By Kim Lifton
A reporter from Inside Higher Ed dropped by the Wow booth last month during the National Association for College Admission Counseling annual convention in Toronto, ready to learn more about the college application essay.
“It seems the college essay has become a really hot subject,” he said, pulling out his notebook and asking several questions about the application essay.
As early admission deadlines near for this year’s applicant pool, the college essay is indeed a hot topic. High school counselors packed sessions at NACAC that focused on the college essay, and our booth was swarming with curious conference goers, wondering if we had a secret formula for writing a winning application essay.
No College Essay Formula
There’s no college essay formula, we assured them, but Wow does have a secret weapon: a set of simple instructions in an online tutorial that guides students through the process of discovery, and helps them find their own writing voices.
Here’s what we took home from the conference: Admissions people from small liberal arts colleges, the Big 10 and the more selective universities agreed they are tired of reading sanitized essays; they want to read more genuine stories written in a 17-year-old voice.
Let Your 17-Year-Old Voice Be Heard
“Let the 17-year-old voice be heard,” tweeted Dr. Rebecca Joseph, an associate professor at California State University, Los Angeles, following a lively panel discussion she moderated: Communicating Your Story: Writing Powerful College Application Essays.
Dr. Joseph, who developed the All College Application Essays app, which provides essay prompts for more than 700 colleges, added that the essay is an opportunity to tell a story that is important to you, and to share your authentic voice.
“Make yourself come alive during this process,” Dr. Joseph said. “Write about yourself as passionately and powerfully as possible. Be proud of your life and accomplishments. Sell yourself!”
All-star College Essay Panel
Joseph’s all-star panel featured Rebecca Cullen, Senior Program Manager, Young Scholars Program, Jack Kent Cook Foundation; Margit Dahl, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University; and Erica Sanders, Managing Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Michigan. Each reiterated the importance of a student’s authentic voice in an essay.
“We don’t want them heavily edited by an adult, “ Yale’s Dahl said. “We really need to hear the adolescent behind the essay. We don’t want to hear a 45-year-old voice. Parents may know them best, and they are good people to read; but not with hands on a keyboard or a red pen in hand.”
Also at the conference, visitors to our booth inquired further about voice, over-involved parents and students who write five-paragraph essays to answer college application essay prompts. We interviewed current and former admissions officers from dozens of schools, including Cornell, UNC-Chapel Hill, Yale, Skidmore College, George Washington University and Denison. (See video interviews from last year; more coming soon!)
Indiana Adds Short College Essay Requirement
What’s more, we discussed the new 300-word personal statement added to the Indiana University application with the director of admissions, learned about the soon-to-be redesigned SAT and SAT writing test, and listened to Common App representatives explain how they will fix the gaffes in the CA4.
Wow is a member of NACAC, MACAC, Illinois ACAC, Overseas ACAC and an affiliate of IECA and HECA.
Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop. You can read Kim’s blogs and get useful writing tips by signing up for Wow’s newsletter. Wow is also on Facebook and Twitter. Check our schedule to sign up for weekly webinars and workshops that will help you and your students write great college admissions essays. Remember this: YOU are your perfect college essay subject.