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Michigan Could Become a Model for High School Counselor Training

Sarah is MSU's top admissions person other than Jim Cotter
Michigan State’s Sarah Summerhill

By Kim Lifton

President, Wow Writing Workshop

Michigan could become a national model for counselor training when a new law requiring high school counselors to complete college and career guidance training to renew their state licenses goes into effect in 2020.

It will be the first state in the U.S. mandating that counselors add specific training to their professional development licensing requirements.

The law follows a decade of lobbying efforts by two well-known college admissions industry advocates, Patrick O’Connor, the associate dean of college counseling for the Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and Sarah Summerhill, the assistant director of admissions at Michigan State University and former chair of the NACAC Government Relations Committee. The duo had support from many organizations, including  MACAC, MCAN, the Michigan Home Building Association and the College Board.

“It was worth the effort,” O’Connor told Link for Counselors. “This will keep counselors current.”

“It was well worth the effort.”
Amazing high school counselor Pat O'Connor from Cranbrook Schools
Patrick O’Connor

O’Connor took a few minutes to chat about the new law with Kim Lifton, president, Wow Writing Workshop. Kim is a regular contributor to Link for CounselorsO’Connor said he is hopeful this is just the beginning of a trend in college admissions. Counselors, he said, need to stay up-to-date in this rapidly changing world. They also must understand alternative options to four-year degrees, such as skilled trades and technical training programs.

Kim LiftonWhat types of courses will count toward professional development credit?

Patrick O’Connor: We don’t know just yet. The Michigan Department of Education will convene a group of interested parties (I will be on the committee) to discuss what will count for the credit. The rules will be up and posted by July 1. The Michigan Department of Education will develop rules and guidelines to enforce these new requirements.

KL: How will mandatory training focused on counselor training improve current training? 

PO: Currently, counselors are required to take 150 hours of professional development every five years to maintain their licenses. Nearly all that development is geared toward teachers, not counselors. When the new law kicks in, 25 of those 150 professional development hours must be completed in activities focused on college counseling; another 25 must be completed in activities focused on career counseling. Of the 25 career counseling hours, 5 must be focused on career options in the military.  Once counselors see what’s out there, they will be more inclined to participate in more college-ready and career-ready courses and spend less time in teacher development programs.

Counselor Training for Career-Readiness

KL: Are college-ready and career-ready the same thing? 

PO: No. Different life experiences require different preparations. We do all students a disservice when we develop a school counseling curriculum that assumes the skills needed to become a machinist are the same skills needed to make it through graduate school.  Once we accept the idea that difference is valued, we can get on with the business of meeting individual needs with something other than a one-size-fits-all approach to life after high school. Then we’ll get more students interested in what we have to say. ​
KL: How will this new requirement help students?

POStudents and families need the latest information in college and career trends to make strong, personalized decisions about life after high school.  Counselors can only give them this information if they have it themselves.  This training will achieve that goal.

KL: Will the Michigan Department of Education consider granting professional development credits for college visits?

PO: If this is done right, counselors will have the opportunity to see what’s out there. We want to see if we can get that included.

KL: Will counselors be able to tour technical training schools and manufacturing plants for credit?

PO: That is the hope. Counselors should know what’s out there for students beyond college after graduation. Counselors toured a plant that was directly across from a high school; they had never before gone to the plant. While there, the owner told them he needed skilled workers. He told them if they had kids who wanted to go to college, and they came to work for him, he would pay for college.

Wow Writing Workshop is a strategic communication and writing firm founded by 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. 

Prep Your Child for the Journey to College

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

This time of year, every year, many moms and dads with high school juniors (and even sophomores!) start to get nervous about the journey to college. 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 everywhere.

The journey to college can be overwhelming, confusing and distressing. But there’s no need to panic. We can help you get through this process with minimal stress.

Here’s our No. 1 tip for students setting out on the  journey to college: Writing a college essay is all about reflection.

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. We suggest you help your child explore how they exhibit their most significant traits or characteristics too. 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 admission cycle starts in late spring, you will all be better prepared for the last phase of this journey to college.

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 them figure it out too.

What are you waiting for?

We wrote a book that is full of tips to teach your child how to reflect: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Parents. In fact, Chapter 2, Understanding the Prompts, delves deep into this topic.  If you can get your child to reflect, they will be ready to continue the process of discovery – and will be prepared to write those essays this spring or summer.

You’ve Been Deferred. Now What?

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

You’ve been deferred from your top college choice. Now what?

Rest assured, you are not alone. And there’s good news: you are qualified, and your application will be re-evaluated for regular decision.

Is there anything you can do while you are waiting? Should you send more information? Write a new essay? Call the admissions office?

To help answer these questions, we polled a few of our favorite admissions officers and college counselors to give you the most accurate information on this subject.

When you are deferred, you may be asked to submit mid-year grades. In most cases, you are allowed to share new information, such as additional leadership positions and standardized test results, an updated resume, a new letter of recommendation, and updates on honors and awards.

Some schools, like Cornell and Johns Hopkins, allow for additional written personal statements that support your interest. But some colleges do not want to hear from deferred students. Do your homework to find out. Start by looking at the school website. If you don’t know, or cannot find out, talk to your high school counselor.

Keep in mind, while every college and university is different, most will allow you to submit a deferral letter. To give yourself an advantage, check out Wow’s Deferral Letter/Consulting Package. Our experts can help you gather the right content and write a compelling letter that gives you the best chance of standing out, and hearing YES from your favorite school!

Here’s a sampling of what the college experts have to say:

Cornell University DeferredShawn Felton

Cornell University
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Ithaca, NY

“I usually encourage deferred students to craft an email that lets the committee know of continued interest – I call it checking in. It should not begin as a dirge. Avoid: ‘I am deeply disappointed that I was not offered admission during Early Decision…’ Felton suggests students stay positive in their deferral letters, and share why they want to be a part of the Cornell community.

Kim Bryant DeferredKimberly Bryant
University of Michigan
Assistant Director of Admissions
Ann Arbor, MI

“Send your most recent grades,” and contact your admissions counselor to let him/her know you still have a desire to attend the University of Michigan.

Marie Bigham DeferredMarie Bigham
Director of College Counseling, Isidore Newman School, New Orleans

“Deferrals are more of an indictment of the bloated process, rather than decisions about individual students.”

Bigham suggests:

  • Stay in contact with the college(s) that deferred you. Let them know what’s new and why you should be admitted.
  • If a college is your first choice and you know for sure that you would attend, tell the representative that!
  • Ask the school rep if visiting (perhaps again) will help.
  • Don’t overdo it and be a pest.

Jenny Umhofer DeferredJenny Umhofer
Colledge, College Admissions Counseling, Founder
Former Assistant Director of Admissions, CalTech
Pasadena, CA

“The single most important first step a student should take when they have been deferred and would still like to be considered is to contact the college directly as soon as possible.”

Umhofer advises students to:

  • Call rather than email, and ask to speak to the admissions officer who is assigned to their territory or region.
  • Be gracious and be prepared with questions when the admissions officer picks up the phone.
  • Ask about the deferral process. Find out what new information they might like.
  • You can also ask for feedback on the college’s decision to defer YOU, and ask why they made that decision. They may be more forthcoming than you might expect.

Patrick O'Connor DeferredPatrick O’Connor
Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School
Associate Dean, College Counseling
Bloomfield Hills, MI

“Make sure to keep your current grades up.  Colleges will often call counselors to get updates on the current grades of deferred students – and since those calls can come as late as March, this is no time to let senioritis take over.”

Do you want to increase your chances of getting off the deferral list and into the school of your dreams? Click here to work with a Wow writing coach on a deferral letter that can help you stand out and get in.

How to Trim a College Essay

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

Early college applications are in, and many students are scrambling to finish personal statements and essay supplements for regular admissions, beginning Jan. 1. Whether you are writing a personal statement for the Common App, or a supplement for an Ivy, private liberal arts college or public university, make sure you follow the directions and stick to the word count! Do you know how to trim a college essay?

Recently, I reviewed a student’s personal statement for the Common App that he assumed was ready for a final edit; it was 1,560 words –that is 910 words above the 650-word limit. He did not think he could cut his story, and he did not think it would make a difference in the quality of his college application. Our message: yes, it matters.

The essay is an important piece in today’s holistic college application process.

At Wow, we read and suggest cuts to our students’ essays every day, and we’ve never seen a personal statement or supplemental essay for a college application weakened by the editing process.

While some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, others suggest a few words too many will not make a difference. In any case, it’s not worth the risk. Just answer the question within the specified word count on any college application, and you will not need to doubt yourself.

Here are 5 Tips to trim a college essay and any 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 a college essay, there’s one more thing to do before clicking send: review it! Would you like a professional review of your college application essay to make sure it is ready to submit?

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.

Wow Writing Workshop is a professional writing services and strategic communications company with a fully trained staff of teaching writers. We are experts on the college application essay, plus graduate, professional and fellowship school personal statements and resumes. We also offer writing services for businesses and non-profits. If it involves words, Wow can help. Would you like to learn more? Email Kim@wowwritingworkshop.com. 

 

 

Better Than Flashcards: Score More Points on the SAT and ACT Essays

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop

Is your child ready to take the SAT or ACT this fall? Are they worried about the writing tests?

Many students think big words will lead to a big score, but that isn’t true. Using words that make a student uncomfortable can lead to miscommunication. If your students want to impress SAT readers, they will need to express their ideas clearly.

We can show them some strategies for writing in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. A few simple exercises will build confidence on test day. Learn more.

Meanwhile, here are some tips you can share with your kids.

SAT and ACT Dos and Don’ts

Do

  • Use a thesis. On the SAT, the last sentence or two of your first paragraph should make a claim about how effective the sample argument is. Did you find it convincing? Do you think it will convince other people? On the ACT, your thesis should clearly state your perspective on the topic and indicate how your perspective relates to the samples you read.
  • Use specific examples. One example at a time.
  • Reference specific ideas in the sample argument. Use paraphrase and direct quotes to point out especially significant ideas in the sample argument and respond directly to those ideas.
  • Restate your thesis. Summarize your main points. You can wrap up with something clever or insightful, but don’t add new evidence.
  • Leave time to edit. Readers know that this is a first draft, but saving five minutes to reread and revise your work is an essential part of putting your best foot forward.

Don’t

  • You do not need to restate the prompt. Your audience has the prompt in front of them.
  • Don’t repeat yourself. Your points should be distinct. There should be a reason for every word on the page.
  • No need to say, “I think,” “I believe,” “In my opinion,” etc. Just make your point. Your reader knows that your essay is written from your point of view. This is not to say you can’t include personal anecdotes. First person is acceptable, just don’t waste time/space with unnecessary statements.
  • This is not the place for grammatical experimentation. If you know how to use a semicolon, then go for it. If you’re not sure, don’t try it here.
  • You don’t need to pack your essay with big words to sounds smart. Words that seem like synonyms often have subtle differences in meaning, so only use words that you are completely comfortable with. Clearly communicating your ideas is much more impressive than using elevated language.

Joe Kane is a Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop. When he’s not coaching students on college essays, or SAT and ACT writing prep, he can be found running creative writing workshops for youth in the Nashville area (and reading his own poems on the local NPR affiliate station).

How to Prep for SAT and ACT Writing Tests

 

jed
Jed Applerouth

Guest Blog

By Jed Applerouth, PhD
CEO, Applerouth Tutoring Services

Students will need to flex their critical thinking and composition skills when they tackle the writing sections on both the SAT and ACT.  Last year, the SAT was completely redesigned, and the ACT made multiple updates. As a result, the essay sections for both tests are more rigorous than prior versions, however, these tests better reflect the kind of writing assignments students will typically face in college.

To succeed on either writing test, students need to get the basics right first. They need to understand the formats for the new essay prompts, and know what the graders will be looking for in a student’s response.

The SAT essay

The SAT essay writing exercise has been transformed from an opinion piece into an exercise in textual analysis and critical thinking; this is similar to exercises on certain AP exams. Students will be asked to read a short (600-700-word) persuasive passage and write an essay response that explains how the author develops and supports an argument.

It is irrelevant whether or not the student agrees with the author (the task of the old SAT essay); the student’s task on the new test is to articulate how the author uses evidence, rhetorical devices and structure to support a claim. Students will be evaluated on three measures:

  1. Reading of the provided text
  2. Analysis of the text
  3. Writing skills

To optimize their scores, students will need to:

  • Actively read the passage
  • Scour for evidence that supports the author’s main argument
  • Use quotes that demonstrate they understand the author’s argument
  • Write a structured, organized essay that stays on topic
  • Use smooth transitions between paragraphs
  • Have an introduction, body and conclusion
  • Use a variety of sentence structures
  • Skillfully use vocabulary
  • Write significantly longer essays

While longer essays typically generate higher scores, students will be evaluated on both the quality and the length of their essay. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has doubled the time (50 minutes!) allotted for the new essay, and will provide four pages (up from two) of paper to write.

The ACT essay

On the ACT’s revamped essay, students will get 40 minutes to analyze and respond to three distinct perspectives on a topic that concerns a broad, national issue. Students will be asked to:

  • Analyze and evaluate the three given perspectives
  • State and develop their own perspective
  • Explain why they agree or disagree with the perspectives given
  • Support their ideas with logical reasoning
  • Support their idea with detailed, persuasive examples

Essays will be evaluated using four metrics:

  1. Analysis
  2. Development and support
  3. Organization
  4. Language use

To generate higher scores, students must take their critical thinking up a level to identify the overarching themes across the three perspectives. For instance, do the perspectives address tension between change and tradition, or between the needs of an individual versus that of the collective?

Graders want students to critically evaluate the logic of the perspectives, and also to identify errors, assumptions, and potential pitfalls. Students need to organize their essay, use words properly, pay attention to grammar, transition smoothly between paragraphs and vary the sentence structure.

Is the essay optional?

Both the SAT and ACT have now moved their essays to the end of their tests; technically they are both optional. But many colleges require a writing test. It’s best for you to find out how a school uses the writing test in admissions before making the decision to not take it. We always encourage students to write the essay, even if they think their schools won’t require it. We’ve seen too many students discover after taking the test without the writing section that their new stretch schools require the essay. The additional time spent to stay for the essay can save a student unnecessary stress and headaches down the road.

The new SAT and ACT essays raise the bar for critical thinking and analysis, allowing students a chance to show off their thinking and writing skills. Students aiming for a highly competitive essay score would benefit from timed practice with the new forms and corrective feedback. This will help identify strengths and weaknesses early, allowing students to make adjustments and go into the official test ready to hit their optimal score.

 


Wow offers private coaching for the ACT and SAT writing tests. Each package is $350 and includes four 45-minute sessions with a Wow writing coach, spread over approximately four weeks. We can condense it into a shorter time frame if necessary to accommodate your child’s schedule. Between sessions, the student completes writing assignments that build on what they worked on during their last meeting. As a final assignment, the student writes a sample essay, which the coach will score using the official ACT or SAT rubric.


 

Don’t Ruin Thanksgiving? Untangle that Messy Essay Before Admissions Deadlines

By Kim Lifton
Wow President

Get those college essays done; survive!
Untangle that Messy Essay

The clock is ticking for students applying to school for next fall as the regular college admissions 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. Want a calm home for the holidays? Pay close attention!

Key is knowing that at its core, the college essay is all about reflection. And we’re giving you some tips so you can help your college-bound son or daughter master the college essay with meaningful content. We know it is arguably the most daunting task of the application process, and we’d prefer to give you some peace of mind.

How do you do that? First, make sure you understand why students are being asked to write essays, and know what you can do, and what you should not do, to help.

We talk to admissions officers from every type of college all the time, and they tell us the same thing over and over. 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 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.”

You love your child more than anyone, and you have a vested stake in their success. So your role is critical. The best gift you can give your child is helping them reflect so 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, remind them 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.

In all you do, be supportive and positive, but please don’t suggest topics or tell your child which words to use.

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.

Wherever you are in the process, we would love to add your child to our list of success stories. Our students get into their top choice colleges, year after year. Yours should too. 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.

Have a peaceful Thanksgiving.

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Is Your College Essay Good?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

As your child starts to wrap up their college applications to meet the Nov. 1 deadline, they may ask you, “Is my essay good?”

How will you know?

In its simplest form, a good personal statement will have a theme that answers these two questions:

1) What happened?
2) Why does it matter?

Many other types of application essays, such as the Why College X? prompt, activity, creative or community essays, can be judged by these criteria as well. While the story will naturally take center stage, readers should also know why the writer chose to share it.

Admissions officers will not get excited over a piece of writing that beautifully details an experience, then adds a generic sentence at the end, stating that the writer learned something significant. Nor will they enjoy a five-paragraph essay with an introduction, thesis statement, supporting paragraphs and a conclusion. For college admission, the story needs no introduction or conclusion.

You can search the Internet for the “best” ideas, or read samples, but it won’t help. There is no best idea, shortcut or structure to imitate for the college essay. The best essays emerge from the writing and thinking process; they answer the question, show some insight and illustrate a positive trait about the applicant.

A few years ago, one of our students illustrated his determination with a simple story about memorizing the parts of the gastrointestinal intestinal tract to ace his anatomy final. Another girl wrote about finding her passion for nature in a community garden while pulling weeds. A boy with an autism spectrum disorder blew us away with a powerful story about his problem-solving skills. He forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar. His story impressed admissions officers at his top-choice school, and the admission letter even praised the essay.

While these stories were beautiful, none was perfect. The college essay is not about perfection.  Not even the most selective colleges expect brilliant prose from a teenage applicant. They know they are dealing with kids, so they often will cut applicants some slack. At the same time, they don’t appreciate students throwing together sloppy essays the night before the deadline. They want to see some effort and a healthy respect for the rules of written English.

The essay is the best place to show colleges who your child is. We encourage every student to reflect and honor their voice so they can confidently share their stories.

It’s hard for students to write about themselves, especially when the stakes seem so high. But handled properly, college essays can make or break any application package. As a bonus, writing them can leave students feeling empowered, confident in their abilities and certain of their words.

Would you like to make sure your child’s essay is effective? Is their theme clear? Does the essay illustrate what they want colleges to know? Before your child clicks send on that application, find out if they’ve hit the mark with a professional review from a Wow Writing Coach.

This article comes from Chapter 1 of Wow’s popular book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. Have you read it yet?

How to Respond to a Why College X? Essay Prompt

Colleges want to know if you are a match. This is the supplemental essay that will allow you to show them.
Why do you want to attend this college?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Many schools ask for supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement; the most common college essay prompt, which we call “Why College X?” is a variation on the question, “Why us?”

This prompt can be one of the most challenging for students. The college essay prompts often look like these, which are taken from 2017-18 applications:

University of North Carolina
What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?

University of Michigan
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is always looking for innovative undergraduates. Have you had any experience as an entrepreneur? What would you like Georgia Tech to provide to further your entrepreneurial interests?

Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business
The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.

Barnard College
What factors influenced your decision to apply to Barnard College, and why do you think the College would be a good match for you?

In every case, a student’s answer to this type of college essay prompt should address three important areas:

  • The School: What attracts me to this college or program?
  • The Student: What do I want readers to know about me?
  • The Stories: How does what I know about the program mesh with what I want readers to know about me? How can I illustrate this intersection?

I just read a beautifully-written piece from a student answering the “Why College X?” supplement for a Big 10 university. Unfortunately, the essay completely missed the mark. The prompt specifically asked why students wanted to attend a certain program at the school. Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the essay painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the university in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This young man was clear that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps; he was comfortable inside the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.

Fortunately, we were able to help him revise the essay so he answered the prompt and showed the college why he was a good fit. He got in.

This story is not uncommon. Each year we meet many high schoolers who insist that a school is perfect because the student bleeds the university’s colors, feels at home inside the football stadium and loves listening to stories around the Thanksgiving dinner table from Dad, Aunt Lisa and cousin Diana, all enthusiastic and accomplished alumni.

This is not what admissions officers want to know in the answer to this college essay prompt. While it is okay to tell them you will be comfortable on campus, they are more interested in their school and what the college or program has to offer. Do you have the chops to succeed academically? Are there any clubs and activities to support your outside interests? Why do these factors matter to you? Is it a match?

“The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant,” said Barnard College’s Director of Admissions Christina Lopez. “The more you can espouse why you are a match in the short answer question genuinely (without regurgitating our website to us because we wrote it!), the more you will stand out to us. It is a great place to let a college know if we are the first choice, and why you love us.”

This is the one college essay prompt that is most difficult for students, and it is just one type of supplemental prompt students are asked to answer. We talk more about this prompt and other common supplements in Chapter 2 of our new book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – the Inside Scoop for Parents. We also parse all seven of the 2017-18 Common App prompts in Chapter 6. Have you ordered your copy yet? You can buy one here.

Need help on your college essay? No matter where you are in the process, Wow has something for everyone, from free tip sheets and our College Essay Crash Course to Private Essay Coaching services and essay reviews.

What Do Colleges Really Want in an Essay?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

When it comes to the college essay, parents and other well-meaning adults often focus on the beauty of the prose, the “hook” and the topic. Be careful. That’s not what colleges want.

It’s August, the month our phones ring off-the-hook every year. Students are nervous or stuck, and their parents do not know how to calm them, or help them with application essays.

The first college application deadline is just months away, and many rising seniors are still unsure of what’s expected. They don’t know where to start, or even why colleges are asking them write one essay or five. Do you know what colleges want? We can help.

The College Essay is About Reflection

At its core, the college essay is all about reflection; it’s a thinking task. Readers are not looking for perfection. Colleges want insight into your child’s character. Will they fit in? The essay should put a face to that huge pile of paper and help round out the application package.

“It’s value-added,” says long-time admissions professional James Cotter, the Dean of Admissions at Michigan State University. “At a moderately selective school, the essay 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.”

College admissions pros are delighted when they read narratives that highlight positive personal traits and characteristics, but they get frustrated by essays that detail experiences or brag about accomplishments.

“What does the experience mean to you? Why was it important? That is what we want to know,” explains Calvin Wise, Director for Recruitment, Johns Hopkins University.

To stand out, applicants need to follow the instructions and share some genuine insight. You can help your child get ready for the essay, but be careful because it is easy to overstep your role – even unintentionally.

We’ve been doing this a long time and have never worked with a student who was not up to the task. We can teach your child how to brainstorm for ideas, and how to answer any type of prompt using their own words and own voice so college admissions officers will want to read it. Our students get into their top choice colleges, year after year, including all the Ivies, and dozens of selective public and private schools. Your child should, too.

The application essay is not as easy as students would like it to be, but it does not need to be so difficult, either.

“Answer the question,” says Shawn Felton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Cornell University. “Since so many students don’t do that, you could actually stand out by doing that very basic thing.”

Is your child prepared for the journey? Do they know how to get the right kind of attention inside the admissions office?

Wow can help your child succeed on the college application essay, no matter where you are in the journey. Check out our free and paid services.