students who are applying to college and graduate school this fall. Wow’s team of professional writers and teachers understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. If it involves words, we can help.

 

 

The Best Tips to Write an Effective College Application Essay

Helping diversity and inclusion
CapCan’s Michelle Strasz

Michelle Strasz, Executive Director for the The Capital Area College Access Network, CapCan, interviewed Wow CEO Susan Knoppow for their 2018 summer publication. Wow conducts training workshops for CapCan’s network of high school counselors and college advisors.

Michelle and Susan talked about the importance of the college essay, what colleges are looking for, how to write an effective essay and what parents can do to help their children. 

Here is the interview with Susan:

Michelle: How did How to Write and Effective College Application Essay come about?

Tami Manton

Susan: My business partner’s sister, Tami Lifton Manton,  was about to start the college process with her son. She asked, “What should I do?” We initially told her she was the parent so stay out of it. Don’t get involved. Her response to us was “Hahaha! You know I’m going to get involved so give me a job.” This made us rethink our messaging and our advice. Our book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay equips parents with tips and prompts to help their student reflect on what makes them who they are and illustrate their best characteristics. The student version of the book encourages the student to go find an adult they trust to help them with the process. Parents should review, rather than edit. We recommend ways for parents to be useful, mostly helping their child reflect, reviewing with a healthy respect for the child’s written work and asking questions about the essay. If they get confused, or don’t know what to ask, “Why?” is always a good question. They can ask like this: “Tell me more… Why are you telling me this story?”

Michelle: Why are college application essays important?

Susan: College application essays are important because colleges want to know who the student is, beyond the grades, test scores and activities. The essay is the place to share that, an opportunity to round out the application package. As admission to the nation’s most selective schools becomes increasingly competitive, the college essay rises in significance as well. The essay, or personal statement, provides an opportunity for students to show people who may never meet them just what kind of person they are. It’s value-added, and it can help. Colleges want students to dig deeper, to share their story. Academically, admission officers expect students to do well. But they want more. An essay fills in the qualitative gaps (grades, rigor of curriculum, test scores). For example, they might get applications from three students who are the first chair of violin. The essay will help distinguish between the three to get a better understanding of why a student is in the orchestra. Are they a diligent problem solver who found a way to afford a new violin for high school? Colleges are missing that qualitative information. Colleges want students to tell them something meaningful about them that they cannot find out about through the rest of your application.

Michelle: Why do essays make students freak out?

Susan: The college essay is arguably the biggest stressor of the college application. It does not need to

Susan Knoppow

be so daunting. The problem is students do not understand the prompts, they don’t understand the task, and they have so much bad advice, they don’t know how to write it. And they panic. Shut down. We help students and parents understand the task, and what’s expected, so they can relax. We tell our students that college admissions representatives are real people who want to admit you, not reject you. You are 17; they don’t expect perfection. They will cut you some slack. They don’t expect perfect grammar, and you don’t have to try so hard to be unique. Why? You are unique. Just be yourself. Answer the question. Don’t panic. The task is achievable. You don’t need to be a good writer to nail the college essay. You need simple instructions and a calm place to write.

Michelle:  How important is parent engagement?

Susan:  Parents sometimes doubt their child’s ability to do this task effectively. They often edit their child’s voice out of the essay. This does not help admissions get to know the child, nor does it help a child feel confident. A parent who helps too much can diminish a child’s self-worth. The child will think they are not good enough, and so Mom or Dad has to rescue them. They don’t think of that when they mark up those essays. Parents need to understand that they are not the audience for the application or essay, nor is the English teacher or the writer down the street. The admissions officer is the audience, and it is likely the parent has no idea what that person expects from the essay. The best job for any parent of a child applying to college is that of listener and supporter. We say, “Listen to your child and help them find insight into their life experiences. Provide encouragement and stay positive. You will help them best by just talking to them, letting them know what you like about them, and asking them what’s important to them.”

Michelle: What are college Admissions reps are looking for?

Susan: Reflection! They want an answer to a prompt that showcases a positive trait or characteristic. They want to put a face to the pile of paper. Colleges also want some confirmation that the student knows something about themselves. They want to read personal statements and supplements that sound like a high school student and Illustrate something meaningful about that student. They are not looking for perfect prose. Does the experience a student writes about need to be earth shattering? No. Does it have to illustrate an “aha” moment? Not at all. Just writing about winning a game is not enough. Colleges want to know what students learned about themselves because of the game. Why is that important?

Michelle: People who help students with essays can help them by

Susan: Encouraging them to reflect before they start writing. Let the student own the process; just be a guide. Listen more; do less. Every student needs to have a purpose for an essay before they start writing. To be effective, an essay must have a theme that answers these two questions: What happened? Why does it matter? Use theme as a review tool.

Michelle: Please finish this sentence. I am Susan Knoppow. I know…

Susan: Because of my background as an instructional designer and teacher, I know how people learn. I know how much to give a student to do. I know how to train counselors, teachers, and parents to help their students write their essays. I know that students want to please the adults in their life. They get conflicting advice, so they don’t know who they can trust, and they get paralyzed. I will help anyone I train to put this knowledge into practice.

Michelle: Your final thoughts?

Susan: The competition to get into the nation’s top colleges gets tougher every year, but that’s not because students are smarter or more qualified than they were five or ten years ago. It is a simple matter of impossible math. Year after year, more kids apply for the same number of available spaces at the most selective schools. It’s impossible for them all to get in. The essay becomes more important, too. No essay will vault you over a wall, but it will help you. It’s a numbers’ game, and there is an industry that has built up around the numbers’ game. Don’t feed into the frenzy. It is important for adults and students to set reasonable expectations. A little perspective will help any adult become a better guide for a college applicant.

Learn How to Write an Effective College Application Essay

Wow will help you and your family stay calm so your child can focus on getting noticed where it matters most -inside the admissions office.  Year after year, Wow students get into their top choice colleges, including the Ivies, prestigious liberal arts schools, and the best state universities. Yours should, too! With a Wow coach as a guide, your child can learn how to write great application essays, become a stronger writer, and improve their chances of admission to their dream school.

The season is in full swing, and summer will be over sooner than you think. But we’ve still got a few coach slots open for the 2018-19 season! Reserve your coach now before it’s too late with a purchase of one “Complete” essay coaching package. We’ll help with the Common Application essay, or any other personal statement or supplement. Just sign up, and we’ll take it from there.

5 College Essay Myths & Facts

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

It’s spring, a good time to debunk some of the rumors about the college essay that spread like wildfire among the college-bound crowd and their families.

With that in mind, here are our Top 5 college essay myths and facts:

Myth 1: A college essay has to be written about an impressive topic.

Fact: The student is impressive, not the college essay topic. The story, not the experience, is most important. Colleges want to know what an applicant has learned, rather than what they did.

One Wow student came to us confident that it was her trip to help the poor in Central America that would stand out in her application essay. Not at all. While brainstorming ideas with a writing coach, she discovered her most important moment during that trip occurred when she overcame her fear of heights by jumping off a cliff into the water.

“What does the experience mean to you?” asked Calvin Wise, the Director of Recruitment for Johns Hopkins University. “That is what we want to know.”

Myth 2: A college essay should sound sophisticated, like Hemingway or a college professor.

Fact:  A high school student should sound like a high school student. Not a professor. Or a famous writer.

(Students should) “be themselves,” said Andrea Nadler, Associate Dean of Admission at Hofstra University.  “The college essay should allow us to use our senses to see, feel, taste and experience the kinds of things that are important to these students. If writing about a book they have read, we want to feel like we are in it with them. If writing about a meal they have had, we want to taste it.”

Myth 3: Admissions officers will never know if anyone helped too much with a college essay. They won’t know if the student plagiarized, either.

Fact: There is a fine line between helping your child and writing or over-editing the essay for them. Admissions officers know when someone other than the student writes all or part of a story; they don’t like it.

“If a student has an adult write it, the admissions committee can tell,” said Jim Cotter, Director of Admissions for Michigan State University.

Many schools will automatically reject a student’s application, without an explanation, even if they merely suspect plagiarism.

Myth 4: There is a right way and a wrong way to write a college essay.

Fact:  An applicant’s best story will grow out of the process of writing the college application essay. To stand out, they must tell a genuine story and show insight.

Despite what you might hear, there are no tricks and no shortcuts. No magic formula. The essay doesn’t need a killer opening line or a tight conclusion. Trust the process; the college essay will emerge through the process of reflection, writing and revision.

“The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school,” said Lorenzo Gamboa, Senior Associate Director of Admissions for Santa Clara University.

Myth 5: Only superstar students will impress admissions officers with their essays.

Fact: Anyone can stand out with a great story.

An applicant does not need to rescue a child from a house fire or teach an autistic boy how to swim to impress admissions officers. One Wow student wrote about the moment he forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar. His problem-solving skills impressed admissions officers, and one college sent him an offer of admission that praised his college essay.

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

We’d love to be your guide. A Wow coach can show your child how to write for college admissions officers without a pre-designed structure, without reading sample essays and without so much added stress. Learn more here.

 

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges all the time. 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.

 

 

 

Personal Statement Needs No Hook

Personal statement
Joe Kane

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop

It’s the beginning of college admissions season for the Class of 2019. Not surprisingly, teens around the country are experiencing a barrage of advice from well-intentioned adults. Much of it is confusing; some of it is just wrong. One of the most common misconceptions is that students need to start their personal statement with a “hook.”

The theory behind a hook is this: grab a reader’s attention in the first lines of a personal statement, so  college application readers will be more interested in the rest of the essay.  Hooks sound good in theory, but they are unnecessary and can hurt a student’s application essay.

Focusing on hooks places too much emphasis on the beginning of the personal statement, and not on the whole story. It encourages hyperbole, and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how admissions professionals read personal statements.  Students don’t need a hook to get attention inside the college admissions office.

In fact, teens do not need a hook at all on any personal statement to create dynamic stories. Every effective story will have stand-out moments. Moments of tension, beauty, or humor.  It’s fine if students want to  dive right in and start telling their stories in the first line of their personal statement. It’s also okay to  lift a dramatic moment or a captivating image from their story, and then use it as a starting point of a college essay. In either case, students will be grabbing attention, while also keeping readers focused on the entire story, from the very first word.

 make sure personal statement helps the college applicant

Any part of the essay that doesn’t help college admission counselors better understand the student will waste their time. Hooks can be a waste of time. They are problematic because they pull students’ attention away from what’s really important: their story.

When teens hear they need a hook at the beginning of their essay, they often reach for a few familiar gimmicks: “Webster’s dictionary defines leadership as…” or “Albert Einstein once said…” But admissions readers don’t care what the dictionary states, or a famous person has to say. They want to learn about the student, not Albert Einstein.

When students use jokes or “shocking” statements as hooks, their essays face similar problems. Does the joke reflect something essential about a student’s character? Usually not. Is the “shocking” statement an essential part of the student’s story, or just exaggeration? Usually the latter. Jokes and shocking statements thrown at the top of an essay simply to get attention will not help readers understand the traits and characteristics of the teen who is  writing the essay.

Admissions officers read every personal statement carefully. It’s their job, and they take it seriously. They don’t need to be baited or swayed with a hook. If applicants answer the prompt, and share something meaningful that illustrates positive traits, admissions teams will read every word of the essay.

Remember that admissions officers read essays for a specific purpose: to learn about the applicant’s character. The story is what’s going to help them understand who a student really is. Staying focused on the story is a great way to keep readers engaged from the first word to the last in any personal statement.

Joe Kane is Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop, which is still accepting essay coaching students who are applying to college and graduate school this fall. Wow’s team of professional writers and teachers understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. If it involves words, we can help.

Juniors, Do You Know What a College Essay is?

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

What is a college essay, anyway?

Simply put, the term college essay refers to any piece of writing that a college requires as part of the admissions process. You might hear about personal statements, personal insight questions, supplemental essays or short answer questions. All of them refer to this type of writing.

Colleges use these essays to help select a diverse class from among the hundreds or thousands of applicants whose grades, test scores and extracurricular activities can make all of you look alike. Some schools also use essays for scholarship selection. The number of essays and their length vary, depending on the colleges you apply to.

Essays are generally fairly short, ranging from 50 words for a short answer question to 650 words for a personal statement. Read the instructions closely for word or character count.

Some schools ask for just one personal statement. The University of California, on the other hand, asks students to answer four personal insight questions; each response can be up to 350 words.

The majority of schools do not conduct interviews, so college essays become the only opportunity to share a student’s unique voice.

To learn more, order your copy of Wow Writing Workshop’s How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for Students! Parents, don’t worry, we wrote a companion guide for you, too.

Wow is a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help!

Stay Calm During Journey to College

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
It's important not to panic
Don’t panic during admissions season

The night before last year’s early college application deadline, a friend called me in a panic.

What if her son didn’t get into his top choice college because his essay lacked sophistication, or sounded like an immature 17-year-old boy?

Her son’s essay was finished, and very good. I had already reviewed his final draft. His story about the night he learned to “just let it go” while doing a stand-up routine in a city comedy club, was so genuine and hit the mark; it sounded like a smart 17-year-old wrote it. I loved the story because he answered the prompt, demonstrated insight and wrote it himself. His high school counselor liked it too.

But as the deadline neared, his mom began to freak out. She passed the essay around to other adults she trusted, even though none of them knew anything about the college admissions process, or the essay’s role within it. Even worse, these adults were super critical, calling the writing immature, just not good, pedestrian.

She took the criticism to heart, marking the essay up, suggesting word changes and rewriting complete sentences. Without knowing it, my friend took her son’s voice away.

don’t follow my friend’s lead

Please don’t follow my friend’s lead. Instead, let us guide you so you can help your own child without overstepping your role. We don’t want your journey to be so daunting.

Fortunately, I was able to calm my friend, convincing her to ditch her version and encourage her son to submit his original essay. I remained focused on what was best for her son: feeling confident. With his own essay, he got the results he wanted: admission to his first-choice college, SUNY Binghamton.

Help Your Child Write a college Essay

At Wow, we believe parents like you play an important role in the college application journey. Success on the essay begins at home — sooner rather than later — and with you, the parent, as the guide. You know your son or daughter better than anyone else. Who else would go to the moon and back to help your child prosper as an adult?

The best thing you can do is help your child reflect before they start writing that first college application essay draft.

While there is no rubric for a good college essay, the ones that stand out and are most effective share a few common features. Regardless of the prompt, they:

  • Answer the question
  • Showcase a positive trait or characteristic
  • Sound like a high school student
  • Illustrate something meaningful about the student
  • Demonstrate reflection
get a jump on the college application PROCESS

We can help you if you and your child get a jump on the college essay. Our coaches book up quickly, so you’ll want to reserve yours before it’s too late.  You can reserve a private coach now to work with your child throughout the season with the purchase of just 1 complete essay writing package. Learn more.

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges all the time. 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. 

How to Blog With a Purpose

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Do you want to write a blog? Do you have something make sure you have something to say that others may find interesting?

It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be so hard, either. Start with the basics.

First, there’s a lot of competition. There are so many blogs out there that online marketing experts cannot even pinpoint an accurate number. Estimates range from 31 million to more than 200 million. With so many other blogs out there, how will you make yours stand out?  In a word, content.

Content is king, and brevity is your friend.

What’s a blog, anyway?

A blog is a collection of posts that can be educational, informational, controversial or personal, and is updated on a regular basis. You can blog daily, weekly, or as often as you choose. You can write a blog to share personal information, opinions, or for business purposes.

Here are a few of wow’s top tips to help you make your blog stand out:

1)   Keep it simple

2)   Make sure it is focused.

3)   Write it short

4)   Follow the 3 C’s: Make sure what you write is clear. Concise. Consistent.

5)   Think of your blog as a marketing tool; it’s generally not poetry.

To master the art of blogging, you’ll need to write with your intended audience in mind; you’ll also need to write it well.

Ask yourself:

·     What do you want readers to know after they are done reading your blog?

·     Why?

·     Who are you writing for?

After you have answered these three questions, delve a bit deeper:

·     What can you teach you readers that they cannot get elsewhere?

·     What do you want your readers to do, think, know, or buy after reading your blog?

Odds are pretty good that if you are reading this article, you are an expert about something. That means you already have great content at your disposal.

You probably have a lot of content, too. There’s no need to create new stuff, or to reinvent the wheel. Do an assessment of what you have. Recycle and get the job done! It is probably better than you think it is.

Want to Learn How to Blog With A Purpose?

Find out what it takes to write a blog with a purpose in Wow’s upcoming Business Communications Seminar, beginning May 15 through June 30. In this self-guided, online seminar, we’ll talk about what a blog is, and what it is not, and how yours can be used effectively to increase sales, raise money or build a brand. We’ll also talk about why every blog writer should be able to answer these questions: What is your message? Why? And who is your audience? Includes a 60-minute private consult with Wow President Kim Lifton, plus step-by-step guidelines and planning documents.  Register below.

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic writing and communications firm. Wow is a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help!

The Most Common College Application Essay Mistake

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essay
Lifton: Don’t make the same college application essay mistakes we see year after year.

Every year, college reps tell Wow Writing Workshop that the biggest mistake students make in their application essays is not answering the prompt.

Take the example of Katie, who came home from school one day, flustered over a seemingly simple English class assignment: Write a personal statement for college.

Her father had never seen this side of his daughter. She could always manage her schoolwork on her own. Not this time. The teacher sent students home to write the essay with no instructions. Katie, not knowing where to start or what to do, was fixated on a topic — ice-skating. And why not? She was a competitive skater. It was integral to her life. Would that topic help her stand out, she asked her father?

avoid college application essay mistake: answer the prompt

The dad, Alan, knew a little bit about the essay. He had been doing some research on college admissions so he would be prepared to guide her. In fact, a few nights before she showed him the assignment, Alan had participated in one of our online parent chats. They’re free and open to the public. We host them monthly to answer parent questions and provide tips for them to help their children.

Katie was too far ahead of herself in the process, and her dad knew it. She was thinking about a topic before she understood the prompt. The topic, he told Katie, was not as significant as the subject. In other words, the essay needed to be about Katie (the subject of the essay), not ice-skating (the topic).

Katie was about to make one of the most common mistakes colleges see in application essays. She was prepared to write about an experience, rather than what she learned from it or what that experience demonstrated about her. Katie was so focused on finding a good topic that she paid little attention to the prompt, one her teacher selected from the Common Application: 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.

Fortunately, her father was able to guide her. He asked her the one question we use repeatedly with our students to help them slow down before choosing an essay topic: What do you want colleges to know about you beyond your grades, test scores and extracurricular activities?

After a 30-minute conversation with her father, Katie decided she wanted colleges to know she was compassionate.

Ultimately, she did find a topic through her experience on the ice. In her essay, Katie showed colleges she was compassionate in a focused story about a time she taught a young child how to skate. That experience could have happened at a library, teaching a child to read, or on a nearby sidewalk, teaching a child how to ride a bike. The setting did not matter because it showed introspection into Katie’s character in a way that could help colleges get to know her better.

Our gift to your parents
Learn how to avoid making college application essay mistakes.

To learn more about writing your college essay, and how to avoid making college application essay mistakes, order your copy of Wow Writing Workshop’s How to Write an Effective College Application Essay –  The Inside Scoop for Students! Parents, don’t worry, we wrote a companion guide for you, too. Because we know you want to help your students, we’re gifting to you a free parent guide.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic writing and communications firm.

Wow is a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help!

 

This Question Will Help Your Students Write Better Essays

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

A few years ago, a father, Alan, saw the effect the college essay can have on a high school student during his daughter’s junior year. Katie came home from school one day, flustered over a seemingly simple English class assignment: Write a personal statement for college.

He had never seen this side of his daughter. She could always manage her schoolwork on her own. Not this time. The teacher sent students home to write the essay with no instructions. Katie, not knowing where to start or what to do, was fixated on a topic — ice-skating. And why not? She was a competitive skater. It was integral to her life. Would that topic help her stand out, she asked her father?

Alan knew about the essay. He had been doing some research on college admissions so he would be prepared to guide her. Alan had already participated in one of the free online chats Wow hosts monthly (one for parents and another for professionals) to answer questions and provide tips to help college applicants.

Katie was too far ahead of herself in the process, and Alan knew it. She was thinking about a topic before she understood the prompt. The topic, he told Katie, was not as significant as the subject. In other words, the essay needed to be about Katie (the subject of the essay), not ice-skating (the topic).

Katie was about to make one of the most common mistakes high school counselors and colleges see in application essays. She was prepared to write about an experience, rather than what she learned from it or what that experience demonstrated about her. Katie was so focused on finding a good topic that she paid little attention to the prompt, one her teacher selected from the Common Application: 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.

The key word here is “meaningful.” Katie needed to reflect on her experience.

Fortunately, Alan was able to guide her. Similarly, you can help your students reflect so they can respond effectively to any college essay prompt. Alan asked his daughter the one question we use repeatedly with all of our students to help them slow down before choosing an essay topic: What do you want colleges to know about you beyond your grades, test scores and extracurricular activities? This is the question you can ask every student who comes into your office to talk about college application essay topics. If they cannot answer it, they are not ready to write. The answer should be a characteristic or trait, not an accomplishment or experience.

The single question about what’s important to Katie worked for Alan. It will work you’re your students, too. After a 30-minute conversation with Katie, she said she wanted colleges to know she was compassionate. She felt confident she could demonstrate that trait in her personal statement.

Alan did an excellent job encouraging his daughter to reflect upon who she is. Ultimately, she did find a topic through her experience on the ice. And, in her essay, Katie showed colleges she was compassionate in a focused story about a time she taught a young child how to skate. That experience could have happened at a library, teaching a child to read, or on a nearby sidewalk, teaching a child how to ride a bike. The setting did not matter because it showed introspection into Katie’s character in a way that could help colleges get to know her better.

How do you approach the college essay? We’d love to hear how you talk to your students when they panic, and what your biggest college essay challenges are.

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To show you how much we appreciate the work you do, we’d like to give you a free electronic copy of our book: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. Find out how to get free books for every parent in your school, too.

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges all the time. 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.

Want to Stand Out in Your College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Juniors, as you prepare to start the college application process in earnest, keep in mind that the best personal statements  show insight into who you are.

Does the experience you write about have to be earth shattering? No. Does it have to illustrate an “aha” moment? Not at all. It is a reflection on something that has meaning to you. It doesn’t matter what that is. There’s no magic answer. No secret sauce. Not even a shortcut. The essay is one (very important) piece of a holistic admission process.

Shawn Felton, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Cornell University, reviews thousands of applications each admissions cycle. That’s a lot of entrance essays. What delights him? A story that rounds out an applicant’s package, and an essay that helps him understand who the person is.

“We want to put a face to the pile of paper,” Felton explains. “It is part of a number of identifiers that deliver who you are as a person.”

What turns him off? Stories that are not genuine, do not answer the prompt, or fail to give him any insight into the applicant’s character. He does not like it when students try too hard to impress him, or write essays that seem forced or inauthentic.

“The essay is not something to be cracked,” he cautions.

Essays won’t get a student who is not qualified into any college. However, they can help a qualified applicant get a better shot at admission to that dream school. Yes, the essay can help you.

“A poorly written essay can take an applicant out of the running, but conversely a great essay can certainly help. A fantastic essay can absolutely give the applicant a bump up. Even after reviewing a mediocre transcript or seeing a limited activities list, I can be swayed to admit a student who writes an essay that really blows me away. The topic of the essay doesn’t need to be mind-blowing (in fact, the most mundane topics are often the most relatable and enjoyable), but if it reveals a someone who would be highly valued in our campus community, that could tip the scales.”

Gregory Sneed, Vice President for Enrollment, Denison     University

 

Colleges want some insight into your character. What did you do? What did you learn about yourself? Why does it matter? A girl who went on a volunteer trip to Central America to teach students to read learned more about herself on that trip when she jumped off a 30-foot cliff into the ocean. She wrote a riveting piece about feeling brave in an attempt to overcome her fear of heights. That experience would have been relevant if it took place down the street or around the world. It wasn’t impressive because it happened in Belize. It was impressive because it demonstrated reflection and growth.

Click more information to find out how Wow helps students just like you stand out in your college essay.

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Wow’s team of professional writers and teachers understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been 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. If it involves words, we can help. Email kim@wowwritingworkshop.com.