Category: College Essay Writing

Prep for the Journey to College

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

This is the time of year many 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 all the rage.
The journey to college can be overwhelming. Confusing. Distressing. But there’s no need to panic. We want you and your parents to get through this process with minimal stress.

Here’s our No. 1 tip to help you start preparing for this exciting journey to college: Writing a college essay is all about reflection. You need to learn how to reflect!

How to Reflect

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 explore how you exhibit your most significant traits or characteristics at the beginning of the journey to college. 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 can take the time to reflect on your life experiences before the next admission cycle starts in late spring, you will be better prepared for the last phase of this journey to college. Colleges want to know what’s important to you and why.

good news for you

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.

No matter what you do, please start at the beginning of the process – a conversation with a parent, friend, favorite teacher. They know what’s amazing about you; let them help you figure this out.

What are you waiting for?
Everything you need to get started on your college essay!

We wrote a book that is full of tips to teach you how to reflect. In fact, Chapter 2, Understanding the Prompts, delves deep into that topic. You can order a copy of How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Students on It’s just $9.99 – and we’ll gift you a free eBook with your paperback purchase! (You’ll also see a link to our companion book for your parents or other favorite adults.)

If you can reflect, you will be ready to continue the process of discovery – and will be prepared to write those essays this spring or summer.

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

Kim Lifton, named one of 10 LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education, 2018 , is President of Wow Writing Workshop,  a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. Click the Wow Method to find out how we help students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. We also help business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials.  If it involves words, Wow can help.


Want to Stand Out in Your College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
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


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!