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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 Amazon.com. 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
President
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 Kim@wowwritingworkshop.com.

Perspective to Help Your Students Write Better Essays

By Susan Knoppow
CEO
Wow Writing Workshop
Wow CEO Susan Knoppow

We all know that the competition to get into the nation’s top colleges gets tougher every year, but that’s not because students are smarter or more qualified than they were five or ten years ago.

It’s a simple matter of impossible math.

Year after year, more kids apply for the same number of available spaces at the most selective schools. It’s impossible for them all to get in.

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

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

Demystifying Admissions

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

Here’s how we explain the situation:

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

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

Susan Knoppow is CEO of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay.  Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits. 

 

 

 

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

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.

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).

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.

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. 

 

 

Tips for High School Resume Writers

By Susan Knoppow
CEO, Wow Writing Workshop

Are you preparing a resume for class, college admissions, a job? Creating a high school resume is a great way to keep track of your top accomplishments and experiences. Essentially, your resume is a quick advertisement of who you are. 

Here are Wow’s tips for writing a resume that will stand out.

List your experiences.  Start by making a chronological list of key jobs, volunteer experiences and other responsibilities. Include accomplishments, awards and extracurricular activities.

 Decide what you want readers to remember about you. Think about your best characteristics, not your accomplishments. What stories or examples can you share to demonstrate those characteristics?

Keep it simple. A clean, uncluttered format will help you stand out more than fancy design.

Say no to the thesaurus. When you want to be heard, it’s important to send clear, understandable and straightforward messages to your intended audience. A resume that sounds like a thesaurus won’t impress anyone.

Stick to one page. Even an adult with 15 years of experience should be able to limit their resume to one page. Don’t feel the need to fill empty space.

Know your audience. Are you applying for a job? A summer program? A volunteer opportunity? Who will be reading your resume? Write a short cover letter to complement your resume that speaks directly to the position, the audience and the qualifications they are looking for.

Let us know if you would like assistance with your resume.

How to Nail Your College Applicant Interview

By Susan Knoppow
CEO, Wow Writing Workshop

Wow CEO Susan Knoppow

A college applicant interview can be a great opportunity for students to learn more about a school and to demonstrate their interest. Here are Wow’s top tips for great interviews.

 Be prepared. Are you clear about the interview’s purpose? Some colleges make it clear that your interview is an opportunity for you to learn more about the school, and the interviewer has no influence over admission decisions.

Consider what they already know about you. Has the interviewer read your resume? Do they have access to your application file? You do not need to repeat information they can get elsewhere.

Decide what you want readers to remember about you. Think characteristics, not accomplishments. What stories or examples can you share to demonstrate those characteristics? Practice sharing brief anecdotes aloud. You won’t have time for long, detailed stories.

Be curious. Ask questions about the college, program, etc. People like to share their expertise, and interviewers are no different. Your questions should be genuine and specific. Will you be meeting with an alumnus? A student? Your questions should be relevant to the interviewer’s experience as well.

Ask to follow up. Find out the best way to communicate with your interviewer in case you have additional questions.

Say thank you in writing. A handwritten note is always appreciated, though a warm, personal email can be fine too. If you do not have a personal address, you can send a handwritten note in care of the admissions office.

Do you need help polishing your resume or practicing for interviews? Wow can help. Contact Susan Knoppow at susan@wowwritingworkshop.com.