How to Review College Application Essays Without a Red Pen

This is an excerpt from a story published in November 2022 in the Link for Counselors fall magazine.  Click here to read the magazine; the full story begins on Page 14.

As far as the essay is concerned, the best role for you as a high school counselor guiding students through the college application process is to teach your students how to understand prompts and how to choose effective topics — all before they start writing.

If that’s all you do during the application process, you’ve done a good job. If you want to do more, think carefully about your role as an essay reviewer. We review rather than edit.

At Wow, we spend a lot of time up front, making sure our students know why they are writing the essay and what they want to share with colleges. We make sure that, first and foremost, students understand the prompt and can illustrate something meaningful about themselves in a genuine answer to any prompt that showcases at least one trait or characteristic that is important to the student. Keep in mind, colleges do not read essays looking for specific traits. That’s a myth!

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When students put adequate time into preparation, the writing flows more naturally. Best of all, the essays turn out better. Every time. And without a lot of marked-up copy.

In fact, once a student has chosen an essay topic and is ready to start writing, it’s really okay to step away until review time. If you’re using our process or include an essay writing unit in your regular curriculum, that’s terrific. But if not, don’t worry. Just launching students on this college essay writing process is extremely valuable. More valuable, in fact, than anything else you can do, including reviewing their essays.

Along the way, some students might continue to ask for help. Be careful what you say. Our students sometimes ask us which words to use, what types of sentences colleges like, and if there is a way to write to make them sound smarter. The most common question we get comes in the very beginning of the process: Where do I start? Feel free to answer as we do: Start anywhere. Just start.

The essay can be revised later. For the first draft of an essay, students need to get content down on paper. Structure will emerge through the revision process. There’s no need to perfect the opening line or get everything in the ideal order. Not in the first draft. For a first draft, we encourage our students to write too much, then cut and change words and sentences later.

Read the entire article here.  

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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