Category: Blog

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!

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.

 

6 Quick Ways to Boost Your ACT Score

By Rachel Brandt
Magoosh

If time’s running out before your official ACT, don’t worry! Even if you haven’t had the chance to prepare for this college entrance exam as well as you’d have liked, there are still a few things you can do in the last two weeks (or even better, in the last month) before your exam to improve. Take a look at a few of the key short-term test prep strategies to boost your ACT score.

For the ACT and SAT writing tests, try one of Wow’s test prep packages!

1.   Learn the ACT test format. One of the best things you can do before ACT (or SAT) test day (even if test day’s tomorrow!) is to go over the format, especially if you haven’t taken a practice test before. Why? One of the hardest things about the ACT can be the time pressure—you may have less than a minute to answer a question. Because of this, knowing the instructions in advance alone can give you the chance to maximize your scores.

2.   Get the most out of your ACT practice tests. A lot of students don’t realize that it’s not enough just to take the exams and take a look at your scores. Go back over your ACT tests and spend several hours (yep, hours) reviewing the answers—both what you got right and what you got wrong. How has your progress been? Where are you still scoring lower than you’d like? When time’s short, you need to focus on the most pressing areas before test day.

3.   Know how to approach multiple-choice questions. Another quick way to boost your score fast is to use the multiple-choice test format to your advantage. If you don’t know the answer, eliminate any answer choices you can and then guess. There’s no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT, so it won’t hurt and it might help!

4.   Read through the free Magoosh ACT study guide. If you want a thorough yet readable way to learn about what you’ll see on the ACT, and master some of those question types that have been bugging you, this is the guide! If you can take a few weeks to work through it, all the better—but it’s not so long that you couldn’t read it in a day if pressed.

5.   Check out apps to help with your test prep. It’s one way to bring ACT prep with you everywhere, and the best apps are mostly free or very cheap. What should you check out? Flashcards and this test prep app. You want to brush up on a particular subject before the ACT? Yup, there’s an app for that.

6.   Be realistic. Your score won’t shoot up 15 points overnight. On the other hand, a lot of students will notice an appreciable increase in their score by taking the test again. Why? There’s time to prepare for it, for one thing. For another, now you know exactly what to expect. So go into your exam knowing that you’ll do your absolute best, but that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t hit your ACT score range for your dream school on the first test.

There are ways to prep for the ACT in a matter of days and ways to prep for it in a matter of months. However, these short-term strategies can help push your score and might just make the difference between a disappointing score and a score you’re proud of. And remember: no matter how little time you have, there’s always something you can do to boost your ACT score—even if it’s just to relax and get a good night’s sleep!

Don’t Fret Over Writing Test!

Try one of Wow’s test packages; we’ll use simple, engaging exercises to help you master the elements of writing and rhetorical analysis that ACT and SAT rubrics demand. Well beyond simple grammar tips, these lessons will change the way you think about reading and writing. Learn what test readers want to see and make the most of your time on test day.

The Best College Essay Prompt

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

Junior year is winding down; it’s time to give some serious thought to the college application essay prompts.  What do colleges really want to know about your child?

We’re going to give you some of our best tips and insight from years of working inside the college prep industry to help you understand how to understand a prompt. With any luck, this will alleviate some stress and help prepare your high school junior for the last phase of this journey to college.

Tip 1: Colleges want to know how your child thinks
How do you think?
Your story will show how you think.

Beyond grades and test scores, colleges want to know who your child is, how they think, and what makes them tick. The best place to share this: the college application essay. An effective response to any college essay prompt will show insight into a student’s character because it answers two central questions: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter?

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

 Tip 2: There is no perfect college essay prompt

In many cases, students are given choices of prompts. For example, the Common Application asks students to select 1 of 7 prompts. The University of California asks students to respond to 4 out of 8 questions.

Admissions officers do not care which prompt your child selects. Given a choice, any prompt will do. Make sure your child picks the prompt they like best. Wow offers a range of services to help your child from the beginning till the end of the process. 

“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,” according to Scott Anderson, Chief of Staff, the Common App. “Students should pick the prompt that supports and gets them excited about the story they want to tell about themselves.”

Tip 3: How to parse an essay prompt

We are going to teach you how to parse a prompt. To start, take a look at Common App Prompt #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.

The key word in this prompt is “meaningful.”

Ultimately, your essay is not about your background, identity, interest, talent or experience; it’s about you. What did you learn about yourself? What made it meaningful? 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.

They don’t know how those experiences affected you, whom you met along the way or why a particular piece of music is so important to you. They have no idea how you have changed and why you might be a good fit for their school. You can share these insights in your essay.

Your child could respond to this prompt by sharing any type of story – a description of a meaningful conversation, a moment when they realized something important about themselves – anything that truly and vividly demonstrates who they are.  The experience does not have to be particularly impressive; your child does not have to share a story about climbing a mountain or rescuing three children from a burning building. They could write about babysitting or making meatballs with grandma, navigating an icy highway or playing basketball with friends. The big challenge is to find a story that illustrates something meaningful. They should choose a moment, then explore it in detail.

What does this mean for high school juniors who are about to start the journey to college? They can start preparing for the essay. Now.

What are you waiting for?

We wrote a book that is full of tips to teach your child how to select a prompt and write 

The only college prep book you’ll need

meaningful answers to any question. Chapter 2, “Understanding the Prompts,” delves deep into that topic.  We also explain every Common App prompt in detail. You can order a copy of How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Parents on Amazon.comIt’s just $9.99 – and we’ll gift you a free eBook with your paperback purchase! (We also wrote a companion book for students.)

Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essayKim Lifton is President of Wow. We are 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 college 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!

 

 

 

Admissions Decisions Are Out. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear!

By Kim Lifton
Early admissionsPresident
Wow Writing Workshop

Final admissions offers are rolling out, which means the season for rumors is in full swing. Whether you’ve been waitlisted, or outright rejected, you might be better off ignoring the rumors about why.

The competition to get into the nation’s top colleges gets tougher every year, and that’s not because students are smarter or more qualified than they were five or ten years ago. It’s a simple matter of impossible math.

Year after year, more students for the same number of available spots at the most selective schools. It’s impossible for them all to get in. Year after year, we hear the rumors, too.

Here are a few tall tales floating around now among the country’s high school seniors (and their parents.)

  • The kid with a 4.0 and 34 ACT score didn’t get admitted to the top school in her state. Everyone knows they don’t like our school.
  • It is harder to get into the University of Florida than Harvard.
  • Colleges only want well-rounded students.
  • Only the leaders get into the good schools.

Just because you are qualified does not guarantee admission to any school on your dream list. Don’t believe everything you hear!

What do you really know about that kid who says she has a 4.0 and 34 ACT and got rejected from your state’s top public university? You might not really know her GPA; she might have exaggerated. Did you see her ACT score, or did someone share the information with you?

Colleges want a well-rounded student body, not well-rounded students. They want leaders and followers. Colleges and universities do not discriminate against certain high schools. It is possible that a student with a high GPA and test score was caught drinking a beer by police, got suspended or simply turned the application in after the deadline.

Marty O’Connell, the former executive director for Colleges That Change Lives, offers great perspective on the rumor mill. “Things are not always as they appear,” she said during a speaking engagement several years ago at Michigan State University. If she listened to every rumor, O’Connell might believe “no one is getting into college. It’s just not true.”

Want more insight about admissions? Watch this video clip from Kimberly Bryant, Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan.  Get a free copy of our book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Parents. 

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. 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!

Perspective to Help Your Students Write Better Essays

By Susan Knoppow
CEO
Wow Writing Workshop
Wow CEO Susan Knoppow

We all know that 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’s 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.

Sharing some perspective with our students can go a long way toward helping them see how their essays fit into the larger application mosaic. Many pieces of that mosaic are already in place: They took AP Chemistry or they didn’t. They wrote for the school paper or they didn’t. They played tennis since age 4 or they didn’t. No matter what the mosaic looks like, most students are thinking about topics to wow you, and the admissions teams, rather than what they want to say. And they might be freezing up because they believe they cannot live up to our expectations.

The more we raise the stakes for our students, the more stuck they feel. You can lower the stakes by encouraging your students to think about their best characteristics first, before they fixate on topics. Once they figure out how to demonstrate those characteristics, they will relax and just write. Even average students can write compelling, effective essays that stand out when they focus on their traits and characteristics. Why? Because those essays are genuine, and they answer the prompt.

Demystifying Admissions

We try to help our students understand the admissions industry overall. I hope that sharing our approach will give you some new talking points to calm your students and their parents. I can almost guarantee that this will help your students write more effective essays.

Here’s how we explain the situation:

  • Because it is so hard to get into the top name-brand schools (think Stanford, Harvard, UC Berkeley, MIT, Vanderbilt, Columbia, University of Chicago, to name a few), the students who are qualified for the most selective colleges look elsewhere to improve their chances.
  • The Common Application and other platforms make applying to college so easy that students frequently check boxes for schools they might normally ignore if more effort were required.
  • This practice helps colleges increase their applicant pool. It works well for schools because it makes them look more selective. If a school can accept only 1,200 students and 6,000 apply, the admit rate — or the percentage of students the school accepts — will be 20%.
  • To see how ease of applying affects the admit numbers at popular colleges and universities, look at the University of Michigan, which began accepting the Common App in 2010. That year, applications jumped by 25%. Five years later, applications to U-M surpassed 50,000, and the admit rate plunged to 26.3%.
Get a FREE book for you, and for every parent in your school!

For more insight into how we talk to students, get a free electronic copy of How to Write an Effective Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. High school counselors, find out how to get a free book for your parents, too.

Susan Knoppow is CEO of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay.  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.