Category: Uncategorized

The New COVID-19 Prompt IS an Opportunity!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Jack, a rising senior who is applying to several selective colleges, discovered he liked doing puzzles when his life went virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organized sports stopped. To stay active, he forced himself to go for a daily run. With some extra time on his hands, Jack was able to immerse himself in books. He created a “to do” list and a daily schedule for virtual school. Zoom parties took the place of shooting hoops at the basketball court with his friends.

Sound familiar?

The scenario is not unique to Jack, or for any member of the Class of 2021. Things are challenging for students applying to school right now, and colleges know that. That’s why – with input from member colleges – the Common App has added a new, optional 250-word prompt for students to address COVID-19 on their college apps:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.

While not required, this prompt can certainly help your child stand out inside the admissions office if handled properly. Jack, who is one of my students, chose to take advantage of this prompt.

Jack had no trouble writing about his personal experience, even though no one lost a job or got sick. He had Internet access. But still, COVID changed his life and made it challenging. The COVID prompt gave Jack a place to share what he did during COVID, how he pivoted, learned to plan and kept up with his schoolwork.

Keep in mind, colleges do not want your child to feel pressure to manufacture experiences or demonstrate how resourceful they were during the pandemic. But if your child has an astonishing story, they can tell it in this space. Anyone can use this space to discuss COVID’s effect on their life, as long as it presents information that has not been shared elsewhere in the application.

“I do want to know how COVID-19 affected you,” explains Joe Latimer, Assistant Dean for Enrollment, Diversity and Outreach, University of Rochester. “But just share with me what I might experience in your household in a genuine, authentic way without that superhero cape.

“I think applicants should state the facts.” Latimer added. “Did you have an illness, loss of employment, inability to complete certain activities? Stick with the facts.”

There’s no reason not to use the space on the Common Application. If your child is using another application, they can add COVID activities to the resume or activities section or perhaps use the additional information spot to share their story.

“By all means, use this space to share your story,” Giselle Martin, Director of Recruitment and Talent, Emory University, said during a webinar last June. “This has been a hard couple of months, and we are not looking for superheroes. We are looking for super humans: people who are good and being kind in their everyday lives.

“Let us learn about you; put your best foot forward,” Martin added. “How do you want to express yourself? This has been a unique year for all of us, and you are all learning to adapt. Be honest and authentic. Never apologize for challenges and adversity that you face on a daily basis.”

The prompt is super clear and specific. Located in the Additional Information section of the application, the question will allow colleges and universities to better understand your students’ experiences in 250 words or less.

But how will students know what to say? Start by asking your child, what do you want colleges to know and why? We suggest starting with three pre-brainstorm questions. Encourage your child to free write responses to these questions:

  1. What did you do during the pandemic?
  2. What couldn’t you do?
  3. How do you feel about what’s been going on around you?

Jack did a great job on his COVID essay, talking about life during a pandemic, including forcing himself to run on his own and stick to a routine for schoolwork. It was tough to get motivated, but he did it.

Our Gift to You!

At Wow, we’re here to help you on the college essay journey. Get a free copy of our book here: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Students.

About the Author

Kim Lifton knows how to teach your children how to write a college essay; she can teach you how to guide them so they trust themselves.

Kim Lifton is president and co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and training company that follows three principles: Process, plan and schedule. Wow specializes in professional development for consultants, teachers and high school counselors who work with students applying to college and grad school and also teaches college and grad school applicants how to write effective personal statements, supplemental, fellowship and scholarship essays. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to the college application essay. We work with students and professionals around the world and are staffed by a small team of experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Email


Building a College List for Student-Athletes

By Katie Andersen and David Stoeckel
The Student-Athlete Advisors

The process of building a college list for any student requires listening to your client’s wants and needs and gathering relevant information. Independent educational consultants (IECs) learn about grades and test scores as well as a client’s goals and wish list for college, including size of school, location, setting, public/private, major, social environment, financial needs, and any other factors that might be important to the decision-making process.

An IEC advising a student-athlete will also need to collect information about the student’s sport, position, teams (high school and club), personal statistics specific to the sport/position, awards, expectations for the level of college competition, reasons for wanting to pursue college athletics or an athletic scholarship, and athletic goals

for college and beyond. High school guidance counselors may review a student-athlete’s transcript for academic eligibility, but it’s a good idea to double-check the requirements for NCAA Division I and II and NAIA to verify that your student-athlete is academically eligible.

The student should be prepared to send an email to college coaches with an attached student- athlete profile and a recruiting video (depending on the sport) to highlight his or her athletic and academic achievements.

The final element of initiating the college athletic recruiting process is building a recruiting list with coach contact information. Unlike a purely academic college list, a recruiting list should address primarily athletics and academics.

Athletic Fit

We recommend starting this process in the middle of an athlete’s sophomore year with an initial recruiting list of up to 70 schools to provide a range of athletic competition. This list is only a starting point. As you will see, the process will help narrow the list of schools and you will revise the list as you get more feedback along the way.

Which schools offer each sport? A simple place to start your search for which schools offer each sport is the NCAA Directory at https:// or the NAIA Member Schools Search on

Which athletic level of competition is right for my student-athlete?

Start by asking for feedback from the student-athlete, parents, coaches (club and/or high school), and trainers to get a feel for the level of competition that might be right for the student-athlete. This is a starting point, and the student-athlete will get better feedback as college coaches respond (or don’t respond) to their efforts.

Athletic rankings are a crucial aspect of a recruit’s college list because they help define the competitive level of recruiting at each school. A ranking system used in many sports is known as rating percentage index (RPI), a calculation based on wins, losses, and strength of schedule. The following sites will give you athletic ranking and conference standings for most sports:


If you can’t find enough ranking information on those sites, each sport usually has at least one website dedicated to complete college athletic rankings. Search for “college [sport] rankings” for more detailed lists.

Here are a few sites we use frequently for various sports:

Cross Country/Track & Field: polls-central


Academic Fit

As with all college seeking students, student athletes must also incorporate academic fit in their search and consider GPA and test score requirements, location, selectivity, undergraduate size, and major. Most of those factors are listed on GuidedPath users can easily export these details about each school by creating a tagged list. Alternatively, allows you to search for academic, financial, and social factors as well as athletic programs at the Division I, II and III, NAIA, intercollegiate, and club levels.

In some cases, especially for high-academic athletes, simply focusing on a few key athletic conferences like the Ivy League and Patriot League (NCAA Division I) or NESCAC and UAA (NCAA Division III) will help you identify the academic reach schools quickly. Keep in mind that too much information can be overwhelming for families when presented as a list of 70 schools, so we recommend presenting these details only if they provide meaningful context.

We caution against allowing academic factors to limit your list too aggressively in the early stages of the recruiting process. Although academic fit is an important part of the recruiting process, this is one area where IECs can consider a more flexible range of schools because some student-athletes may be admissible with grades
and test scores on the lower end of a school’s admissions criteria. Typically, a college coach will ask a prospective recruit for his or
her transcript and test scores to verify the student’s admissions probability with the liaison in the admissions department before the formal application process.

Group and Sort Your Data to Add Context

Once you have a list of schools that represent a reasonable
range athletically and academically, it’s time to add coach contact information. Your client should send an email to the head coach or assistant/position coaches when appropriate. The easiest way to find a single page on a school’s athletic website that contains all college coach contact information is by searching for “athletic staff directory [school name]”. If you don’t mind paying for a list, go to College Coaches Online at

We caution against allowing academic factors to limit your list too aggressively in the early stages of the recruiting process…. Some student-athletes may be admissible with grades and test scores on the lower end of a school’s admissions criteria.

When you have an overview of the resources available to help you create an athletic recruiting list, it’s time to group the data so it has context and helps the student-athlete more accurately target the types of schools where he or she might be recruited. Figure 1 is a sample NCAA Division I list that we created for a high academic (4.3 weighted GPA, 32 ACT) women’s soccer player. This is only a sample to demonstrate the range of options within the 337 NCAA Division I schools that offer women’s soccer. This list is sorted by women’s soccer rank. Since all the schools are top-tier academic institutions, their SAT math, ACT, and GPA ranges all look the same, but there is variety in women’s soccer rank, size and location.

After your student-athlete has contacted coaches by emailing a student-athlete profile and a properly prepared recruiting video, the next phase of the recruiting process begins. Student-athletes must follow up on all coach emails in a timely manner. Once communication is established, consider visiting schools to learn more, but research the schools and athletic programs carefully before taking unofficial visits (paid for by the parents) or official visits (paid for by the school). Understand the rules about the limitations and timing of those visits before you go so that you make the most of your trips.

Use Your Resources

The athletic recruiting process can be nuanced and confusing. We encourage all IECs who work with student-athletes to join the IECA Affinity Group for IECs Advising College-Bound Student-Athletes ( to learn more.

It’s a valuable resource for IECA members to ensure that they have the information about rules and so much more when advising student athletes. The group meets in person at the IECA fall and spring national conferences and holds virtual roundtable meetings using Zoom (online) between the conferences.

Marvelwood students want to achieve.

And because they are surrounded by peers with a matched level of grit and teachers with an unparalleled commitment to their success, they do. The transformations we see in our students over their years with us are nothing less than astounding. The source of this success? Resilience. Our students graduate with enduring courage, compassion, and confidence for their futures.

What does success look like?


  • Experiential and hands-on curriculum
  • Support for all types of learners, including Orton-Gillingham and Wilson Reading-trained teachers
  • Connections program for social skills training
  • Weekly community service
    • International exchange, service, and exploration programs
  •  Competitive athletics
  •  Vibrant arts programming, including Film Studies and performing arts
  • Year-round gardening program

This article was reprinted with permission from the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), which published this piece in its April/May  2020 Insights newsletter. 

Katie Anderson

Katie Andersen can be reached at katie.andersen@

David Stoeckel can be reached at david@thestudentathleteadvisors. com.

Dave Stoeckel






Wow Writing Workshop is a premier college essay coaching and professional training company, working with students and training professionals throughout the world.

We operate on three principles: Process, Plan and Schedule.

Process: At Wow, our process is our magic. Our approach is simple, with clear instructions to help you succeed. We use the same process to work with students as we use to train professionals through our College Essay Experience, Partners program, college essay consults, plus our monthly free Pro Chats.

Plan: We’ll help you plan ahead so students can calmly write essays that will enhance their application.

Schedule: We follow a proven schedule that can adjust to meet the needs of our professional colleagues and our students. We make it easy to get it all done.

For more information about Wow’s coaching services for professionals and students, contact Kim Lifton

How to Write Great Supplemental College Essays

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop
The Why Us? Essay is Critical

When it comes to college essays, the personal statement most often comes to mind. But many colleges also require supplemental essays. Top of the list: The Why Us? college essay.

Just like any piece of writing required as part of your application package, the Why Us? college essay is an opportunity to share something meaningful about you that you want that college to know. The essay is your interview – your elevator pitch to state your case for admission.

Why should College X pick you?

Many schools ask students to respond to a Why Us? college essay prompt like one of the following:

  • Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane University.
  • Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
  • We would like to know more about your interest in We are particularly interested in knowing what motivated you to apply to NYU and more specifically, why you have applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please tell us why you are interested in each of the campuses, schools, colleges, or programs to which you have applied. You may be focused or undecided, or simply open to the options within NYU’s global network; regardless, we want to understand – Why NYU?
  • What excites you about Tufts’ intellectually playful community? In short, “Why Tufts?”

Lots of students misunderstand the prompts and miss an important opportunity to stand out. I just reviewed a typical essay that missed the mark: It was a beautifully written story from a student answering the “Why Us?” prompt for a Big Ten university.

Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the story painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the school in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This boy was clear he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, he was comfortable inside the stadium, and he was certain he would feel at home at this university.

Unfortunately, this story did not respond adequately to the prompt. He focused on his dad and a football stadium, not on himself. Your task is to focus on YOU!

To get moving in the right direction to answer any Why Us? prompt, consider what you want the college to know about you that is not evident from the rest of your application package. How do the college’s curriculum, clubs, and campus life support your interests? Why are you a good fit for the institution?

This task can be difficult, even for students who spent their childhoods wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with their parents’ alma maters. Most students have no idea what a school offers academically, socially, or culturally. The prompt is also challenging for students who want to tell admission officers how much they love the big city, how badly they want to escape their small towns, or how much they love the old buildings on campus.

Be careful! This is not what admission officers are looking for. In your Why Us?  college essay, they want to know why you are a good fit for their campus, whether you have the chops to succeed academically, if there are clubs and activities to support your interests, and if you are likely to graduate from this institution.

After speaking with admission officers from small liberal arts colleges, elite universities, and state institutions, I’ve found that regardless of size, status, or essay prompt, they all offer similar tips:

  • Don’t overthink it.
  • Tell us (admission officers) what you want us to know about you, not what you think we want to hear.
  • Answer the prompt honestly.
  • Make sure your essay is focused and written in your own words and your own voice.

You should never be thinking, “What are they looking for?” The better question is, “What do I want them to know about me?” They know how great they are; your job is to let them know how great you are and why you are a good fit for their school or program.

Get the Wow Advantage on your college essay!

Wow students get into their top choice colleges, including Ivies, and the best liberal arts and public universities. With a Wow coach as your guide, you’ll learn how to write great personal statements and supplemental  essays and become a stronger writer. Coaching slots are filling up quickly; reserve your coach now!  

about the author
Kim Lifton

As President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company, Kim Lifton leads a professional team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. She teaches students how to write application essays for college and graduate school, and adults how to write anything that involves the written word (such as books). Kim also supervises Wow’s business communication services, including running online seminars for small business and nonprofit leaders interested in blogging and social media. Contact Kim at

“The best part about the Wow program was how manageable each of the steps were, and how effective they were, too.” Sarah, student

Top Secrets From Financial Aid Pro

By Jodi Okun

Wow Writing Workshop
Jodi Okun

Are your families worried about paying for college? Are they confused about securing the best financial aid packages? They are not alone.

Regardless of income or financial circumstances, most parents have one of these concerns:

  • They make too much to qualify for aid.
  • They make too little to afford college at all.

No matter what their financial situation, there are plenty of opportunities to help them pay for college. Before starting the search, they need to understand how financial aid works, whether they’ll qualify for any – and know where to turn for help when it gets confusing.

Managing college financial aid strategies – from scholarships to work study jobs to student loans – is challenging. But it does not need to be overwhelming for your parents and students.

I begin the process by asking parents to answer these three questions:

  1. How can you afford college for your child?
  2. How can you navigate this complicated financial aid system?
  3. And how will you make the best decisions for your family?

While no single answer is right for everyone, you’ll be able to help them find an answer that is right for them. I help parents navigate the process, but I cannot give them a step-by-step manual of what to do; I would need to update that manual daily. Useful information will help them move in the right direction to secure the funding they’ll need for their child’s post-secondary education.

Meanwhile, encourage them to try to stay calm, and to not let fear get the best of them. You know that college is a lot of work, and it costs a lot of money. But most parents and students I know feel that a college degree is well worth the effort.

Jodi’s Top 3 Tips to Help Navigate Financial Aid Process
  1. Start early 

    Don’t wait till senior year before making financial plans. If you do, you’ll be limiting your options. The more information you acquire early, the better off you will be.

  2. Involve Your Child in the Process

    I’ve seen parent exclude their students from the financial aid decision-making process, and then turn around and complain that their child doesn’t understand anything about money. Everyone involved should know the facts behind the decisions made; it helps them understand how to be financially responsible.

  3. Maximize free money

    Use scholarships, grants, and other awards that don’t need to be paid back.

About the Author

Jodi Okun, founder of College Financial Aid Advisors and a former financial aid consultant at Occidental and Pitzer colleges, has helped thousands of families successfully navigate the financial aid process, no matter what their financial situation. She is the bestselling author of Secrets of a Financial Aid Pro, and is recognized by the Huffington Post and other media outlets as a top social media influencer. She blogs, speaks to industry and parent groups, and hosts #CollegeCash Twitter chats that connect families with higher education professionals – and receive more than 10,000 impressions each week! Wow’s Kim Lifton has been a frequent #CollegeCash guest.

About Wow Writing Workshop

Wow is a strategic communication company, working with students, businesses, nonprofits and individuals who want to communicate their messages effectively to any audience.  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 blog, presentation or book to market your company. If it involves words, Wow can help! For more information, email Kim Lifton at or visit Wow business services.


NYU Med School Offers Full-Tuition Scholarships to All Students

Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik reports that New York University‘s medical school in August stunned the world of medical education with the news that it had raised enough money to offer full-tuition scholarships to all students (more than 400 across classes) going forward.

While other medical schools have been moving to reduce tuition paid by students (and the debt many of them accrue), the NYU effort was the largest and most dramatic to date. With the tuition sticker price at NYU topping $55,000 (similar to the tuition of other top private medical schools), the question for many was whether NYU, already seen as a leading medical school with no shortage of applicants, would see significant gains in its applicant pool.

The answer is an unqualified yes.

Total applications to NYU’s medical school increased by 47 percent, to 8,932.

But another key factor is who is applying.

After NYU’s announcement, the medical school was criticized by many who said that the move would help those who are wealthy (or who with an M.D. would quickly get wealthy). An essay in Slate said, “While it’s hard to fault a school for offering its students a free education, this dramatic gesture is, at best, a well-intentioned waste — an expensive, unnecessary subsidy for elite medical grads who already stand to make a killing one day as anesthesiologists and orthopedic surgeons. It would be a pity if other top medical schools decided to imitate it, rather than use their resources in other, more helpful ways that might solve more of the problems NYU claims to be worried about.”

There is no telling yet what those eventually admitted to NYU will do in medicine, but there is evidence that the shift this year is significantly increasing the diversity of the applicant pool.

NYU Med saw a 102 percent increase, to 2,020, in applications from those who are a member of a group that is underrepresented in medicine (including black, Latino and Native American students). The largest percentage increase was among those who identify as African American, black, or Afro-Caribbean. Applications from this group went up 142 percent, to 1,062.

Medical schools have pushed for years to attract a more diverse student body, and have in some respects succeeded. But the biggest gains in recent years have been among Asian Americans, and black enrollments have largely been stagnant, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Medical School Matriculants, Percentages by Race

Group 1980 2016
American Indian and Alaska Native 0.4% 0.3%
Asian 4.0% 21.3%
Black 6.0% 7.1%
Latino 4.9% 6.3%
White 83.7% 51.5%

Experts on medical education have repeatedly cited the high debt that many medical students must take on. Historically, many medical schools have assumed that graduates could earn substantial sums after they start practicing. While this assumption has been criticized for years for discouraging medical graduates from working in important, nonlucrative fields (general medicine in low-income areas, for example), many experts now say debt levels are too high for just about everyone.

According to the AAMC, among those who graduated from medical school in 2017, the average debt was $181,179 for those who attended public medical schools and $190,694 for those who attended private institutions.

The New Yorker reported last year on the increasing number of African Americans who are opting to study medicine in Cuba, where they do not pay tuition.

The application numbers at NYU raise the question of whether other medical schools will follow suit.

An October survey of medical school admissions leaders by Kaplan Test Prep found widespread praise for NYU’s move, but relatively few institutions saying that they would follow it. More than two-thirds (68 percent) say they have no plans to adopt a similar tuition-free policy over the next five to 10 years; 4 percent say they do plan to adopt a similar program. The rest aren’t sure. The Kaplan survey did find that a majority of medical schools said that they were worried about student debt levels and were increasing financial aid. But many called the NYU plan “unrealistic” for institutions without the donor base of NYU or a few other institutions.

Of course what remains to be seen is whether NYU has a higher yield of its top applicants.

C. Michael Gibson, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, is among those who have been using social media to test the power of NYU’s free tuition offer. The results may not be scientific, but they suggest NYU may have a strong yield this year.

If you are applying to medical school, you will need to write at least one personal statement. Wow can help. Click Medical School Personal Statement to learn more. 

Wow’s 3 Best Pieces of College Essay Advice for Parents

College Essay Advice for Parents
Best College Essay Advice

Here is an excerpt from Wow’s book by Kim Lifton and Susan Knoppow, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Parents; it includes three of our best pieces of college essay advice for parents.

Parents who have engaged their college-bound children in discussions about what matters to them and why (reflection!) tell us they are delighted by the results. They boast about seeing a whole other side to their children, along with a level of maturity. In the end, parents who are successful with this approach note that their children are more prepared for college than they had imagined.

At Wow, we really don’t believe you need to stay away, no matter how many college admissions experts advise you to keep your hands off everything because it’s your child’s journey, not yours. We’re in this together.

Before your child moves into the revision phase of the college essay, you might want to study our three-point mantra for reducing stress and increasing student confidence during the college essay writing process:

College Essay Advice for Parents
  1. Slow them down

    Our students come to us all the time with topic ideas. We tell them that’s the wrong approach. The essay topic is secondary; the subject (your child) is most important. Start them at the beginning, with reflection. A great topic will emerge more freely if your child starts in the right place.

  2. Offer encouragement

    Be supportive, not critical, like a cheerleader on the sidelines. When it comes time to start writing, encourage your child to use his or her own voice and words. No one needs superpowers to get into college. We give our students writing activities that help them hear their own voices and feel good about their word choices, and their final essays reflect that confidence.

  3. Be realistic

    Sometimes well-meaning parents (just like you!) expect more from an application essay than admissions officers do. Be kind. We know what colleges want. We get our information direct from the source. They don’t expect perfection from kids.

Whatever your parenting style may be, or how studious, motivated or engaged your child is about college, you might feel pressure to do more, rather than less. The pressure comes from outside forces you may not even recognize. If you follow our suggestions, we believe you’ll like working on the reflection process so much you’ll forget about the outside noise and trust yourself and your child.

Get the Best College Essay Advice

Have you read our book? It’s full of insight, tips and even explanations of every Common App prompt  for the 2018-19 admission cycle. Get yours paperback today on It’s just $9.99. We also wrote a companion guide for your child. 

About wow

Wow Writing Workshop is a strategic communication company led by writing coaches who understand the writing process inside and out. If your challenge involves words, Wow can help.

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. We provide free college essay advice and resources to parents, while also teaching students to write college application essays and other personal statements, supplements, grad school personal statements, plus resumes that get results.

In addition to guiding clients from around the world, Wow’s founders, Kim Lifton and Susan Knoppow, have authored several books and collaborated on an award-winning PBS documentary, “No Ordinary Joe: Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness.” Kim and Susan speak to high school, parent and professional groups about the role of the college essay within the competitive admissions world.

Ignore the Rumors Over College Rejection

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

This morning, I got an email from Robert McCullough, the Director of Undergraduate Admission from Case Western University, alerting college admissions professionals that applicants will find out admission status by 8 p.m. ET tomorrow night.

He also provided his phone number and email if any student, parent or high school counselor needs assistance.

It’s the season for final admissions offers of acceptance, and denials – and often the most confusing, the wait list. You’ll hear rumors (if you haven’t heard them yet!) about what to do if you get wait listed, or how you might be able to get a college to change its mind if you are rejected. There’s only one sure way to dispel rumors.

After more than a decade inside this industry, and following a career as a journalist and communications specialist, this much I know is true: It’s best to get your information direct from the source. Rumors are rumors. You’ll be better off if you ignore them, but I know that’s hard to do.

ON the Waitlist? Follow the Instructions

To help you put this all into some perspective, the University of Chicago sends instructions to students who are offered a spot on the wait list. Follow the instructions. If you want to pursue that option, give them what they ask for, no more and no less. That awesome video in which you plead your case for admission will not help if the school does not want it. Send a video only if the school tells you it is okay.

Case Western says to contact the office with questions. You can do that. You can ask them what is acceptable.

It’s a simple matter of Impossible Math

Keep in mind, the competition to get into the nation’s top colleges gets tougher every year, but that’s not because you are smarter or more qualified than any student was five or ten years ago.

It’s a simple matter of impossible math.

Year after year, more students apply for the same number of available spots at the most selective schools. It’s impossible for all of you to get into the same selective school. Just because you are qualified does not guarantee admission to any school on your dream list.

By the way, we hear the same rumors that you do. In fact, here are a few of these tall tales floating around now among the country’s high school seniors (and their parents.)

  • “Everyone” from one school got deferred from the University of Michigan.
  • Northeastern University rejected everyone.
  • My son didn’t get into (PUT NAME OF SCHOOL HERE) because they want more demonstrated interest on the application.
  • 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.

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? She might have exaggerated. Did you see her SAT score, or did someone else share the information?

It’s important for you to know that colleges want a well-rounded student body, not well-rounded students. They want leaders and also followers. Some want demonstrated interest; others don’t care. Colleges and universities do not discriminate against certain high schools. And 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. Or that student forgot to get the required recommendations.

Some of this is out of your control. While few students do get into the nation’s most selective schools, there are schools for everyone. We like to remind our students that the best school is the one they get into, attend and graduate from. It does not need to be a big name to be good.

Things are not always as they appear

Marty O’Connell, the 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 from a senior admissions rep? Watch this video clip from Kimberly Bryant, Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Wow is a team of professional writers Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essayand 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! Email

Perspective to Help Your Students Write Better Essays

By Susan Knoppow
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. 




6 Ways Colleges Award Financial Aid

This post originally appeared on Admitted blog (NACAC) in November 2016. It was republished in Feb. 2018 as part of NACAC’s Best of the Blog series.  We think it’s straightforward with information parents can actually use. We hope you find it useful, too.

When parents and students complete financial aid and scholarship applications, they hope the end result provides a significant amount of funding. Net price calculators and other tools can help predict a student’s projected cost of attendance. But too often, families wait until the initial financial aid award letters arrive from colleges and then wonder how to finance the gap between what was offered and their own resources.

Help the families you serve by familiarizing yourself with the most common methods used by colleges to award financial aid. By reviewing a college’s website, talking to a school representative, or even taking a campus tour, you can gain knowledge about the institution’s approach to helping families fund a college education.

Colleges tend to award financial aid in one of six ways.

1. Standard Package
Colleges in this category offer the majority of their students only the federal funds they can receive at any properly accredited and Federal Student Aid eligible institution. Information on the school’s website is usually geared toward very high-achieving students. Look for clues online: Do students have to achieve a 3.5 GPA or higher to be able to apply for the limited number of scholarships offered by the college? (Some schools also offer a few additional scholarships for students with a GPA of 3.0 or above and a high score on the ACT or SAT.) In addition, many colleges that offer standard packages include links to national scholarships on their websites.

2. Institutional Commitment Package
These schools have decided on their own to try to cut the cost of a higher education. Students who meet certain criteria are offered significant funding. On their websites and when meeting with students, college officials say they will meet “full need” or refer to their institution as a “limited loan” or “no loan” college.

Funds from the school are awarded to students in addition to any federal funds they receive. Typically, colleges that use institutional commitment packages have a large number of applicants. These colleges also tend to be highly selective and admit a small percentage of the students who apply for admission.

3. Upfront Discount Package
These colleges tend to use their webpage to advertise the scholarships they offer. A chart showing scholarship options may be available, and college officials may even provide prospective students with an early estimate of their financial aid award based on family income. This can help take the guesswork out of the scholarship process. While being a top academic achiever can help applicants win funding at these colleges, students may also be awarded scholarships based on other factors. Schools following this method show parents what to expect and manage expectations before the first financial aid award letter is processed.

4. We Will Negotiate Package
Colleges that use this approach know their competitors and want to enroll students they feel are a great match for the institution. They are aware of and attempt to accommodate the financial needs of students and families. In addition to federal financial aid, these colleges may provide scholarships or grants from their own funding source. Some schools in this category may even advertise up front that they will negotiate with students who have been admitted to one of their competitors.

5. Heavy Borrowing Package
Colleges in this group tend to have a high cost and limited scholarship funding. A small scholarship may be offered that does not make a significant contribution toward the total cost of attendance. Students usually have to borrow maximum loans and parents are also routinely asked to also take out a loan. Some schools in this category offer monthly payment plans. They may also award additional institutional funds to those students who bring local scholarships to the college.

6. Low-Cost, High-Quality Institution Package
Some institutions — including community colleges and some state universities — are affordable because their tuition and fees are lower to begin with. It is this distinction (not the institution’s financial aid packages) that typically make these colleges attractive to families. Institutions in this category tend to follow the standard package model. Students have access to federal financial aid, but applicants are less likely to receive institutional grants or scholarships. Scholarship information on college websites is usually targeted at high-achieving students. Links to national scholarships may also be made available.

Kenneth McGhee is an instructor and community outreach academic advisor at Northern Virginia Community College — a NACAC member institution. He has worked in the financial aid profession since 1995.

Wow Writing Workshop is a strategic communication and writing coaching company specializing in writing for college and graduate school admissions. If you are a parent, click here to get a free copy of our book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, the Inside Scoop for Parents. 

Ace the Writing on Standardized Tests

Ace the writing on standardized tests
Students CAN prepare for the standardized writing tests

Most high school juniors are thinking a lot about standardized tests as they get ready to take the SAT or ACT this spring.

Unfortunately, most have not prepared for these writing tests. While the standardized tests for writing are considered optional, students should check with the colleges on their lists because many schools require at least one writing component on a standardized test.

There’s no need to worry. We have some tips and resources to help students maximize standardized test scores and minimize stress by learning key writing skills that readers want to see on the SAT and ACT writing tests.

To start, consider that many students think big words will lead to a big score; that isn’t true. Using words that make a student uncomfortable on any standardized test can lead to miscommunication, and lower scores. Students who want to impress SAT or ACT readers need to express their ideas clearly.

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

Meanwhile, here are some tips to share with the Class of 2019.

SAT and ACT Do’s and Don’ts


  • 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.


  • 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.

Written by Joe Kane, a Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop. When he’s not coaching students on college essays, or SAT and ACT standardized test 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).