Tag: college essay tips

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.

Tips to Overcome College Essay Writing Anxiety

By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop

Every writer feels nervous in the moments when they are revising, starting over or drafting a new piece of prose. So it’s not surprising when even students who are well-prepared, understand the college essay prompt, and have a great story to tell also get the first-draft jitters, or writing anxiety.

College application season is in full gear, and just like every season, we see a lot of students who have difficulty starting their first drafts. That’s okay. Don’t panic. We know how to calm them.

Some students think that their nervousness is a sign that they’re inadequate writers or that they’re doing something wrong. It isn’t. College essays have high stakes. Feeling a little anxiety is normal, even healthy.

I am a college essay coach, and also a creative writer and teacher. I regularly attend an annual writers’ conference that attracts big names in fiction and poetry, plus thousands of aspiring writers and publishers, for a weekend of readings and craft discussions. At my first conference, I was surprised to hear how openly authors talked about their own writing anxiety.

Even authors with four or five books already on the best seller list said that they feel a bit anxious every time they start a new writing project. Their previous works might have been hits, but what should they do about the half-written chapters on their kitchen tables? How do successful writers manage those nerves?

Here are three strategies for managing writing anxiety that work for the pros, and help our Wow college application essay students:

Keep the Faith; calm the anxiety

Accept that some anxiety is normal and trust yourself to write the first draft.  Moments of doubt require a little faith. When you’re feeling nervous, just keep writing and don’t stop until the draft is finished. Successful writers keep writing even when they are feeling unsure of themselves.

Trust the Process
It's important to trust yourself when coping with writing anxiety
We tell each Wow student: Trust Yourself

Take comfort in revision. No one gets it perfect on the first try. Refining your ideas over several drafts is an essential part of the writing process. That also means there is less pressure on you to perfect your first draft. You don’t need to worry about finding the right words in your first draft because you’ll reread and revise anything you write (hopefully more than once). It’s okay for first drafts to be messy. They’re supposed to be. Just get your ideas down on paper. You’ll be able to polish your words later.

Get Advice from Someone You Trust

Every successful author has a go-to person who reads their work before anyone else. It might be a relative, friend, another writer, or an editor. You can usually find that person’s name listed on the acknowledgments page at the beginning or end of a book. A trusted reader can offer valuable big-picture perspective, and also catch small mistakes that are hard to see when you’ve been looking at a piece of writing for a long time.

Finding the right reader can be a little tricky with college essays because the world of college admissions is always changing. At Wow, we have ongoing conversations with admissions officers across the country to make sure that we offer the best college essay advice that reflects what admissions readers are hoping to see.

Let Wow’s Experts Guide You
Anxious? Stressed? Sign up now for $39!

We’d love to be your guide. A Wow coach can show your child how to write for college admissions officers without a pre-designed structure, without reading sample essays and without so much added stress, wherever you are along the journey. To learn more,  click private coaching services or Crash Course to get the best of Wow in our 1-hour video course designed to help you nail that Common App.  

About the Author
Meet Wow's Senior Writing Coach Joe Kane
Joe Kane

Joe Kane is Senior Writing Coach for Wow Writing Workshop, which is still accepting essay coaching students who are applying to college and graduate school this fall. 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.

 

 

Top 5 Common App Essay Myths & Facts

Common App
Common App goes live Aug. 1

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

The Common App opens August 1 for the Class of 2019. With that in mind, let’s debunk some of the rumors about the Common App essay (personal statement for college) that often spread like wildfire among the college-bound crowd and their families.

With that in mind, here are our Top 5 college essay myths and facts:

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

Fact: The student is impressive, not the college essay topic. The story, not the experience, is most important. Colleges want to know what an applicant has learned, rather than what they did.

One Wow student came to us confident that it was her trip to help the poor in Central America that would stand out in her application essay. Not at all. While brainstorming ideas with a writing coach, 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 the experience mean to you?” asked Calvin Wise, the Director of Recruitment for Johns Hopkins University. “That is what we want to know.”

Myth 2: A Common App college essay should sound sophisticated, like Hemingway or a college professor.
Don’t fall victim to the myths! Get the facts!

Fact:  A high school student should sound like a high school student. Not a professor. Or a famous writer.

(Students should) “be themselves,” said Andrea Nadler, Associate Dean of Admission at Hofstra University.  “The college 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 Common app college essay. They won’t know if the student plagiarized, either.

Fact: There is a fine line between helping your child and writing or over-editing the Common App essay for them. Admissions officers know when someone other than the student writes all or part of a story; they don’t like it.

“If a student has an adult write it, the admissions committee can tell,” said Jim Cotter, Director of Admissions for Michigan State University.

Many schools will automatically reject a student’s application, without an explanation, even if they merely suspect plagiarism.

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

Fact:  An applicant’s best story will grow out of the process of writing the Common App essay. To stand out, they must tell a genuine story and show insight.

Despite what you might hear, there are no tricks and no shortcuts. No magic formula. The essay doesn’t need a killer opening line or a tight conclusion. Trust the process; the college essay will emerge through the process of reflection, writing and revision.

“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 common app essays.

Fact: Anyone can stand out with a great story in a Common App essay.

An applicant does not need to rescue a child from a house fire or teach an autistic boy how to swim to impress admissions officers. 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.”

Learn How to write common app essay for $39
Get Common App essay crash course for just $39
Anxious? Stressed? Learn to write Common App essay for $39!

Wouldn’t it be great to get that Common App essay out of the way? And without breaking the bank? We can help! Sign up for our one-hour video course, and you’ll be good to go. Just $39. Write that essay any time, anywhere…

 

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

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges all the time. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits.

 

 

 

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.

 

The Only College Application Guide You’ll Ever Need!

Wow’s guide embraces parents, rather than pushing them away.

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Every August, 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 your child is back in school or about to enter senior year, it’s time to make sure they’re moving on those college essays. The essay is the most daunting part of the application process for many students, and you don’t want your child to wait till the last minute to start.

The Go To Guide to Help Kids Write College Essays 

Yes, it’s time to write, but there’s no need to agonize over it. We just released our first guide specifically for helping parents get a handle on the essay. The eBook, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents, 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 it over.

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 650-word Common App essay or to write a 350-word response to one of the University of California’s new personal insight questions. But you will  benefit from Wow’s short parent guide that gives you simple instructions so you can help your child  write an effective essay, and put it into perspective.  It’s easy to follow and has everything required to teach your child how to reflect on life experiences so he or she 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.

Find Out How Parents Can Help

At Wow, we’ve been teaching students how to write essays that stand out inside the admissions office for years. With How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents 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.

Everything in this guide comes from what we’ve learned from working with students and talking to admissions officers. We’re glad to share this valuable insight to help you understand the college admissions industry. And, because we care so much about writing, we’re practically giving away all of our secrets in the Inside Scoop for $9.99.

Please join me tomorrow night for our 30-minute monthly parent chat; you can ask me anything about the college essay and its role inside the admissions world. It’s FREE! 8 p.m. ET, Aug. 2. Can’t make it? No problem. Sign up, and we’ll send you a recording. 

 

How to Write a Stand-Out College Essay

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Cornell’s Shawn Felton and Wow Featured on Money.com

A good personal statement, or college application essay, can help you get accepted to the school of your dreams, but a bad one can sometimes prevent it. That’s why it’s more important than ever to take the college essay seriously, and learn how to do it well.

We can help you do that! To clarify what colleges want in an application essay, and help you deliver it, we compiled some of our best advice for you and your parents. We’re also attaching a recent video clip featuring Money.com’s interview with me following the National Association of College Admission Counseling’s annual meeting in San Diego last fall, where I moderated a panel discussion on the college essay.

Check out the video, How to Write a Better College Essay; you’ll get additional information from Cornell University’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions Shawn Felton and Bucknell University’s Dean of Admissions Robert Springwell.

Six Tips for a Better College Essay

1. Understand how the essay is used in the admissions process. The college essay, or personal statement, is a tool that helps admissions teams round out the application and put a face on a packet of paper. Most colleges do not do face-to-face interviews, so this is your interview.
2. Be clear about what colleges want to know. The essay is your opportunity to decide what colleges need to know about you. Tell them using a story about you that is focused, reflective and answers the prompt.
3. How should you start? Ask yourself, what do they know about me from the rest of my application? Then add, what else do I want them to know? Why is it important? Think traits and characteristics, not accomplishments.
4. Keep it simple. A message that is delivered clearly in straightforward, everyday language will do. Big words do not impress admissions officers.
5. Keep it personal, authentic. This is your story. Write it yourself in your words. Use your voice. Write about you, a smart 17-year-old high school student who is ready for college. Colleges aren’t thinking about admitting your mom, dad, or your great Aunt Rose who saved a bunch of orphans from a house fire. They’re considering you, so you are the person they want to learn about.
6. Don’t bore the admissions office! During a recent panel discussion for high school counselors, admissions officers confessed that between 50 and 75 percent of essays submitted to their universities failed to show any reflection. The essays were boring. You can distinguish yourself from the piles of applications at the school of your dreams by writing about what you learned, and not what you did. This is an opportunity. Take it. A little bit of insight will go a long way.

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. Sign up here.

 

Learn How to Reflect with Frazz Comic Strip

Jef Mallett, Universal UClick    Original strip published @GoComics

My friend, Jef Mallett, creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip, Frazz, tells a story every day using just a few square and rectangular frames. I’ve often compared his strip to the college essay.

The similarities are unmistakable in this recent strip showing Frazz walking into the water from the beach to swim across the Straits of Mackinac. In this story, Jef asks the same critical question we ask all of our students as they prepare to write their personal statements for their college applications: Why?

Jef is a deep thinker, a tad philosophical, and he generally illustrates something Frazz learned through an experience, in this case swimming in treacherous waters. The best college essays do not need to be deep or philosophical, but you should be able to reflect upon a moment you learned something significant about yourself.

In this one moment, getting into the water to swim, I began to understand the big picture. Why did Frazz choose to swim across those waters? Because he can. Why not? It’s all part of life’s journey of discovery.

I felt like I was standing with Frazz in the cold water, contemplating life’s purpose. College admissions officers want to feel that type of connection when they read your college essay.

Jef actually did the real Mighty Mac fundraising swim on Labor Day; the current was strong and carried Jef and the other swimmers about 4 miles out of their way, turning the estimated 4-mile swim into a brutal 9-mile race. But Jef finished, felt great, and as a bonus, raised $14,000 for Habitat for Humanity.

Seniors, I am not suggesting you swim through dangerous, choppy waters, or do some other extreme race (unless you are well trained). But you can learn a lot about reflection from this short, focused story that shows why Frazz did the swim. If Jef can make a point in four frames, you can certainly write your college essay in 650 words or less!

At Wow, we teach our students how to reflect and stand out inside the admissions office. We talk to admissions officers all the time, and we know what they want to read in an essay.

I’m going to share our best teaching tips and resources with high school counselors and admissions officers later this week when I moderate an all-star panel, What Admission Wants in an Essay: How to Instruct Your Students, during the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual meeting in San Diego. Our panel includes the top admissions officers from Cornell and UC-Berkeley, and high school counselors representing large urban and small private high schools.

We’re excited to be part of this major industry event, and we’ll keep you in the loop. Tune in to Facebook and Twitter to follow us at the conference.

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.