Category: Blogs for counselors

Tips to Review College Essays

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
Get a college essay review now
The November deadline is just around the corner.

It’s October, and the early college application deadlines are just around the corner. What do you do when your students show you application essays that just don’t seem ready to go?

This is the point in the process when professionals and other well-meaning adults can overstep their roles. No worries. We’re going to share our simple approach to reviewing essays on a tight deadline.

This time of year, we get countless requests to review essays before students submit them as part of their applications. We know students have poured a lot of time into the essays; we know they want to be done; we also know there is limited time to make any major revisions.

How to Review a College Essay

Begin by letting go of any preconceived notions about what makes a good essay. In fact, we suggest replacing the word “good” with the word “effective.” It’s important to let each student write their story in their own voice using their own words.

There is no rubric for an effective college essay, but the ones that stand out all 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.

You will know if an essay is effective if it has a theme, which answers these two questions:

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

We recommend reading without a red pen in hand, and without your hands on the computer keyboard. Just read. Make sure you know what the essay is about and why the student chose this topic. Then ask two key questions:

  • Is anything missing?
  • Is the college essay’s purpose clear?

Double-check the prompt. If the prompt asks the writer to reflect on an experience and its influence on them, be sure your child has talked about both the experience and its effect.

Use the checklist below to evaluate a traditional personal statement, such as the Common Application essay, the Coalition application, the University of California personal insight questions, ApplyTexas or any primary prompt from schools that use their own applications.

College Essay Review Checklist

College Essay Review Checklist

Content Review
  • Does the essay answer the prompt?
  • Can you tell why the writer chose this topic?
  • Is the essay about the student, or is it really about the place, person or experience featured in the essay?
  • Does it illustrate a trait the student wants to share with colleges?
  • Does it tell colleges something meaningful about the writer that is not clear from the rest of the application package?
  • Does the essay sound like the person who wrote it?
Structure Review
  • Does the first paragraph make you want to keep reading?
  • Does the essay move smoothly from beginning to end?
Polish Review
  • Does the essay use the same verb tense throughout?
  • Has the writer avoided sentence fragments and run-on sentences?
  • Is the punctuation correct and consistent?
  • Is every word spelled correctly?
  • Does the student feel confident and proud of the work?

That’s it. No magic. No special tricks. If you have more questions, let us know. We have more good information, and we’re always happy to share.

want more insight to help you inspire your students?

Wow’s third book is out, and we wrote this one for you! Have you ordered your copy? How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Counselors  ($9.99 on Amazon.com) is full of resources that speak directly to the needs of counselors and other professionals who work with students from all sorts of schools – large and small, public and independent, well-funded and those struggling to make ends meet – from all across the US.

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 communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. The Wow Method helps business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.

NEW College Essay Book! The Inside Scoop for Counselors

By Kim Lifton and Susan Knoppow
Co-founders, Wow Writing Workshop
Wow’s NEW book for professionals

In the high-stakes world of college admissions, you will meet countless people who can tell you what schools want in a college essay. Most will not (or cannot) show your students how to write those essays. You’ll find outlines and templates for what the finished CommonApp essay or U-C personal statement should look like. Or books with sample essays, and videos with limited instructions promising to get your students into the Ivies. Some will even tell you to follow a template based on what type of experience or story the student wants to share.

Here’s the real scoop on the college essay: Gimmicks, templates and shortcuts won’t help because they don’t work.  At Wow, we teach an approach, not a cookie-cutter template.

This month, we are pleased to announce the publication of our third book; this one is written for you. How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Counselors is full of resources that speak directly to the needs of counselors who work with students from all sorts of schools – large and small, public and independent, well-funded and those struggling to make ends meet – from all across the US.  It also speaks to similar needs of other professionals who work with students applying to college. You can order your paperback on Amazon.com for $9.99; we’ll give a free electronic copy with each paperback purchase!

why we wrote this book for you

Over the years, many counselors and consultants have come to us, asking for tips to guide students through the college essay writing process. They want to help their students, but they’re not sure how to use their limited time most effectively. We have been talking to admissions officers and school counselors about essays for years, and we’ve developed a simple approach that really works. In the book, we share our approach, strategies for helping your students, and answer the questions we’ve been asked, including:

  • What are the best topics for college essays?
  • What do colleges look for in the essays?
  • How to help average students write an essay that reveals something special about them?
  • How should students structure their college essays?
  • How to help students brainstorm ideas?
  • How much help is too much?

Whatever challenges you may face, you might be surprised at how straightforward (and manageable) our solutions are. We know you have a lot to juggle – busy students, worried parents, English teachers who assign college essays but don’t always give students good guidance.  We also know there are limits to what you can accomplish, whether you are at a private school with loads of resources or a public school with hundreds of students or an independent counselor with a heavy load of students.

after reading wow’s college essay guide, you will be prepared to:
  • Help students understand how to approach college essay writing.
  • Teach students to read and break apart any essay prompt so they can understand and respond effectively.
  • Help your students reflect on who they are and what they want readers to know about them.
  • Quickly review student essays and provide meaningful feedback they can use on their own.

We’ll show you how to get your students to write for college admissions officers without a pre-designed structure, without reading sample essays and without so much added stress. We’ve been working with students for a long time, and we’ve learned everything in this guide from our experience — and from our students’ successes.

about wow

Year after year, Wow students get into their top choice schools. Yours should too. We hope How to Write An Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop For Counselors puts you and your students on the path to getting the results you want. With this book, you also get access to worksheets, tips and blogs to help you and your students navigate the college essay process. 

Wow is a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. The Wow Method helps business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.

Get your book here.

 

 

New Harvard President Offers Advice to Prospective Families

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Lawrence Bacow photo by Stephanie Mitchell

Last spring, I interviewed Harvard’s new President, Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Bacow, about his new job, and the changing landscape of higher education. We also talked about his Detroit roots for a cover story for one of my hometown weekly newspapers because he grew up in Pontiac, MI.

The piece was published just before he took over the helm of the most prestigious university in the U.S. on July 1.Dr. Bacow is widely regarded as one of the nation’s most accomplished, respected, and insightful leaders in higher education, having held senior roles at MIT, Tufts, and Harvard. 
I met Dr. Bacow seven years ago at his cousin’s son’s bar mitzvah party. He was warm, kind and exceptionally humble for someone so accomplished. Dr. Bacow has a compelling personal story; the son of immigrant parents – his father a Jewish refugee from Eastern Europe, his mother a Holocaust survivor. He has long been devoted to education’s vital role in enabling pursuit of the American dream.  It has inspired him to work to create similar opportunities for others from all walks of life.
I am impressed with Dr. Bacow’s commitment toward expanding  college access opportunities for all students. At Tufts, he presided over a doubling of the university’s annual budget for financial aid, the replacement of loans with grants for undergraduates from low-income families, and the introduction of a loan repayment assistance program helping graduates pursue careers in public service and the nonprofits.  
He also served on President Obama’s advisory committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. I asked him a few key questions that parents ask us at Wow. His answers were interesting, and he was funny.  When I asked him what advice he’d give to parent who thinks their child is Harvard material, he quipped, “Admissions is way above my pay grade.”
Are Colleges Out of Touch and Out of Reach? “The gap in lifetime earnings between college grad is bigger than ever. While real cost has increased, the return has never been higher.  We need to do a better job of explaining this to students and their families, and explain the degree to which financial aid is available. At Harvard, if total income is $65000 or less, family, pays nothing to attend. About 20 percent of the students at Harvard come from families that meet that test.”
Advice to Students Who Want to Get into Harvard College: “Study hard. Have the courage to find your passion and then pursue it. There are many great universities. I never applied to Harvard (undergrad). All great universities are looking to attract students who are willing to push themselves and try and be true to themselves in what they do.”
 What Would You Say to a Parent Who Asks, “Can You Get My Child into Harvard?”“I would say relax a little bit. Kids feel too much pressure from their parents. It’s not a feather in their cap. It’s about their child, not about them.“Where a kid goes to college is not a grade on their parenting skills. They should help their son or daughter achieve what they want to achieve and find a place which is good for them You can get a good education almost anywhere as long as you make the big decisions right.
How Can a Student Select the Right College? Dr. Bacow poses four basic questions for college-bound students to consider.

  • Do they want big or small?
  • Do they prefer urban or rural?
  • Do they want to go far away, to get on an airplane to get there?
  • Do they want to wear flip flops in January?

“Beyond that, you can be happy almost any place. Kids can find their niche within any school because there are great teachers everywhere.

What are Your Thoughts on Rising tuition and Decreasing Government Funding?
“When I was at Tufts, I testified at the Massachusetts statehouse for increased funding to the University of Massachusetts. Costs have gone up in Michigan because the state has withdrawn support for universities, shifting the costs to students and families. That’s shortsighted. I hope to be an advocate for that. I am worried about state support and federal support.”
Click JN article to read the cover story about Bacow.
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     

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.

***

Our Gift: A Free Book for You

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.