Tag: college application essay

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.

Want to Stand Out in Your College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Juniors, as you prepare to start the college application process in earnest, keep in mind that the best personal statements  show insight into who you are.

Does the experience you write about have to be earth shattering? No. Does it have to illustrate an “aha” moment? Not at all. It is a reflection on something that has meaning to you. It doesn’t matter what that is. There’s no magic answer. No secret sauce. Not even a shortcut. The essay is one (very important) piece of a holistic admission process.

Shawn Felton, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Cornell University, reviews thousands of applications each admissions cycle. That’s a lot of entrance essays. What delights him? A story that rounds out an applicant’s package, and an essay that helps him understand who the person is.

“We want to put a face to the pile of paper,” Felton explains. “It is part of a number of identifiers that deliver who you are as a person.”

What turns him off? Stories that are not genuine, do not answer the prompt, or fail to give him any insight into the applicant’s character. He does not like it when students try too hard to impress him, or write essays that seem forced or inauthentic.

“The essay is not something to be cracked,” he cautions.

Essays won’t get a student who is not qualified into any college. However, they can help a qualified applicant get a better shot at admission to that dream school. Yes, the essay can help you.

“A poorly written essay can take an applicant out of the running, but conversely a great essay can certainly help. A fantastic essay can absolutely give the applicant a bump up. Even after reviewing a mediocre transcript or seeing a limited activities list, I can be swayed to admit a student who writes an essay that really blows me away. The topic of the essay doesn’t need to be mind-blowing (in fact, the most mundane topics are often the most relatable and enjoyable), but if it reveals a someone who would be highly valued in our campus community, that could tip the scales.”

Gregory Sneed, Vice President for Enrollment, Denison     University

 

Colleges want some insight into your character. What did you do? What did you learn about yourself? Why does it matter? A girl who went on a volunteer trip to Central America to teach students to read learned more about herself on that trip when she jumped off a 30-foot cliff into the ocean. She wrote a riveting piece about feeling brave in an attempt to overcome her fear of heights. That experience would have been relevant if it took place down the street or around the world. It wasn’t impressive because it happened in Belize. It was impressive because it demonstrated reflection and growth.

Click more information to find out how Wow helps students just like you stand out in your college essay.

Kim Lifton can get a story out of anyone writing an effective college application essay
Wow President Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Wow’s team of professional writers and teachers understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. If it involves words, we can help. Email kim@wowwritingworkshop.com.

 

How to Write an Effective College Application Essay

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Every summer, moms and dads just like you call us in a panic, asking for help understanding college application essays. They’re worried about the competition to get into college – and the amount of work required to stand out and get noticed. Most of all, they’re concerned that their children are not done writing yet.

Whether they are home or away for the summer, it’s time to make sure they’re moving on those college application essays. The essay is the most daunting part of the application process for many students, and you don’t want your child to wait until the last minute to start.

We wrote the only book you’ll need to prepare your children for this journey, and keep things a little calmer for your family at home. Yes, it’s time to start writing, but there’s no need to agonize over it. We just updated our popular guide, specifically for helping parents get a handle on the essay. The book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents, just $9.99 and now available in paperback, will help you walk your child through the writing process – and feel good about it. You’ll also learn how to guide them through the essay without taking over.

In this 2017 edition, we’ve explained what all the Common Application prompts mean, including the new and revised questions, plus we’ve added tips from top admissions officers. We also explain the various types of prompts you can expect.

Parents tell us they are tired of being told to step away and back off. They want to help. They just don’t know how. We will never suggest you write an application essay yourself or edit an essay so heavily it loses your child’s personality and voice. However, we believe you can play a critical role in the writing process.

You don’t need a 300-page book to help your child write a 600-word essay. But you can benefit greatly from a how-to guide, with some context to keep the process in perspective. How to Write an Effective College Application Essay is that guide. It’s short, easy to follow and has everything required to teach your child how to reflect on life experiences so they can write great essays.

At its core, the college essay is about reflection. That’s challenging because most 17-year-olds have very little practice with this type of thinking and writing. You are more prepared to help your child learn this important skill than you may even know. We’ve seen other parents do it, and they are always surprised by how straightforward it is. Many are also surprised by how wrong they were initially about their role in the process.

At Wow, we’ve been teaching students how to write essays that stand out inside the admissions office for years. With Inside Scoop as your guide, your son or daughter can approach essay writing calmly and confidently, and get a better shot at admission to their dream school.

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.

Does Anyone Really Read College Application Essays?

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Juniors, by now you should be thinking a lot about college. What schools sound interesting to you? Do you have any campus visits scheduled during spring break?

Whether you are busy with a spring sport, school play or selecting your classes for senior year, don’t forget to carve out some time to get ready for your first-choice college. Consider the things that are important to you, and explore what you’ve done beyond going to school, taking the SAT or ACT, or both, and participating in extracurricular activities.

College application essay
Will your essay stand out from the pile?

Before you know it, you’ll be writing a college essay – or four! And, if you want to stand out in the piles and piles of applications inside the admissions office, you’ll need to find a way to incorporate something you’ve learned during the past few years into a meaningful and personal statement.

Because we are national experts on the application essay, students, parents, and educational professionals come to us for help. As you can imagine, we get peppered with questions on the subject.

This is one of the most common questions we get: Does anyone really read the college application essay?

Of course admissions officers read the essays!

They wouldn’t ask you to write something they did not plan to read.

Admissions professionals want to read your story, the one you feel it’s important to share with them. It’s your story. Your voice. Your words. What they don’t want is to read a story you think they want to hear; they want to read a story about YOU that you want them to know!

Every essay is an opportunity!

At the September 2014 National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference in Indianapolis, we polled about two dozen admission representative to find out if they really read the essays. The collective answer: yes!

“Last year we received 25,000 applications, and we read 25,000 essays,” says Amy Hoffman, Assistant Director of Admissions at Miami University of Ohio.

In addition to Hoffman, we have interviewed dozens of admission officers from around the country. Watch the video interviews here. If you are not already a member, get FREE access to our video library by signing up for Wow today.

FREE Writing Resources: What Does a Top STEM School Want to Read in the College Application Essay?

Sign up for Wow FREE, and stay in the loop! You’ll find out what University of Miami College of Engineering Director of Admission David Poole wants to read in a college essay, plus get video tips from many other top admissions experts.

How to Write the “Why College X?” Application Essay

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

It’s never a good idea to write that you bleed maize and blue in your University of Michigan supplemental college essay.

Many schools ask students to respond to a prompt like one of the following:

University of Michigan: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

Tulane University: Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane.

New York University: Whether you are undecided or you have a definitive plan of study in mind, what are your academic interests and how do you plan to explore them at NYU?

Tufts University: Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, “Why Tufts?”

**********

I read a beautiful story from a student answering the “Why College X?” prompt for a Big 10 university.

Full of descriptive details about the school’s location and football stadium, the story painted a vivid picture of the long drive to and from the school in the family car with his dad, an alumnus. This boy was clear he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps; he was comfortable inside of the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.

Unfortunately, this story did not answer the prompt. We see this a lot at Wow.

To get them moving in the right direction, we ask our students to consider what they want the college to know about them that is not evident from the rest of the application package. How do College X’s curriculum, clubs and campus life support their interests? Why is this student a good fit?

“A student should never be thinking, “What are they looking for?” There is no monolithic “they,” said Margit Dahl, director of undergraduate admissions for Yale University. “A student is in the drivers seat for this portion of the application and should never relinquish that control. The essay is a chance to decide what to share with admissions officers. A student has the best sense of what to share.”

(To hear more from Yale’s Dahl, register for our webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Applying to the College of Your Dreams, also featuring Universal College Application’s Chris Warner.)

We understand that this task can be difficult — even for students who spent their childhoods wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with their parents’ favorite college logos. Most students have no idea what a school may offer academically, socially or culturally. The prompt is also challenging for students who want to tell admissions officers how much they love the big city, how badly they want to escape their small towns, or how much they love the old buildings on campus.

Be careful! This is not what admissions officers want to know. They want to know why you are a good fit on campus, whether you have the chops to succeed academically, if there are clubs and activities to support your interests, and if you are likely to graduate from this institution.

“We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum),” said Calvin Wise, the Associate Director of Admissions for Johns Hopkins University. “All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences.”

We regularly check in with admissions officers from small liberal arts colleges, elite universities and state institutions. We’ve found that regardless of size, status or essay prompt, they all offer similar tips on all college essays:

  • Don’t over-think it.
  • Tell us what you want us to know about you; not what you think we want to hear.
  • Answer the prompt honestly with a story about you.
  • Make sure your story is focused and written in your own words and your own voice.

You’ll find all kinds of advice online about writing admissions essays, and much of it inaccurate or confusing. As you delve into the college application and essay writing process, be careful whose advice you follow, and make sure you know your sources.

For more tips on mastering this and other college application essays, sign up for Wow Writing Workshop. You will receive Wow’s free eBook, Write Your Way Into College. Wow students get into their dream schools year after year. Find out more at www.wowwritingworkshop.com.