5 College Essay Myths & Facts

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop
Don’t believe everything you hear about the college essay!

It’s a good time to debunk some of the rumors about the college essay that spread like wildfire among the college-bound crowd and their families. Here are 5 college essay myths and facts to consider before getting started on your college essay.

Myth 1: A college essay has to be written about an impressive topic.

Fact: You are impressive, not the topic. The story, not the experience, is most important. Colleges want to know what you’ve learned, rather than what you did.

One Wow student came to us confident that a trip to help the poor in Central America would stand out. We asked her what she discovered about herself on that trip. Through brainstorming, she discovered her most important moment during that trip occurred when she overcame her fear of heights by jumping off a cliff into the water.

“What does it mean to you?” asked Calvin Wise, the Director of Recruitment for Johns Hopkins University. “That is what we want to know.”

Myth 2: A college essay should sound sophisticated, like Hemingway or a college professor.

Fact:  You should sound like a high school student. Not a professor or a famous writer. And not like your Mom, Dad, teacher or older sibling!

“They should be themselves,” said Andrea Nadler, associate dean of admission at Hofstra University.  “The essay should allow us to use our senses to see, feel, taste and experience the kinds of things that are important to these students. If writing about a book they have read, we want to feel like we are in it with them. If writing about a meal they have had, we want to taste it.”

Myth 3: Admissions officers will never know if anyone helped too much with a college essay. They won’t know if you plagiarized, either.

Fact: There is a fine line between getting help and getting someone else to write it for you. Admissions officers know when someone other than a student writes a story; they don’t like it, and it can hurt you!

College admissions professionals are smart, and they notice trends when they read essays. A few years ago, Erica Sanders, Director of Undergraduate Admissions for the University of Michigan, discovered two essays that sounded the same, word-for-word. Both candidates were rejected immediately without explanation.

Myth 4: There is a right way and a wrong way to write a college essay.

Fact: Your best story will grow out of the process of writing your college essay.

There are no tricks, and no shortcuts. But the college essay does not need to be so daunting. For a college essay to stand out, tell a genuine story, answer the prompt and show reflection.

“The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school,” said Lorenzo Gamboa, Senior Associate Director of Admissions for Santa Clara University.

Myth 5: Only superstar students will impress admissions officers with their college essays.

Fact: Anyone can stand out with a great story!

You do not need to rescue a child from a house fire or teach a boy with autism how to swim to impress admissions officers. In fact, one Wow student wrote about the moment he forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar. His problem-solving skills impressed admissions officers, and one college sent him an offer of admission that praised his college essay.

“Sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer, they have nothing to share,” said Jan Deike, Vanderbilt University, Assistant Director of Admissions. “Life is truly lived in the smaller moments, and that can be a powerful essay.”

Give Yourself the Wow Advantage

Year after year, Wow students get into their top choice colleges, including the Ivies, prestigious liberal arts schools, and the best state universities. With a Wow coach as a guide, you can learn how to write great application essays and become a stronger writer. Reserve your coach now by purchasing 1 Complete Essay Package; that coach can be available to work on as many essays as you need.

college application essay
Wow President Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton, a LinkedIn Top Voices in Education, 2018, is President of  Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. 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. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.