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About the Author
Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company specializing in college admission and grad school application essay writing and professional training. She leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Wow’s team teaches students how to write application essays, and provides expert training on their unique approach to professionals who want to improve their essay coaching practices. Kim blogs regularly about the college essay’s role in the admission process for multiple industry publications and websites. In 2019, she was named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Education.
Before co-founding Wow, Kim worked as a reporter and communication consultant. Highlights include: Co-producing a PBS documentary about teens and depression, No Ordinary Joe: Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness; writing “First Class,” a weekly lifestyle column about the area’s most successful businessmen and women for the Detroit Free Press; creating “A Small Business Adventure,” a 12-part monthly series about the perils and pitfalls of running a small business for the Detroiter Magazine; supervising a public relations campaign and accompanying print materials that attracted local and national print, radio, and TV media coverage for the National Council of Jewish Women’s annual convention in celebrating its 100th anniversary.
We’re getting ready to accept applications to reserve a space for college essay coaching for the Class of 2021. If you are interested in reserving a spot, email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stefanie Niles, President of the National Association of College Admission Counseling, the leading national organization for college admission professionals, has worked inside college admissions offices for decades. She shared some insight with Wow to help guide parents and students who are preparing for college through the stressful process.
Niles, Vice president for Enrollment and Communications at Ohio Wesleyan University, previously held top admissions and financial aid positions at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, and DePauw University in Greencastle, IN.
I met Niles at a conference for the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling last spring. We spoke later about her career path, the importance of the college essay, and some other key issues students and parents tell me are important: tuition, what colleges want from students, getting in and how students can stand out in their application packages.
“I believe that essays will remain a critical part of the application process.”
What are the biggest challenges facing the college admission world in 2019?
“One of the greatest challenges facing college admissions (and the one that keeps me up at night) is the escalating cost of college.,” said Niles, “More and more students and their families are being pinched by rising tuition, and financial aid packages that don’t meet their demonstrated financial need. I believe that, as a nation, we are going to have to address this critical issue in the next decade, or we will continue to see more colleges close, and fewer students seeking higher education options as the market is simply too expensive.”
What do you wish parents/students and everyone else knew about college admission?
“There are so many terrific colleges options. I wish they knew that it isn’t mission critical to secure admission at a select group of 8 or 12 or 20 colleges, but that there are many places where students will be challenges, motivated, and grow the skills to be productive adults.
What do you wish parents and students knew about you and your admission colleagues – the people who say yes or no to their applications?
“Like many who work in college admissions, my overarching goal is to help as many students access a college education, regardless of where they choose to enroll. While the college admission process can be stressful, nerve wracking and challenging, 99% of the individuals who work in college admissions do so because they want to assist and support students in finding the right college fit. You don’t have to go it alone. I have counseled many students about the college search and selection process – many of whom were interested in the institution for which I worked, but often those who were not.!
Students are often reluctant to email or call a college admission office Is it okay for a student to contact the admissions office with questions?
“Almost any college admission counselor, regardless of the institution for which they work, will sit down with a student and help them sort out their interests and needs as they relate to the college experience.”
Your career has focused on liberal arts colleges. What draws you to the liberal arts?
“I love the broad range of skills that a liberal arts education offers to students. A liberal arts education helps develop the ability to think critically and analytically, communicate effectively, solve problems, and work collaboratively with others. These skills, among others, are necessary to manage today’s challenges – and those we will face tomorrow. As many of the jobs individuals will hold 10 and 20 years from now don’t even exist today, having a background that encourages creativity, ability and flexibility – as a liberal arts education provides – will be best suited not only to fill the jobs of tomorrow, but to identify the problems we face and help create the jobs that will enable us to address them.”
What’s your message to parents who believe their child will not get into a “good” college?
“A “good” college is a place where a student will thrive; where he or she will be exposed to new ideas, new challenges, and perspectives different than their own; where the student grows intellectually and personally, and where they have the opportunity to take advantage of experiences that will open their minds to different experiences and cultures that may shape their professional journey. My son was accepted to 10 colleges, which sounds like a lot! But he had such a hard time choosing among them, as each offered him distinctive, interesting, challenging opportunities in settings where he felt he would both fit in, and be challenged by a new environment. It was an eye-opening, real life example for me of how there are many great choices, not just one right fit for a student!”
How important is the essay inside the college admission offices where you have worked?
“Many liberal arts colleges find that the essay can both provide insight into how a student might fit into an institution, and if they possess the basic writing skills to excel in that environment. I have definitely seen a poor essay, submitted with an otherwise solid application, keep a student from being admitted. I have also seen a particularly strong essay, submitted with an application containing some red flags, tip the scale toward a positive admission decision. The essay, in my experience, definitely matters in an admission committee’s overall consideration of a student’s admissibility to an institution.”
What else do you look for in an application essay?
“It is important to assess how well a student can write – can they construct a coherent sentence? Can they follow directions regarding length? Do they use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation? Yet I also want to be sure that students address the question asked of them in a way that gives me insight into who they are. I believe that a student should write about what is important and meaningful to them, and that feeling will shine through their essay. “
As College admission changes, where does the essay fit?
“Certainly, at liberal arts institutions, I believe that essays will remain a critical part of the application process. Good writing is a skill that will stand the test of time, and liberal arts colleges will continue to require that their students use their writing abilities to express themselves effectively. A strong college admission essay is the first step on a long path towards securing a high-quality college education and developing the skills necessary to be successful in one’s future career.”
What’s your No. 1 tip for students writing any type of college admission essay?
“Have someone else review your work. No matter how good a writer you are, it is important to have another set of eyes on your work to avoid any errors – big or small – that you might overlook.”
What are the biggest mistakes you see in the college admission essays you read?
“I’ve seen lots of careless mistakes, like misspelling the name of the major you wish to pursue. I’ve also seen too many students write an essay as if they were writing a text, without capitalizing words and using little punctuation. But the biggest mistake is not putting in the appropriate effort to write the very best essay you can. An essay doesn’t have to be long to be a high-quality piece, but care needs to be taken to answer the question you are asked, and to be thoughtful in both what you say and how you say it.”
What else would you like students and parents to know about the college application process?
“Start the process early, ask questions, visit campuses if you can, and talk to current students, recent alumni, faculty members, coaches, and staff members who work at the schools you are considering. You will learn a lot by keeping your eyes and ears open, and by interacting with the individuals who know the institution the best – members of the campus community.”
How to Write an Effective College Application Essay is a simple, straightforward guide offering insight from our decades of experience as writers and writing teachers; it provides tips so you can prepare your child to respond to any college application essay question. In the book, we clarify the mixed messages that confuse parents and students, to help families like yours make sense out of the noise surrounding the essay.
Kim Lifton, President and Founder of Wow Writing Workshop, leads a professional team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Kim teaches students how to write application essays for college and graduate school and adults how to write anything that involves the written word (such as books). Recently, she was named a Top Voice in Education by LinkedIn. Kim supervises Wow’s business communication services, including running online seminars for small business and nonprofit leaders interested in blogging and social media.
Before co-founding Wow, Kim worked as a reporter and communication consultant. Highlights include: Co-producing a PBS documentary about teens and depression, No Ordinary Joe: Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness; writing “First Class,” a weekly lifestyle column about the area’s most successful businessmen and women for the Detroit Free Press; creating “A Small Business Adventure,” a 12-part monthly series about the perils and pitfalls of running a small business for the Detroiter Magazine; supervising a public relations campaign and accompanying print materials that attracted local and national print, radio and TV media coverage for the National Council of Jewish Women’s annual convention, celebrating its 100th anniversary.
We’re still accepting students from the Class of 2020. Visit Wow for more information.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
By Joe Kane
Senior Writing Coach
Wow Writing Workshop
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.
• 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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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.
Early college applications are in, and many students are scrambling to finish personal statements and essay supplements for regular admissions, beginning Jan. 1. Whether you are writing a personal statement for the Common App, or a supplement for an Ivy, private liberal arts college or public university, make sure you follow the directions and stick to the word count! Do you know how to trim a college essay?
Recently, I reviewed a student’s personal statement for the Common App that he assumed was ready for a final edit; it was 1,560 words –that is 910 words above the 650-word limit. He did not think he could cut his story, and he did not think it would make a difference in the quality of his college application. Our message: yes, it matters.
The essay is an important piece in today’s holistic college application process.
At Wow, we read and suggest cuts to our students’ essays every day, and we’ve never seen a personal statement or supplemental essay for a college application weakened by the editing process.
While some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, others suggest a few words too many will not make a difference. In any case, it’s not worth the risk. Just answer the question within the specified word count on any college application, and you will not need to doubt yourself.
Here are 5 Tips to trim a college essay and any supplemental essays without destroying their content:
Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely.
Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma. These include because of this, in fact, first, last, hopefully, to be frank, quite frankly and in conclusion. Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Take out the ones that do not enhance your story.
Delete helping verbs. Example: Replace “is going to be attending” with “will attend.”
Delete to be verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
Turn some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”
After you trim a college essay, there’s one more thing to do before clicking send: review it! Would you like a professional review of your college application essay to make sure it is ready to submit?
Wow’s trained writing coaches pay attention to factors that admissions officers tell us matter to them, like reflection, theme and flow. We know how to help untangle that messy essay. We also make sure all the “I”s are dotted and “t”s are crossed.
Wow Writing Workshop is a professional writing services and strategic communications company with a fully trained staff of teaching writers. We are experts on the college application essay, plus graduate, professional and fellowship school personal statements and resumes. We also offer writing services for businesses and non-profits. If it involves words, Wow can help. Would you like to learn more? Email Kim@wowwritingworkshop.com.
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?
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.”
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.
In the competitive world of college admissions, other businesses have sprouted up – includingKim Lifton's Wow Writing Workshop, based in Royal Oak. After decades of reviewing her friends' kids' college applications around the dining room table, Lifton launched Wow in 2009.
"Our company teaches students how to prepare to write their college essay and the essay portion of the ACT," explains Lifton, who launched the business together with Susan Knoppow. "The essay portion of the application gives admissions representatives the opportunity to see who the student really is."