Tag: college admissions

There’s No Such Thing as Writer’s Block!

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop
Writer's block
Joe Kane

Does this scene sound familiar? Your child is sitting down, staring at a blank screen, hands poised over the keyboard, but not writing anything. It can happen for an AP Language paper or a college essay. Your child feels stuck and calls it writer’s block.

Many of my college essay and creative writing students have shared a version of this story with me before starting the writing process.

It’s Really Not Writer’s Block

No matter what the writing task may be, when students feel stuck, they often doubt their basic writing skills. That makes getting started even harder. The student feels trapped; the parent feels helpless. Anxiety creeps into the home. As a result, students tend to avoid writing the first draft by continually searching for “better” topics. This won’t work. It’s not writer’s block.

When this happens with your child, give yourself permission to take a step back. First and foremost, it’s important for you to understand that writing skills and topics are not the culprits. Nor is writer’s block. Students are not really stuck; they’ve just jumped the gun. They are unprepared to write a first draft because they’ve skipped important beginning steps in the college essay writing process.

Find the Real Starting Line, Forget Writer’s Block

The famous author Flannery O’Connor said: “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” This quote reminds me that writing is a great tool for exploring ideas and clarifying thoughts. This is true with any kind of writing project, and it’s especially true for the college essay.

Admissions readers want to see stories that are personal and reveal meaningful traits and characteristics about the writer. They want to know something real about each applicant.

To do that, students need to take the time to clarify their own feelings about the story they want to write. At Wow, we usually assign two or three brief writing exercises before tackling the first draft, to give students low-stakes opportunities to gather details, organize their thoughts, and warm up their minds. After all, this is a thinking task, even more than it is a writing task.

writing exercise

• Set a timer for 10 minutes.
• Think of the story you want to tell your best friend.
• Write down any detail about that story that comes to mind.
• While writing, keep your mind open to physical details (what you saw, heard, touched) as well as emotional details (what you were thinking and feeling).
• You don’t need to write in chronological order or even use complete sentences. It’s okay to be messy. Just write down every detail that comes to mind as fast as you can until the timer runs out.

This exercise works because it removes the pressure that’s often associated with writing a draft. The time limit is important. The feeling of racing against the clock help to turn off the second-guessing and self-editing parts of our brain is real; when that happens, it’s amazing to see what kinds of details students come up with. I’ve never heard a student say they couldn’t do this exercise due to writer’s block.

When the timer goes off, your teen will have spent 10 minutes refreshing their memory about the story they want to tell, and they’ll have a stockpile of details they can draw from when they write their first draft.

Is Your Teen Feeling Stuck on the College Essay?

If your child thinks they have writer’s block, it might be time to call in a professional. A Wow coach can guide your child, and help keep things calm in your home during this stressful time. We’re still taking private coaching students for the 2018-19 season, but our coach slots are filling up quickly. Reserve your spot now. 

Has your teen already written a draft? You might want to get some professional feedback before clicking send.  We’ll be happy to give your child a professional  essay review.  We will provide comprehensive written feedback, notes on what works, plus suggestions for improvement. We pay attention to items that matter to admissions officers, like reflection, theme and flow, and comment on technical issues, including grammar, spelling and sentence structure.

About the Author

Joe Kane is Wow’s Senior Writing Coach. A poet and editor, Joe coaches Wow’s college essay, ACT/SAT writing and creative writing students, and he teaches Wow’s intensive, online workshop, Be a Better Writer. He is also a program director of SLANT, which provides creative writing opportunities for Nashville area teens. In all he does, Joe has never complained about writer’s block.

Writer's block
If it involves words, Wow can help!

Wow Writing Workshop is 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.

What Do Colleges Really Want in an Essay?

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

When it comes to the college essay, parents and other well-meaning adults often focus on the beauty of the prose, the “hook” and the topic. Be careful. That’s not what colleges want.

It’s August, the month our phones ring off-the-hook every year. Students are nervous or stuck, and their parents do not know how to calm them, or help them with application essays.

The first college application deadline is just months away, and many rising seniors are still unsure of what’s expected. They don’t know where to start, or even why colleges are asking them write one essay or five. Do you know what colleges want? We can help.

The College Essay is About Reflection

At its core, the college essay is all about reflection; it’s a thinking task. Readers are not looking for perfection. Colleges want insight into your child’s character. Will they fit in? The essay should put a face to that huge pile of paper and help round out the application package.

“It’s value-added,” says long-time admissions professional James Cotter, the Dean of Admissions at Michigan State University. “At a moderately selective school, the essay can pull a student on the cusp up. At a highly selective school, a poor statement can make the difference between being admitted or not.”

College admissions pros are delighted when they read narratives that highlight positive personal traits and characteristics, but they get frustrated by essays that detail experiences or brag about accomplishments.

“What does the experience mean to you? Why was it important? That is what we want to know,” explains Calvin Wise, Director for Recruitment, Johns Hopkins University.

To stand out, applicants need to follow the instructions and share some genuine insight. You can help your child get ready for the essay, but be careful because it is easy to overstep your role – even unintentionally.

We’ve been doing this a long time and have never worked with a student who was not up to the task. We can teach your child how to brainstorm for ideas, and how to answer any type of prompt using their own words and own voice so college admissions officers will want to read it. Our students get into their top choice colleges, year after year, including all the Ivies, and dozens of selective public and private schools. Your child should, too.

The application essay is not as easy as students would like it to be, but it does not need to be so difficult, either.

“Answer the question,” says Shawn Felton, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Cornell University. “Since so many students don’t do that, you could actually stand out by doing that very basic thing.”

Is your child prepared for the journey? Do they know how to get the right kind of attention inside the admissions office?

Wow can help your child succeed on the college application essay, no matter where you are in the journey. Check out our free and paid services.

3 Things Juniors Must Know About Getting into College

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College questionsHigh school juniors, as you begin your college searches in earnest this spring, it’s important to know what to expect along the journey. Here are answers to the Top 3 questions Wow gets from students and parents about the college application process:

1) How do admission counselors rank the different application elements, like GPA, test scores, essay, and recommendations?

No matter what we read, or which expert we ask, the answer is always the same: High school grades are the No. 1 factor in any admission decision.

Colleges look first at college prep course grades, then strength of curriculum, test scores and college application essays. The National Association for College Admission Counseling surveys its member colleges each year; they found that colleges do not choose students based solely on highest grades and test scores. Rather, they use many other factors to add depth to the numbers so they can build a diverse class that fits a college’s mission.

Smaller colleges and the more selective institutions are more holistic in their admissions approach. In a holistic admissions process, the essay helps colleges:

  • Determine whether you will fit in
  • Know if you can write
  • Get a glimpse into who you are beyond your grades, test scores and activities.

As college becomes increasingly competitive, the essay becomes more and more important. It will not save you if you are not qualified academically for a college, but if you are qualified, and there are just a few select spots at your chosen school, the essay can push you to the top of the pile.

Think of every essay question, mandatory or optional, as an opportunity to stand out!

2) What are some of the cornerstones of a good application essay?

A good college essay can help you get in, and a bad one can sometimes keep you from being noticed. That’s why it’s important to do it well. A good college application essay will always answer this question, no matter what the prompt: “What do I want this college to know about me beyond my grades, test scores and extracurricular activities?”

To stand out, college essays must:

  • Feature YOU as the subject; the topic is secondary.
  • Feature meaningful stories that are focused, not broad.
  • Focus on what you learned from your experiences, not on what you accomplished.
  • Sound like you – a smart high school student who is ready for college!

3) Who can help me write my application essay?

Writing is not a group activity, and you should always write your college application essays on your own. You can get guidance, but make sure you seek out the right kind of help. There is a fine line between getting assistance and having someone write an essay for you. Calvin Wise, Johns Hopkins University Senior Associate Director of Admissions (and every admissions officer we’ve ever asked) says he can always tell when essays are over-edited or written by someone else.

“They don’t shine through the process as well because we’re not hearing their voice,” Wise said. “The essay is a student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office, and we want to hear a 17-year-old’s voice.

Many colleges that require essays will scrutinize those that they believe have been forged, borrowed, heavily edited or influenced by someone other than the applicant. Some colleges have instituted their own verification processes, while others have contracted with businesses that double check essays for plagiarism. You may be denied admission if this is suspected, and you may never know the reason.

Do you want to stand out?

FREE ebook: Write Your Way Into College

Sign up for Wow FREE, and stay in the loop! You’ll get our popular ebook, Write Your Way into College, plus video tips from top admissions experts, and other great resources. We’ll help you stand out where it matters most – inside the admissions office.

Get College Information Direct from the Source

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

National college fairsHigh school juniors, it’s important to get information direct from the source, especially when you are applying to college.

The National College Fairs, which take place throughout the U.S. in the spring and fall, are great venues to start your college research and find out exactly what you need to know to find the right college for you!

Check the schedule to find a fair closest to you. If you live in Michigan, come hear Wow speak, and find out how to sign up for free information to help you write your way into college.

As one of the leading national experts on the college application essay, we speak throughout the U.S. at schools and conferences, and we also train professionals who work with students on their college essays.

We are pleased to be returning to the Metro Detroit (March 30 and 31) and West Michigan (April 1) National College Fairs to talk about why you need to write an essay, what admissions officers want to know about you, and to how you can best reflect on life experiences that matter so you can stand out in the crowded field of applicants!

Will the college essay help you? Can it hurt you?

Come to a session to find out. If you live outside of Michigan, or cannot make it to one of our presentations, you can find everything you need to know about writing a college essay that stands out by signing up for Wow’s FREE tips, webinars and video interviews.

Here are the dates and times Wow will be speaking:

Metro Detroit:

  • Monday, March 30, 7:30 p.m., Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi
  • Tuesday, March 31, 11 a.m., Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi

West Michigan:

  • Wednesday, April 1, 8:45 a.m., DeVos Place, Grand Rapids
  • Wednesday, April 1, 5:45 p.m., DeVos Place, Grand Rapids

Kim Bryant, College Admissions OfficerFREE Writing Resources: What Does U-M Want to Read in College Essay?

Sign up for Wow FREE, and stay in the loop! You’ll find out what University of Michigan Assistant Director of Admissions Kim Bryant wants to read in a college essay, plus get video tips from many other top admissions experts.

MSU Listed as a Top 10 College for Video Game Design Studies

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Check out Wow Writing on Facebook! We are Now Linked to Colleges

Wow Writing workshop has updated our Facebook page to help make the college admissions experience a little bit easier for you.

Using the newest Facebook updates for fan pages, we’ve added several links to pages containing information on colleges; we uploaded a few specific sites for information about admissions.

We will continue to add universities and useful links to assist you with your college admissions journey. Please LIKE our page, follow Wow Writing Workshop on Twitter, and suggest your friends LIKE us too!

Bad Essays

We love great essays. Whether you write about being stuck in a traffic jam with your sister, the time your tennis team lost an important match, or how you overcame your fear of flying, we know you have a story to tell.

Newsweek magazine asked Deena Maerowitz, former admissions director at Columbia University Business School, to share what not to do. Click here to read the article. It’s worth a look.

What Does the University of Michigan Want?

Jacques Steinberg of The New York Times blog “The Choice” recently asked the deans of admissions at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania how they look at SAT and ACT scores. You might be surprised by what he found out. Click here to read the blog and to watch clips from his interviews.