Curious About College?

College CuriousAre you a high school freshman, sophomore or junior? It’s time to start planning for college!

“Break it down, step-by-step and year-by-year. You do not need to face the whole huge path at once,” says Ralph Figueroa, Dean of College Guidance at Albuquerque Academy in New Mexico. “As stressful as this is, and as overwhelming as it seems, this process is manageable.”

Figueroa, a former member of the Common Application Board of Advisors, was one of Wow’s featured guests in the webinar: Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Starting Your Journey.

An industry insider, he understands the process from every possible angle; as Associate Dean of Admission at Wesleyan University, Figueroa was the central figure in the New York Times bestseller, The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.

His friend, Marie Bigham, Director of College Guidance at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas, joined Figueroa on the webinar. A board member for the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the Association of Counselors in Independent Schools, Bigham also worked inside the admissions office as an Associate Director of Admissions at Washington University in St. Louis.

“It is not that hard to get into college,” Bigham says.

Join Wow for FREE to find out what Bigham means by that, and get specific tips and advice on what to do in Grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 so you can stay calm and focused on the path to college.


Are you taking the SAT or ACT any time soon? Get Wow’s best ACT and SAT prep tools FREE, and score more points.‎ Even if you’re signed up for the best prep course in the U.S., have the finest English teacher or an amazing tutor, you are not as prepared as you think for the writing tests.

Students just like you make the same writing mistakes year after year! We know what they are, and how to practice so you’ll SCORE MORE POINTS.

We usually charge for our best ACT and SAT resources. But for a limited time, we’ll give them to you FREE!

Raise Your ACT/SAT Scores!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

ACTStudents, it’s test season; are you ready for the ACT and SAT writing tests?

Each year, we get calls from students who want to improve their scores; many complain they got 8’s on the writing test. That means two graders most likely gave a score of 4 out of 6, or a low B.

While this is a commendable score – an above average grade for writing under pressure – many of you are wondering how you can improve. And if you have not yet taken the test, you may wonder how you can get a high score the first time around.

First, look at the ACT Scoring Guidelines and the SAT Scoring Guidelines, and pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses. Then practice. Read the news. Talk to people. You’re a teen, so be a teen and argue with someone. Just make sure you argue something real, and be convincing.

These are thinking tests, and you will be asked to share your opinion on some current issue. You can draw examples from anything you’ve seen, read or thought.

The best essays take a position on an issue and offer critical context for discussion. Strong student writers fully respond to counterarguments, and they use proper grammar, vary their sentences and spell words correctly.

But don’t stress out. You might bring up your score a point or two if you practice timed writing with ACT and SAT essay prompts, and pay attention to detail.

At Wow, we help students like you avoid common mistakes with our writing test prep and tips; we see many common mistakes when we grade practice tests. We can help you raise your ACT or SAT score by avoiding these mistakes!


Are you taking the SAT or ACT any time soon? Get Wow’s best ACT and SAT prep tools FREE, and score more points.‎ Even if you’re signed up for the best prep course in the U.S., have the finest English teacher or an amazing tutor, you are not as prepared as you think for the writing tests.

Students just like you make the same writing mistakes year after year! We know what they are, and how to practice so you’ll SCORE MORE POINTS.

We usually charge for our best ACT and SAT resources. But for a limited time, we’ll give them to you FREE!

4 Tips to Master the SAT/ACT Writing Test

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

SATAre you registered for the upcoming SAT (March 14) or ACT (April 18)? In either case, you should brush up on your essay writing skills before you take either test. Time management and focused practice can make or break your writing score.

The SAT writing test is 25 minutes; the ACT is 30 minutes. For both tests, you will be asked to answer a prompt with an opinion you can support. Regardless of your personal experience or your viewpoint, you will be able to respond.

More Than a Writing Test!

The SAT and ACT essays are not just writing tests; they are thinking tests, designed to evaluate how quickly you can organize your thoughts and get a first draft down on paper. While you need to follow the rules of written English, the real challenge comes in using your time wisely and expressing your thoughts clearly.

Be clear, concise and direct. Write legibly, on every line. You will have space to make notes and organize your thoughts.

Secrets to Mastering the SAT and ACT Writing Tests:

  1. Know your audience: Two readers will grade your SAT or ACT writing test essay, each on a scale of 1 – 6. You do not need to restate the prompt. Your audience has the prompt in front of them.
  2. Outline: Create a high-level outline for your essay. Write topic sentences and list examples. These are notes only. One of your points should be a counter-argument.
  3. Make sure you have a clear introduction: Use a nice opening (e.g., a quote, anecdote or statement). Remember, you need a thesis to support your position. It doesn’t matter which perspective you choose.
  4. Use body paragraphs: Use specific examples, and introduce one example at a time. Start a new paragraph for each new example.

Want to know how to write a fabulous counter-argument, and wrap up your essay with a conclusion that will help you score more points?


Wow isn’t just the national expert on the college admissions essay; we also have inside information on all aspects of the college admissions process.

Our interactive ACT and SAT writing webinars are yours when you sign up for Wow Silver. You’ll get all the writing prep and timed writing practice you need.

You’ll also get scoring rubrics and tips for both tests, plus an option to have Wow professionals score your SAT or ACT writing tests! If you are already a member of, you can upgrade to Silver here.

You’ve Been Deferred. Now What?

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

You’ve been deferred from your top college choice. Now what?

Rest assured, you are not alone. And there’s good news: you are qualified, and your application will be re-evaluated for regular decision.

Is there anything you can do while you are waiting? Should you send more information? Write a new essay? Call the admissions office?

To help answer these questions, we polled a few of our favorite admissions officers and college counselors to give you the most accurate information on this subject.

When you are deferred, you may be asked to submit mid-year grades. In most cases, you are allowed to share new information, such as additional leadership positions and standardized test results, an updated resume, a new letter of recommendation, and updates on honors and awards.

Some schools, like Cornell and Johns Hopkins, allow for additional written personal statements that support your interest. But some colleges do not want to hear from deferred students. Do your homework to find out. Start by looking at the school website. If you don’t know, or cannot find out, talk to your high school counselor.

Keep in mind, while every college and university is different, most will allow you to submit a deferral letter. To give yourself an advantage, check out Wow’s Deferral Letter/Consulting Package. Our experts can help you gather the right content and write a compelling letter that gives you the best chance of standing out, and hearing YES from your favorite school!

Here’s a sampling of what the college experts had to say:

Cornell University DeferredShawn Felton

Cornell University
Director of Undergraduate Admissions
Ithaca, NY

“I usually encourage deferred students to craft an email that lets the committee know of continued interest – I call it checking in. It should not begin as a dirge. Avoid: ‘I am deeply disappointed that I was not offered admission during Early Decision…’ Felton suggests students stay positive in their deferral letters, and share why they want to be a part of the Cornell community.

Kim Bryant DeferredKimberly Bryant
University of Michigan
Assistant Director of Admissions
Ann Arbor, MI

“Send your most recent grades,” and contact your admissions counselor to let him/her know you still have a desire to attend the University of Michigan.


Marie Bigham DeferredMarie Bigham
National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), Board Member
Director of College Counseling, Greenhill School
Addison, TX

“Recognize that this year, it seems like the deferrals are more of an indictment of the bloated process rather than decisions about individual students.”

Bigham suggests:

  • Stay in contact with the college(s) that deferred you. Let them know what’s new and why you should be admitted.
  • If a college is your first choice and you know for sure that you would attend, tell the representative that!
  • Ask the school rep if visiting (perhaps again) will help.
  • Don’t overdo it and be a pest.

Jenny Umhofer DeferredJenny Umhofer
Colledge, College Admissions Counseling, Founder
Former Assistant Director of Admissions, CalTech
Pasadena, CA

“The single most important first step a student should take when they have been deferred and would still like to be considered is to contact the college directly as soon as possible.”

Umhofer advises students to:

  • Call rather than email, and ask to speak to the admissions officer who is assigned to their territory or region.
  • Be gracious and be prepared with questions when the admissions officer picks up the phone.
  • Ask about the deferral process. Find out what new information they might like.
  • You can also ask for feedback on the college’s decision to defer YOU, and ask why they made that decision. They may be more forthcoming than you might expect.

Patrick O'Connor DeferredPatrick O’Connor
Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School
Associate Dean, College Counseling
Bloomfield Hills, MI

“Make sure to keep your current grades up.  Colleges will often call counselors to get updates on the current grades of deferred students – and since those calls can come as late as March, this is no time to let senioritis take over.”

Do you want to increase your chances of getting off the deferral list and into the school of your dreams? Click here to work with a Wow writing coach on a deferral letter that can help you stand out and get in.

Don’t Go Broke Paying for College

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

Paying for CollegeThe cost of college is on just about everyone’s mind – including President Obama’s. During last week’s State of the Union address, the President highlighted a new, ambitious plan to make college more affordable with free community college tuition for some, as well as a tax code overhaul to help those who qualify receive tax credits for college.

Whether any such plan will become a reality is uncertain, but there are some things you can do in the meantime to make sure you get the best college aid package and graduate with the least amount of debt possible.

Wow’s Marketing Associate, Julie Tschirhart, has great tips for paying for college without going broke. In 2011, Julie graduated from Middlebury College, a prestigious east coast liberal arts college, with student loan debt totaling less than 10% of the cost of attendance.

How did she do it? Julie got stellar grades, researched schools, learned how to navigate the complex maze of financial aid, and weighed several offers before saying yes to Middlebury College.

Julie was admitted to several other small liberal arts colleges, including Kalamazoo College, Knox, Denison and Wesleyan, but none matched her total aid package from Middlebury – nearly $160,000 toward a $200,000 retail price!

“At a school costing $50,000 a year before books, travel, and other costs, my family could not afford to pay even close to full tuition.” Julie said.

“In my junior year, I started visiting colleges and learned about need-based and need-blind financial aid,” Julie said. “I didn’t realize some schools had large endowments with lots of money to give. I have friends who have a ton of debt because they didn’t know what their options were.”

Here are some of Julie’s best tips:

  1. Make the most of high school: Julie graduated with over a 4.0 and scored a 33 on her ACT. She also participated in National Honor Society, sang in the choir, and had a part-time job.
  2. Do your homework: Find out which colleges have the most money to give away. Then make a list of schools based on what you think you can afford.
  3. Fill out the forms correctly: FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal aid. Your CSS Profile collects detailed information to determine qualification for non-federal aid. Understand the difference between need-based financial aid, which relies on the demonstrated need of your family, and need-blind admissions, which means the admitting institution does not consider the applicant’s financial situation when making admissions decisions.
  4. Set realistic expectations: Julie’s package from Middlebury was generous, but the costs associated with it were still expensive for her family. “I worked a part-time job during college,” Julie said. “And I took long train and bus rides for the 800-mile journey home during breaks. I tried not to eat out too much; instead I stuck to the school’s unlimited meal plan. I also bought used textbooks online. These choices weren’t always glamorous, but it was a small price to pay for being able to receive such an incredible education.”
  5. Ask for help: Julie got a lot of extra guidance from the Horizons Upward Bound program she participated in throughout high school. “We went on college campus tours and learned about financial aid,” she said. “Make sure you take advantage of your high school counselor’s expertise, or find supportive college counseling elsewhere throughout the process.”

Wow Writing Workshop members, check out our financial aid webinar, Paying for College Without Going Broke, featuring Jennifer Ramsey Wallace, a leading expert on financial aid programs with the Michigan Department of Treasury, and Dean Tsouvalas, creator of the free scholarship information app ScholarshipAdvisor. If you’re not already a member sign up free today for access to this and other great resources.

Early Admissions Decisions Are Out. Don’t Believe Everything You Hear!

By Kim Lifton
Early admissionsPresident
Wow Writing Workshop

Early admissions offers are out, which means the season for rumors is in full swing. Whether you’ve been deferred, or outright rejected, you might be better off ignoring the rumors about why. Here are a few tall tales floating around among the country’s high school seniors (and their parents.)

  • The kid with a 4.0 and 34 ACT score didn’t get admitted to the top school in her state. Everyone knows they don’t like our school.
  • If you get deferred, you won’t get in.
  • It is harder to get into the University of Florida than Harvard.
  • Colleges only want well-rounded students.
  • Only the leaders get into the good schools.

Just because you are qualified does not guarantee admission to any school on your dream list. And a deferral to the regular pool of applicants does not mean you won’t get in. Don’t believe everything you hear!

What do you really know about that kid who says she has a 4.0 and 34 ACT and got rejected from your state’s top public university? You might not really know her GPA; she might have exaggerated. Did you see her ACT score, or did someone share the information with you?

Colleges want a well-rounded student body, not well-rounded students. They want leaders and followers. Colleges and universities do not discriminate against certain high schools. It is possible that a student with a high GPA and test score was caught drinking a beer by police, got suspended or simply turned the application in after the deadline.

Marty O’Connell, the executive director for Colleges That Change Lives, offers great perspective on the rumor mill. “Things are not always as they appear,” she said during a speaking engagement at Michigan State University. If she listened to every rumor, O’Connell might believe “no one is getting into college. It’s just not true.”

Want more insight about admissions? Watch this video clip from Kimberly Bryant, Assistant Director of Admissions at the University of Michigan. If you’re not already a member of, sign up now, and get more useful tips about the college essay, scholarships and the college admissions process.

Will Your College Essay Stand Out? Hit the Mark with a Professional Review!

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

Essay ReviewWow’s writing coaches have been super busy the past few weeks reviewing essays submitted by students who are looking for a final stamp of approval.

Our advice, based on what we’ve seen? Be careful before you send your essay to the school of your dreams!

We see too many essays written by students who suggest they’ve changed and learned something meaningful, yet fail to show readers how that has happened or why it matters. We’ve also read many well-written essays that would make great English papers; they are descriptive and full of beautifully sketched scenes. But they lack real reflection, and they don’t stand out.

The good news: We give our students thorough reviews with specific instructions to make their stories shine. Our suggestions are not difficult, but they can make a big difference inside the admissions office – where it counts most. Our students have been making the changes we recommend, and their essays are gorgeous.

You’ve worked hard in high school. You deserve to get noticed. So don’t click send. Not yet. Get the Wow advantage with a professional review that will give you peace of mind – and let you know if you’ve hit the mark. It’s just $149. Sign up now for an essay review that can give you the best chance of standing out!

6 Secrets to Filling Out the FAFSA (and Mistakes to Avoid!)

Dean Tsouvalas, Editor-in-Chief of, participated in a lively webinar with Wow Writing Workshop, where he shared his insights into the world of financial aid. Read his guest blog below. If you are already a member of, you can check out the recording here. Not a member yet? Join free today!

By Dean Tsouvalas, Editor-in-Chief

FAFSANow that the majority of college and university application deadlines have passed, it’s time to start applying for financial aid to help fund higher education. Filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the only way one can get a financial aid package.

Even if you don’t think you are qualified, you must fill out the FAFSA to receive aid. Follow these simple tips to avoid some of the most common FAFSA mistakes and get the best financial aid package for college:

1. Fill out the FAFSA even if you don’t think you will qualify.

We found it shocking that one study showed that 53% of eligible families did not bother applying for aid through the FAFSA, leaving millions on the table. Colleges use the FAFSA to determine your eligibility for government funded financial aid such as grants and federal student loans. Schools will also determine if you qualify for need-based scholarships based on your FAFSA score. You can do it all online at

2. Before you hit the send button, take time and proofread the FAFSA three times to avoid these common mistakes:

  • Listing incorrect Social Security Number or Driver’s license numbers.
  • Leaving blank fields. Enter a ‘0′ or ‘not applicable’ instead of leaving a blank. Too many blanks may cause miscalculations and an application rejection.
  • Using commas or decimal points in numeric fields. Always round to the nearest dollar.
  • Listing marital status incorrectly. Only write yes if you are currently married. They want to know what your marital status is on the day you sign the FAFSA or Renewal FAFSA.
  • Listing parent marital status incorrectly. The custodial parent’s marital status is required; if Mom or Dad has remarried, you’ll need the stepparent’s information too.
  • Leaving the question about drug-related offenses blank. If you’re unsure about something, find out before you submit your FAFSA, instead of leaving it blank. A conviction doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from getting aid.
  • Forgetting to list the college. Obtain the Federal School Code for the college you plan on attending and list it, along with any other schools to which you’ve applied.
  • Forgetting to sign and date. If you’re filling out the paper FAFSA, be sure to sign it. If you’re filing electronically, be sure to obtain your Federal Student Aid PIN from Your PIN is your electronic signature and a unique one will be assigned to you.

3. A student should always file a tax return, even if he or she is not making any money.

A tax return that says $0 can actually work in a student’s favor, as it demonstrates a need.

4. Grades have little to do with financial aid awards.

It is inaccurate to assume a child must have good grades to qualify for grants and scholarships. Most colleges award a majority of their grants based on financial need, not merit. Merit scholarships comprise less than 2% of the total pot. Although it’s fun to talk about merit scholarships, the big money – more than 98% – is in the need-based financial aid system.

5. Don’t wait on acceptance letters before applying for financial aid.

Financial aid is available on a first come, first served basis. You don’t need to be accepted to a college before you can submit your FAFSA; you only need to list which schools you have applied to. Typically, for first year students, colleges mail their financial aid reward statuses to students a few months after the application deadline to accepted students.

6. Compare financial aid packages from different schools carefully.

Do not be afraid to read between the lines on financial aid reward letters. It’s not uncommon for expensive private colleges to offer better financial aid packages than state schools. Examine the gap (if there is one) between the financial aid package and the cost of attendance for each school to see how well the package meets your need. Break down how much money is coming from grants, federal loans, scholarships, and work-study. Grants and scholarships don’t have to be paid back. Work-study money must be earned through part time employment during the school year and students must pay taxes on it. Loans need to be paid back and different families can take on different amounts of debt. Remember – federal loans are less expensive and have more benefits than private loans.


You must fill out a FAFSA every year you are in school, but if you apply online, you can re-use your Federal Student Aid PIN each year you apply for federal financial aid.

Make sure you fill out the FAFSA every year for every child you have in college, starting in January of their senior year in high school to ensure you have a chance at receiving the most financial aid possible.

Want more tips on how to pay for college? Join Wow Writing Workshop and watch our exclusive webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Paying for College Without Going Broke, featuring guest blogger Dean Tsouvalas, Editor-in-Chief of, and Jennifer Ramsey Wallace, Outreach Manager for Financial Aid Programs for the State of Michigan.

Stay Calm and Plan for College

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Take All the AP Classes

Think you need to take every AP class possible to get into college? Not so fast.

As high school seniors put finishing touches on college applications, the rest of you – freshmen, sophomores and juniors – might be thinking about your own journey beyond high school. Keep calm. There is a college for each of you.

Many four-year colleges like honors, advanced and AP classes – if you can do well in them. And many of them also like regular classes too – as long as they are challenging enough for you.

If you like Spanish and want to try French, go ahead and give it a try. If you have always enjoyed running, you might want to join the cross country or track team. If you like to build things, consider the school’s robotics team – or simply make something on your own in your garage or basement.

Be Careful! Leave Time for Fun

Just be careful! You don’t want to overdo it in the name of the college resume. It is important to have fun during high school.

So stay true to yourself. Try new things, but don’t spend your high school years in a club that does not interest you, and please do not keep taking AP or honors classes that are too hard for you and prevent you from taking in a movie on a weekend with friends.

At Wow, we interview admissions professionals to keep up with the trends, and we know this much is true: colleges like students who get good grades and take challenging classes. They also want to know who you are beyond your grades and test scores. For most colleges, you will get an opportunity to tell them who you are with a meaningful application essay.

Get Info From Reputable Sources

Before you think about essays, or where to apply to college, do your homework. There is a lot of good, free information out there, but you will also find a lot of bad information.

Pay attention, and make sure you get what you need from reputable sources. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling is a great resource for parents and students. Check out this NACAC guide on getting starting with the college process.

Wow is the leading authority on the college application essay. We get our information direct from the admissions offices, and we developed a program that teaches you how to write your essay so admissions officers will notice!


5 Editing Tips to Perfect Your College Application Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

editing tipsThink 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 and retype it so you can really see your work. You will be more likely to notice redundancies, passive voice and unnecessary words.
  1. 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.
  1. Cut helping verbs and replace them with shorter, active descriptions. Example: Replace “is going to be attending” with “will attend.”
  1. Delete “to be” verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
  1. 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.

Need feedback? Send us your application essay for a professional review! More than 95% of students who think they are finished end up revising and improving their essays after getting feedback from a Wow coach! The majority of our students get into their top-choice colleges. You deserve to get noticed, and get in. Let Wow help you today!