Parents of Juniors: Help Your Child Get a Jump Start on the College Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Whether you will be sending your first or last child to college next fall, now is a great time to start thinking about the application essay, which is often the most stressful part of the entire college admissions process.

It’s never too early to prepare.

At Wow, we teach students how to think about and write their college essays so they have the best shot at getting into their dreams schools. We also teach parents just like you how to assist their children in a way that works best for each family.

We know it can be hard for kids to write about themselves, especially when the stakes seem so high. We also know there’s a fine line between helping, telling your child what to write, and writing the essay yourself. Done right, college essays can make or break applications. They can also leave students feeling empowered, confident in their own abilities and certain of their words.

As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. We want to show you how to guide your child through this journey without overstepping your role.

Help Your Child Reflect

Think of yourself as a cheerleader, but not the coach. Be encouraging, but not critical.

Ask your child one question: “What do you want colleges to know about you beyond test scores, grades and extracurricular activities?”

Most students have trouble answering this question. Prod, but do it gently. Ask open-ended questions to avoid ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know’ answers. The answer to this question is the key to reflection.

  1. What are your child’s best traits? Is he funny? Is she serious? Compassionate? A voracious reader? Resourceful? Studious? Point out the traits you recognize, and then ask how your child views himself. Keep the conversation moving.
  2. Think characteristics, not accomplishments. Telling your child you have noticed how hard she works in everything she does is a good start. Pointing out the time she scored the winning goal is not.
  3. Praise, but don’t nag.
  4. Be positive.
  5. Stay calm. Remember to breathe.

This is an opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation about your child’s self-perception. You might be pleasantly surprised at the valuable insight you will discover when you point out your child’s positive characteristics.

When you are done with this exercise, your child will be ready to brainstorm for college essay topics.

Paying for College Without Going Broke

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Headed to college this fall? It’s time to consider in earnest what the actual price is going to look like. But before you do that, you might want to take a look at this insightful webinar we moderated with leading experts who can help you understand the complexities of financial aid.

You might learn that price might not need to limit your choices once you have all of your options in front of you.

In this webinar, Jennifer Ramsey Wallace, the Outreach Manager for Financial Aid Programs for the Michigan Education Trust, the state’s prepaid education plan, and a leading expert on other financial aid programs, discusses the issues with Dean Tsouvalas, creator of the free scholarship information app Scholarship Advisor.

Together, they can help you untangle the complexities of financial aid, share scholarship opportunities and suggest ways for parents and students to discuss these issues honestly at home.

You can also download our Financial Aid Resource List, which includes a list of websites mentioned in the webinar, and read Wow’s Financial Aid Cheat Sheet and 6 Secrets to Filling out the FAFSA.

Link to webinar

Five Tips to Trim Your College Essay!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

 Think you can’t shorten your college essay to fit the word limit? Nonsense!

At Wow Writing Workshop, we’ve never seen a college application essay or grad school personal statement weakened by the editing process.  Here are five simple tips for trimming your stories without compromising content.

1) Before you begin editing, open a new document. Instead of cutting and pasting your original essay, print it out or open it in another window, then retype it so you can really see your work. You will be more likely to notice redundancies, passive voice and unnecessary words.

2) Now search for adverbs. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely. Highlight them. Make sure you really need them. Take out the rest. You can always put them back later.

3) Cut helping verbs and replace them with shorter, active descriptions. Example: Replace “I am going to be attending” with “I will attend.”

4) Delete “to be” verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”

5) Use active voice when you can.  Start by turning some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

When you are done editing, don’t forget to proofread. Read your essay out loud; read it backward. Whatever you do, don’t rely on spell check. You can tell a great story in a few hundred words.

Would you like a professional review just to be sure you’ve got it right? We know what colleges want; let a Wow writing coach give it a thorough  essay review before you click  send, We’re offering same-day reviews from now till the end of the season.

College Essay Writing Tips from the Admissions Office

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

A college application essay is an opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself. Just how you do that could influence admissions committees more than you might know!

At Wow Writing Workshop, we speak all the time to admissions professionals at top universities across the entire country, and we know what they are looking for. One thing’s for sure: They don’t want you to write a story about something you think they want to hear. They do want to read a story you want to share with them. It’s your story. Your voice. Your words.

college essay writing tipsAs Michigan State University Director of Admissions Jim Cotter puts it, the essay is value added. If an adult writes it, the admissions committee can tell.

“At a moderately selective school, it can pull a student on the cusp up,” added Cotter, a 30+-year industry veteran. “At a highly selective school, a poor statement can make the difference between being admitted or not.”


Here are a few additional tips direct from admissions offices to help you write an essay that says “wow!” and also improves your chances of getting noticed, and getting in:

college essay writing tipsKeep it simple. “I think sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer they have nothing to share,” said Vanderbilt University Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions Jan Deike. “Life is truly lived in the smaller moments and that can be a powerful essay.”



Calvin WiseKnow your audience. “There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office. We are trying to predict future potential,” said Johns Hopkins University Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions Calvin Wise. “The essay is a student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office. We need to dig deeper, and that’s where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student.”


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



lorenzo2Focus on one moment. “Students do not need to compile an entire season into an essay,” according to Lorenzo Gamboa, Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Santa Clara University. “Just give us one place, one time, one moment, and that will do it for you. The key is to show genuine passion, commitment and that they have what it takes to survive at the school.”


BrentKeep it positive. “What message are you sending to colleges if you write about how much you dislike your father? said Brent Benner, Director of Enrollment Management, University of Tampa. “If this story demonstrates something positive about you, then use it. But be careful. Every kid has had a hardship, but life is about problem solving and conflict resolution. I want to read anything that paints a picture of moxie, drive, determination and courage; those are compelling, and tells me how someone problem-solves.”

Want help NOW with writing college application essays? Find out about our FREE parent program, a do-it-yourself with a little bit of help package, private essay coaching, and professional review services.


Wow and Admissions Reps Share insight on College Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College essays really are a big deal!

That’s why I’m First, an online community providing first generation student
s support on the road to and through college, asked Wow to be their exclusive college essay writing partner.  I’m First invited us to discuss our secrets for mastering the college essay in a recent Google Hangout with admissions officers from top liberal arts colleges.

Here’s a link to the Google Hangout. Whether you’re first gen or not, you’ll find some great information during the session from the people who read your apps; you’ll also get insight and tips from Wow about how to find your own compelling story and turn it into an effective essay. Check out the Hangout session, and remember that while the first big deadline for college application season just passed, you still have plenty of time to finish your apps.

Wow Gets National Spotlight in Forbes!

Wow made the national news for our panel discussion (standing-room only!) at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s (NACAC15) annual meeting last week in San Diego: What Admission Wants in an Essay: How to Instruct Your Students?  We brought together top admissions officers from Cornell, UC-Berkeley, and two of the nation’s leading high school counselors, for this interactive presentation that confirmed our consistent message: Gimmicks are useless and do not help students write essays that stand out, buzz words (passion, leadership, initiative) confuse students, and reading sample essays by admitted students will not help applicants write insightful personal statements that catch the attention of the admissions office. Check out this Forbes article on our session! What’s more, our experts offered useful tips and resources to help high school counselors and independent educational consultants translate the message from inside the admissions office into meaningful instructions for students.

Top College Essay Myths Debunked

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College essay mythsYou’ve done all you can up to this point to get good grades and test scores. There’s only one thing left you can do to stand out: nail that college essay!

We teach students just like you how to write stellar application essays year after year, so we’re going to share some insight to help you improve your chances of admission to your dream school.

Consider these college essay myths and facts:

Myth #1: No one really reads the application essays.

Fact: Of course admission officers read your college essays!

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

We polled about two dozen admissions representatives last fall during the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference in Indianapolis; we asked them if they really read college essays. The collective answer was yes!

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

Myth #2: An application essay has to be written about an impressive topic.

Fact: You are impressive, not the topic.

The subject is you; the topic is secondary. A college application essay is your opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself. Colleges want to know what you learned, not what you did.

Many of our students come to us with topics in mind.  One young woman started the process confident that discussing a trip to help the poor in Central America would impress admissions officers. It was a big trip, and she was sure someone would want to read about it.  Using the Wow Method, the student realized that her most important personal moment occurred during that service trip when she overcame her fear of heights by jumping off a cliff into the water. She wrote a gorgeous, meaningful story that showed what she learned about herself during the terrifying jump, and she got into her stretch college.

“The essay does not have to be about something huge, some life-changing event,” said Calvin Wise, the Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions at Johns Hopkins University. “You can write about an ‘a-ha’ moment, what defines you as a person. But it doesn’t have to be really extensive. Students think they need a monumental experience, but the essay can be about something small. What does it mean to you? That is what we want to know.”

Myth #3: Your college entrance essay should sound sophisticated, like Hemingway or a college professor.

Fact: Nope, admission officers do not expect you to sound like a professional writer.

The college essay is your story, and only yours! You are a high school senior, and you should sound like one. Not your mom. Not your dad. Not your English teacher. And certainly not one of the most revered writers of all time!

“I wish I saw more of a thoughtful voice of a 17-year-old,” said Duke University’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag. “By the time the applications come to us, many of them have gone through so many hands that the essays are sanitized.”

While parents and others cannot always tell the difference, admission officers know when someone other than the student writes a story. And they don’t like it.

“If a student has an adult write it, the admission committee can tell,” said Michigan State University’s Director of Admissions Jim Cotter, a 30-plus year industry veteran.

Keep in mind, many schools will automatically reject a student’s application if they suspect plagiarism.

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

Fact: Your best story will grow out of the process of writing your college application essay.

There are no gimmicks, magic formulas, tricks or shortcuts to writing the “perfect” college application essay.  Just trust the process.  We break our process down into small, manageable steps that will free you up to focus on what matters most: finding and writing stories in your own words and in your own voice.

“We need to dig deeper where the essay comes into play,” Hopkins’ Wise said. “That’s where we find out more about the student. The essay is a student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office.

Myth #5: Only superstar students impress admission officers with their essays.

Fact: Anyone can stand out with a great story!

You are all superstars! You certainly don’t have to rescue a child from a house fire, get a million downloads for an app you developed, or train seeing-eye dogs to impress admissions officers.

Last season, I read a fabulous college essay about a girl who found her passion for nature while pulling weeds in a community garden. Equally compelling, another boy discovered his problem-solving skills when he forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar.

“I think sometimes students feel that because they haven’t found the cure for cancer they have nothing to share,” said Vanderbilt University’s Assistant Director for Undergraduate Admissions Jan Deike. “Life is truly lived in the smaller moments.”

Want to learn how to catch the attention of the admissions office at your dream school? We teach our students how to write application essays using a proven step-by-step process that is easy to follow and gets positive results.

Wow students get into their dream schools year after year. You should too.

Answer One Question to Stand Out in Common App Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Common AppThe 2015-16 Common Application went live August 1; that means it’s time to create your account and start writing your Common App essay.

Here’s our single best piece of essay writing advice to help you stand out and improve your chances of admission to your dream school: Before you start writing the Common App essay (or any other personal statement), ask yourself this question: “What do I want colleges to know about me that is not apparent from the rest of my application package?”

The question may not seem like such a big deal. But your answer is crucial.

College admissions officers want you to reflect on your life in your Common App essay. You’re only 16 or 17; most of you have not had much practice delving deeply into your lives. You are focused on the future – thinking about education, career, travel, and dreams.

Many of our students tell us they cannot answer that question. We assure them that they can, and we teach them how to reflect. Without an answer, you will have trouble writing a college essay that will help admissions officers decide if you are a good fit for their school.

How to Answer the Big Question

First, get a little help from someone who knows you well – a parent, a friend, a trusted teacher or other adult. Ask what he or she thinks of you. What are your best attributes?

Are you industrious? Funny? A leader? Shy? Outgoing? Curious? Are you a risk taker?

Think characteristics, not accomplishments. Consider what colleges already know from your application. They know your grades, test scores, awards, clubs, jobs, and the names of your brothers and sisters. They will know if your mom is Canadian or if your grandfather is an alumnus.

Now, ask the question again: What do I want colleges to know about me that is not apparent from the rest of my application package?” With input from someone who knows you well, you should be able to come up with an answer. Then you will be more than ready for the next part of the essay writing process.

How to Select a Prompt

Once you know which characteristic(s) you want to share, look at the five prompts on the Common App, and consider one or more of them more closely. Any prompt will do. Colleges do not choose favorites.

Now you can find a story that illustrates the trait you want to share, and answers the prompt.

Need more help finding your story? Wow has something for every type of student, from a do-it-yourself essay-writing program with a “virtual coach” to essay reviews and private coaching.

We can answer your parents’ questions too. Ask Mom and Dad to join us for one of our free 30-minute calls, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET this summer to learn how they can help you get through the process without taking it over. Encourage them to sign up for a FREE parent chat today.

Finish At Least One College Essay Before Labor Day!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Rising seniors, if you want to improve your chances of admission to the school of your dreams, complete at least one college essay by Labor Day.

It’s too late to fuss over grades and test scores. Junior year grades are the most significant. Test scores are important, too. But without time and additional prep, your scores are unlikely to improve much if you retake any test.

Focus on the college essay, the one thing you can control.

At Wow, we talk to admissions officers all the time, and we know the essay is more important than ever. We also know what they want to read, and how to help you deliver it.

You have probably heard time and again what colleges want, and what to do in that essay. But that’s generally not going to give you enough information or instruction to get the results you desire – and deserve. You need to learn how to write it!

Student writing college essayWow developed the industry’s only proven process for teaching you how to think about and write the essay so admissions officers will pay attention to your application. Our students get noticed and get into their top-choice colleges, year after year. You should too.

So don’t procrastinate. The essay is the most important thing for you at this point in your journey to college. It is also the one thing many students put off till the last minute – and that won’t give you time to reflect and show colleges who you really are.

Meet your Labor Day deadline!

Wow can guide you. We have something for every type of student, from a do-it-yourself essay-writing program with a “virtual coach” to essay reviews and private coaching.

We can also answer your parents’ questions. Please ask Mom and Dad to join our free program Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET, to learn how they can help you meet your deadline and get through the process without taking it over. All they need to do is register and call in to join our FREE Parent Call-in Chat program to understand how to best help you with the essay.

Help Your Senior Hit Essays Out of the Ballpark

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Help Your SeniorParents often ask us, “What’s the best way to help my senior with a college application essay?”

Many college admissions experts will advise you to keep your hands off everything; after all, it’s your child’s journey, not yours.

There’s a fine line between helping your child grow into an independent adult, and doing too much. We get it; we are parents too. We understand that you want to help your senior grow into a successful adult.

I’ve taught thousands of kids how to write college application essays. This is my first season working with my own rising senior, Sarah. She’s pretty relaxed about the whole college journey, and I don’t make a big deal about it.

Mom and Dad, you cannot freak out on your kids if you want them to focus on getting into college. There’s not much else left for them to do at this point beyond filling out applications and writing meaningful essays.

This is the really hard part of the journey. Remember to breathe, and think about the three C’s: Cool, Calm and Collected. Colleges want reflection, and most of our rising seniors have very little experience looking back and reflecting. At Wow, we break the process down for our students into simple, manageable steps so they can reflect and stay calm. You may not be able to do everything we do on your own, but you can at least try these three things to reduce stress and help your child feel confident:

1) Slow them down. Our students come to us all the time with story ideas. Wrong approach. The essay topic is secondary; the subject (your child) is most important. Before your teen begins writing anything, do what we do with our students. Before considering topics, we ask this question: “What do you want colleges to know about you that they wouldn’t otherwise find out from the rest of your application package?” Do you want them to know you are smart? Resilient? A self-starter? Funny?

You know your son or daughter better than anyone. Once your child has an answer to that question, it’s time to start exploring topics that illustrate what he wants colleges to know. Asking this question is one thing you can do to really make a difference.

2) Offer encouragement. Be a cheerleader rather than the coach on the field. When it comes time to start the writing process, encourage your child to express herself in her own voice, in her own words. We give our students writing activities that help them hear their own voices and feel good about their word choices; their final essays reflect that confidence. Be supportive, not critical.

3) Be realistic. We talk to admissions officers all the time, and we know what they are looking for. Sometimes well-meaning parents (just like you!) expect even more from an application essay than admissions officers do. Find out what colleges really want from an essay tonight at 8:00 p.m. ET during Wow’s first Parent Call-in Chat. It’s FREE. All you need to do is register and call in! I’ll be on the line for 30 minutes to answer questions and share tips so you can help your child with that essay without taking over.

We’ll be hosting parent chats all summer. Email me any time with questions you’d like answered during our parent calls. Let me know how Wow can help you navigate this journey so your child stands out and gets results!