Tag: common application

Want to Stand Out in Your College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
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
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.

We Wrote the Only College Application Guide You’ll Ever Need!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

At the end of every school year, moms and dads call us in a panic, asking for help understanding college application essays. They tell us they are worried about the competition to get into college – and the amount of work required for their children to stand out and get noticed inside the admissions office.

We will never suggest you write a college application essay for your child, or edit an essay so heavily it loses your child’s personality and voice. But we believe you can play a critical role in the preparation process. Who else would go to the moon and back for your child?

For more specific tips, check out our popular book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay – The Inside Scoop for Parents; it was just released in paperback ($9.99). The book takes less than an hour to read and provides everything you need to help your child write meaningful college application essays that admissions officers will want to read.

Parents have called the book engaging, informative and a must-read for any parent with a child applying to college. Here are a few reviews:

Debbie Logan, from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, read the book before her second daughter applied to college. (She now attends Columbia University.) Logan said the book helped her keep a healthy distance from her second daughter’s application, particularly the essay. “This book gave me insight into the parent’s role in the process. I had no idea what colleges were looking for or where my job ended. The insight is priceless.”

Rebecca Gold, from Providence, Rhode Island, was about to start working with her third child on the college application journey when she read the guide. She said it was easy to follow, well-written and more helpful than any other college-related book for parents. “Rather than telling me what to do, the authors helped me understand what my son needed to be successful in this essay writing process, and what I could do to support him.”

Mark Cornillie, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, thought his background in public relations and journalism would be valuable when his sons applied to college. The book gave him a reality check. “I thought I had some wonderful ideas about the essays my son should write and how he should write them. This book convinced me to step back, and empowered my son to remind me whenever my conviction faltered. The essay he submitted was wholly his own, and not only did he achieve admission to his top-choice school, but his essay was among a handful referenced in a letter by the Dean of Admissions to incoming students. I doubt my envisioned ‘perfect’ essay would have achieved that.”

Our Go-to Guide Parses all 7 Common Application Prompts

How to Write an Effective College Application Essay includes a complete list of the new Common App prompts; we’ve even parsed all 7 prompts to make your job easier. You’ll find chapters with useful resources, information on our unique approach to writing the essay, and additional access to writing exercises we use with our own students.

The essay is the most daunting part of the college application process for many students; you won’t want your child to wait till the last minute to start. Start now. Parents who read our book and follow our advice are always surprised by how straightforward it is. Many are also surprised by how wrong they were about their role in the process.

When students learn how to reflect before they start writing, they write more meaningful college essays. With our book as your guide, you can help your child approach the college application essay calmly and confidently, and get a better shot at admission to their dream school.

Get your copy of How To Write An Effective College Application Essay now. It’s just $9.99.

What You Need to Know About the New Common App Essay Prompts

By Susan Knoppow CommonApp_logo
Wow Writing Workshop

Have you seen the two new essay prompts on the Common Application? Every few years, the Common App, a tool used by more than 700 colleges to help students apply seamlessly to multiple schools, updates its essay prompts. The changes are based on feedback from students, parents, high school counselors, educational consultants and member schools following each admissions cycle. This year, the Common App added two new prompts; they also tweaked some of the current questions.
What does it all mean for high school juniors who are about to start the journey to college? Nothing, really. The task is the same. The revisions to prompts 2, 3 and 5 clarify the purpose of those questions, while the new prompts provide a few more options.

Reflection Matters Most

Just released in paperback

The changes reinforce the message we share with our students and in our popular book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, which was just released in paperback. At its core, a personal statement is all about reflection. An effective essay shows insight into a student’s character because it answers two central questions: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter?

Why a topic matters to a student (the reflection) is more important than what happened (the experience, the activity, the idea, the concept, or the person who influenced that student).
Here are 4 simple steps to help you understand any Common App prompt so you can choose a meaningful topic that demonstrates both what happened and why it matters.

  1. Review the instructions
    Most students skip straight to the prompts and miss the important information built into the instructions. Make sure you read this first: “The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response.”
  2. Ask one more question
    Before choosing a prompt or exploring topics, ask yourself: What do I want colleges to know about me that they wouldn’t otherwise know from the rest of my application? Think about traits and characteristics, not accomplishments.
  3. Review the prompts
    Look closely at the seven prompts once you know which characteristic(s) you want to share. (We’ve tackled #6 and #7 below.) Do not dive into topic ideas until you’ve confirmed that you understand the 7 options.
  4. Brainstorm ideas
    The goal is to find a topic that best illustrates the trait or traits you want to share, and which also responds directly to the prompt. If you choose a story but can’t explain why it makes a strong Common App topic, or how it demonstrates something meaningful about you, you’re not ready to write a draft.

The New Prompts: What Are They All About?
Just to confirm that we understood the purpose of the changes, we went straight to the source – Scott Anderson, Senior Director of Education and Partnerships for the Common Application. He said:

Scott Anderson – The Common App

The prompts have changed slightly, but the instructions remain the same: What do you want application readers to know about you? The prompts simply serve to help students approach that question from as many angles as possible, whether it be maturity, identity, curiosity, pastimes, aspirations, community, relationships, or anything else. Students should pick the prompt that supports and gets them excited about the story they want to tell about themselves.

Here’s our take on Prompts #6 and #7, which have generated the most questions from our students and industry colleagues:

Prompt 6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

The key word in this prompt is “engaging,” but even that word can seem overwhelming. Remind yourself that the essay is not about the topic, idea or concept; it’s about the applicant. You don’t have to impress with big ideas. Try asking yourself questions like these: Why is this topic, idea or concept so engaging? How does it make me feel? Who do I talk to about these ideas? Where do I go to research new concepts? What have I learned about myself?

Maybe you care about social justice. Perhaps you’re captivated by humor or technology. You can explore the concept overall or share an example of that concept in action. Whether you collected clothes and toiletries for a local family who lost their home in a fire or attracted ten thousand followers by tweeting a daily joke, why did you do it? How does that activity demonstrate how you think, problem-solve or process information? What did you learn about yourself? How did the idea affect or change you? If you want to focus on the big picture, make sure you know how you want to approach the concept before starting to write a first draft.

Prompt 7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

The key word in this prompt is “choice.” While #7 appears to be different from the other prompts, the purpose is the same. Yes, applicants can submit any essay they want in that 650-word space, but as the overall instructions clearly state, even an A+ paper must still illustrate something meaningful about the student.

Suppose you want to submit a critical analysis you wrote for Honors English about a character in Jayne Eyre. Could it work? Maybe. Ask yourself what the essay demonstrates about you. Do you yearn for more than what traditional society allows, like Jane? Does the paper demonstrate how the book propelled you toward political activism? Does it show how the book changed you? After admissions officers read the paper, will they learn something new about you? If not, it won’t work as a college essay, no matter how well-written.

Both new prompts do exactly what the old ones did – maybe better.

Parents, find out how you can help your child respond to any prompt in our next monthly Parent Chat. It’s June 6, and it’s free. If you cannot make it, sign up anyway, and we’ll send you a recording.

Counselors and other professionals, find out TOMORROW how you can help your students respond to any prompt in our monthly pro-chat. It’s a free 30-minute session just for you, too. Join us live or listen to the recording.

Everything You Need to Know to Master the Common App Essay!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Common AppThe Common App (a streamlined college application that allows you to apply to multiple schools) just released its five essay prompts for the graduating class of 2016; there are some tweaks to existing prompts, plus an entirely new question.

And there are countless expert commentaries online about those tweaks and changes.

Juniors, you can ignore the commentary. None of it is relevant to you. It’s a lot of gibberish and hype meant for educational consultants, college admissions representatives and high school counselors.

The Most Important Piece of Advice You’ll Get: Understand the Prompt!

You do need to understand the prompt before you begin writing your essay. It’s important to learn what an essay prompt is, what it is asking, who you are writing for, and why you may be required to write one (or 10!) as part of your college application package. That way, you’ll be prepared to start writing your essays this summer as you begin filling out your college applications.

The Common App offers five essay prompts, and asks you to select one. Before you choose, answer this question: What do I want colleges to know about me? Figure out what you want colleges to know about you that is not obvious from the rest of your application.

This is your opportunity to shine, to offer readers some insight into who you are beyond your grades, test scores and activities. Write something that is important to you, and make sure it is reflective.

Are you industrious? Funny? A leader? Shy? Outgoing? Curious? Are you a risk taker? A passionate reader? Once you know what you want to share, look at the prompts. Then find a story that best illustrates the trait you want to share, and also answers the prompt.

Look at prompt #1, for example: “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

The key word in this prompt is “meaningful.”

Ultimately, your essay is not about your background, identity, interest, talent or experience; it’s about you. What did you learn about yourself? What made the experience meaningful?

Admissions officers read these essays to find out something they don’t already know about you. They already know a lot. But they don’t know how your experiences affected you, or why someone or something is so important to you. They have no idea how you have changed and why you might be a good fit for their school. You can share these insights in your essay.

Your experience does not have to be particularly impressive; you do not have to share a story about climbing a mountain or rescuing children from a burning building.

You could write about something mundane, like babysitting or making meatballs with your grandmother. Just find a story that illustrates something meaningful.

So You Think You Can't Write?

Last week, after we praised a student for a well-written essay, he looked surprised and said it was the first time anyone had complimented his writing. He did not know  he could write such a gorgeous story about finishing a challenging hike in the mountains with a group of rugged teens while he was violently ill.

He did it. And the final draft was exceptional. The first few sentences drew us in:

I had hiked 45 miles in three days with a 60-pound pack, and I was physically exhausted. I woke up on the fourth morning, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. My shoulders were throbbing, like somebody was punching me repeatedly.

He went on to tell a heart-wrenching story with vivid details that  showed determination and strong will. He didn’t give up; he made the best of a bad situation. What might a college admissions committee get out of it? This student takes risks, finishes what he starts, will get his work done no matter what – and without excuses. He is ready for college and will give it 100 percent.

Why did he think he couldn’t write?  He knew what happened, and he knew why it mattered. He just didn’t know how to put all the pieces together. Our process taught him how.

We work with many high school seniors who claim they don’t like writing or who say they are not very good at it. We ask them,  “Can you think?” They all say yes.

We tell them, “If you can think, you can write,” but we don’t leave it at that. We take our students through a tried-and-true process that teaches them – step by step – how to develop an idea, brainstorm, free write for details, revise, edit and add the “wow factor” so it can stand out from the crowd.

Like most of our students, the boy with the hiking story was ready for this writing task. He just needed a process to get it done. That’s what the Wow Method is all about. Most people can recognize a great story; we know how to help students tell those stories in their own voices and in their own words.

Ready to tell your story? Join us for a drop-in session this Sunday, October 9, 1-4 p.m., 30150 Telegraph Road, Suite 120 in Bingham Farms. Everyone is welcome.

The Common Application: What Should I Write About?

Good news, college applicants. The subject is secondary.

Your application essay is a story about you. It’s not about poor orphans in Ecuador or your Great Aunt Lucy or the time you ran for student government. It’s about how that person or experience affected you. Are you different now? Did you learn something meaningful about yourself? Read more