How to Turn Challenging Experiences into Effective College Essays

I was delighted to be interviewed about college essays for the Admissions Directors Lunchcast, which aired in March.

If you are not familiar with this podcast, co-hosts Nathan Ament (Knox College) and Teege Mettille (Enroll ml) interview experts about timely topics facing admissions.

For each episode, the hosts pair one influencer (me!) with an admissions practitioner (Jake Browne, Dean of Admissions for Eckerd College).

I pitched the topic for the podcast because I had noticed a lot of buzz surrounding the college essay following two events last year – the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against affirmative action and the launch of ChatGPT.

During our discussion, I reiterated our belief that no matter what’s going on around us, the process for writing college essays remains the same. Our tried-and true approach – which we’ve used since starting Wow in 2009 – works every time and with any type of student. It’s what we teach in our College Essay Experience program and it’s how we work with our students.

I hope you’ll listen to the podcast; you will learn more about why we don’t think outside events should change how any of us guides students on college essays, plus you’ll gain insight from Jake, Nathan, and Teege about what they expect from essays, how they use them, and why.

Related Resources

How to Write the Common App Essay
Top 5 College Essay Myths
What’s The Biggest Mistake Students Make in their College Essays?
Don’t Try So Hard to be “Unique” In College Essay
How to Write Great Supplemental Essays

The hosts and Jake also discussed their shared dislike of “trauma dumping” – writing about challenging experiences in college essays without reflecting on them. We agree. Fortunately, trauma dumping is rarely an issue for us (or our colleagues who have written an essay during our training), because we make sure students always have a theme for their essays.

Before they start writing, students can articulate both what happened (the anchor story) and why it matters (the characteristics that story illustrates.) If you’ve been through CEE, check your resource packet and make sure you’re ready to focus on theme before students start writing in earnest. And if you haven’t written an essay with us yet, we’d love to model our process for you with our signature College Essay Experience training.

Picture of 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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