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.

As 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:

deike-janKeep 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? Later this week, Wow Writing Workshop will launch a fabulous fall deal on our Gold access package to our online college essay program. We’d like you to get this $49 program for FREE right now! All you have to do is sign up before October 1.

The Gold package includes:

  • College Admissions Insights: Video series with guidelines for writing essays that stand out; live and recorded webinars; original articles on the college essay and other admissions-related topics.
  • ACT and SAT Tips and Tools: Sample ACT and SAT prompts; tip sheets for effective practice; recorded webinars; scoring rubric.
  • Scholarship Support: In-depth list of scholarships that require essays; reviews of top scholarship websites.
  • Wow’s free membership: The proven 10-step Wow Method; the Write Your Way Into College eBook guide; access to webinars, videos and timely articles about the college admissions process.

You can redeem free Gold membership at WowWritingWorkshop.com and sign up for a free membership. Before downloading the Ebook, upgrade to a Gold using the code FREEGOLD at checkout; the $49 fee will be waived.

And, if you’re going to NACAC in Indianapolis next week, come see us in Booth 1337. We’ll tell you more!

Is an “A” English Paper a College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

a-school-letter-gradeYear after year, students send us college application essays to review that were written for English class. Most of the essays earned A’s.

Unfortunately, we’ve never read an essay written for English class that was ready to submit to college.

One boy sent to us a beautifully written piece recounting many fabulous trips overseas, offering vivid descriptions of buildings and places and emphasizing how much this student loved traveling. The sentences flowed; the spelling was perfect; the essay had a beginning, middle and end. This boy knew how to write.

While this essay was excellent by high school standards, it lacked reflection and needed more focus to catch the attention of an admissions officer.

The application essay is not an English paper; it is an opportunity to show admissions officers who you are, that you will fit in, and that you can write well enough to succeed at their school. The admissions team that is responsible for making recommendations for next year’s class reads a lot of applications. So be careful: You don’t want to bore them or submit a piece that is simply uninspiring.

Forget about rubrics and grades. Ditch the five-paragraph essay format. Just write something genuine that is reflective, will make the person reading your essay smile and want to know more about you.

The student who wrote about his worldly travels for English class used our 10-step Wow Method and turned his broad story into a more insightful piece about a single night out in Spain when he realized how much culture and community mean to him. Getting there took time and reflection, which we encourage. It was all worth it when he landed a coveted spot at his first-choice college, one of the most competitive public institutions in the nation.

Think of that college essay you write in English class as a draft, just as the student in this blog did. He wrote it for his teacher – a person who already knew quite a bit about him. He later revised it for the admissions counselor. Don’t assume the college essay you give to your teacher is finished and will cut it for college.

Want to improve your chances of getting in? Sign up for FREE access to Wow, and then upgrade to our Platinum do-it-yourself virtual coaching program for $99. With Platinum, we’ll give you access to simple instructions with videos and writing exercises. Best news of all, we’ll teach you how to write it yourself – and give you a timeline to get it done in two weeks or less! We also offer private coaching and essay review services.

Yale University Admissions Director Shares Insight on College Essay

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

Margit Dahl, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University

Margit Dahl, Director of Undergraduate Admissions for Yale University, shared some great insight about the role of the college essay, and what she looks for, during last week’s Wow webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Applying to the College of Your Dreams.

Dahl’s comments were powerful, and echoed advice we give to our Wow students, parents, independent educational consultants and high school counselors and teachers. After you read her advice, sign up for FREE to learn from the national experts at Wow how to write a college application essay that stands out!

“[The essay] is not about what admissions officers are looking for,” Dahl said. “You are the best judge of what to write about. You are in the driver’s seat for this part of the application, and you should not relinquish that control!”

Like most schools that require students to write application essays, Yale wants students’ stories to be “reflective, personal, and written about something that matters to the student.”

She added, “The topic is not important. It’s how you deal with it that matters.”

Dahl cited an example about visiting your grandparents in another country. You should not spend an entire essay writing about what you did on that trip. Instead, Dahl said, write about WHY you love visiting your grandparents.

“What I hope to hear while reading essays is the student’s voice,” Dahl said. “Authenticity is critical. Be personal, and use the word I.”

Dahl sees many great essays on ordinary topics and awful, boring essays on extraordinary experiences.

Dahl, who has been working in admissions at Yale for nearly 40 years, keeps a file with essays she likes.The essays, she said, help her to connect with the students and feel their passion.

“I’ve been doing this so long, but I can still get tears in my eyes from a deeply personal, well-written essay,” she said.

Missed the webinar? Watch Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Applying to the College of Your Dreams and get tips about filing out the apps from Dahl and Universal College Application’s Head of Business Development Chris Warner when you sign up for a FREE Wow Writing Workshop membership. Join Wow today! Get our entire 10-step process, instructions to complete the essay on your own, with the $99 Platinum Membership package. Personal coaching and single essay reviews are also available to students throughout the world.

How to Write the “Why College X?” Application Essay

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

It’s never a good idea to write that you bleed maize and blue in your University of Michigan supplemental college essay.

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?

Tulane University: Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane.

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.”

(To hear more from Yale’s Dahl, register for our webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Applying to the College of Your Dreams, also featuring Universal College Application’s Chris Warner.)

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.

For more tips on mastering this and other college application essays, sign up for Wow Writing Workshop. You will receive Wow’s free eBook, Write Your Way Into College. Wow students get into their dream schools year after year. Find out more at www.wowwritingworkshop.com.

6 Tips to Help You Master the College Essay

By Kim Lifton
President, Wow Writing Workshop

Kim Bryant, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Michigan wants to hear the student’s voice in the college essay.

Good news for the graduating class of 2015! Several college applications that allow you to apply to multiple universities at once are already out; the largest, the Common App, goes live on Aug. 1.

Each of these applications requires at least one college essay. Many colleges require additional supplemental essays.

At Wow Writing Workshop, we talk to admissions professionals at top universities across the entire country, and we know what they are looking for. We’ve used our unique insight into the world of college admissions to create a variety of materials that take the stress and confusion out of the process of writing a college application essay.

During our interviews, most admissions professionals noted a few common mistakes that they see students make over and over again. Below are 6 important tips for writing your application essay.

  1. Listen to your voice. Be truthful, and write in your own voice. “This is your interview,” University of Michigan Assistant Director of Admission Kim Bryant told Wow. “Let me know who you really are. I like it when I can hear a student’s voice.”  What does yours sound like? To find out, do a little stretching with a warm-up exercise you can get by signing up for Wow Writing Workshop’s free resources.
  2. Decide what you want readers to know.  What do you want college admissions counselors to know about you that they won’t discover from your grades, resume and extracurricular activities? College admissions already know a lot about you, but they do not know whether you are a hard worker, a good listener, creative, decisive, determined, self-motivated or cautious. They do not know how you have changed or why you might be a good fit for their school. Make a list of what college admissions officers already know about you from your application, transcripts, recommendations, resume. Then, list the qualities you want to share. As Matt Price, Brown University’s Assistant Director of Admissions, explained: “We are looking for someone who gives us insight into who they are, not what they think we want to see.”
  3. Keep it positive. What message are you sending to colleges if you write about how much you dislike your father? If this story demonstrates something positive about you, then use it. But be careful. “There are very few absolutes when it comes to writing an admissions essay; one is to write about something positive,” said Brent Benner, director of enrollment management, University of Tampa.“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.”
  4. Brainstorm ideas. Don’t just dive in and write. Brainstorm alone, with a friend, parent, consultant, teacher or sibling. Just don’t let anyone else tell you what you should or shouldn’t write. Ultimately, the only idea that will work is the one you choose.
  5. Stay focused. If you want readers to know you are hard-working, describe a time when you worked hard. Focus on an important moment or a small piece of your experience, and then demonstrate why that moment matters. How did your experience change you or prepare you for college?  As Tamara Siler, senior associate director for admission, and minority recruitment coordinator, at Rice University in Houston, suggested, “Focus on a moment you feel has defined you as a person, and as a student.”
  6. Write it yourself. If you do not write your college application essay yourself, or if you get too much help, admissions people will know. They know what a high school senior’s voice sounds like. “You can get help, but in the end, it must be your voice, and a savvy admissions officer will know if it isn’t.” said James R. Fowler, Jr., assistant vice president of enrollment, Dean College.

For a more in-depth look at how to give admissions officers what they are looking for, download Wow Writing Workshop’s free eBook, Write Your Way Into College. Wow offers a variety of products and services that can help your college application essay stand out.

We can guide you through the essay writing process more quickly, with less stress, and toward an essay that will give you a better chance of getting into top choice schools.

Find out more at www.wowwritingworkshop.com.

Meet Wow’s Writing Coaches

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Wow is off to a busy college application essay season, and to meet the increasing demand for personal writing support, we’ve hired four fabulously talented writing coaches. They are ready to help college-bound high school students write their way into college!

Each team member is an expert at writing and teaching and must meet our high standards before working with any student. They are trained extensively in the Wow Method, which simplifies and streamlines the writing process in a way that calms students, puts parents at ease, and helps students stand out where it matters most—inside the admissions office. Year after year, our students get results and gain admission to their top choice schools, including the Ivies, prestigious liberal arts schools, and top state institutions.

We continually interview admissions representatives to stay current on the industry. Because we know what admissions officers are looking for, we are able to train our coaches to meet the specialized needs of the application essay using the Wow Method. We bring this insight into the admissions industry to all of our work with students. We also train high school counselors and independent educational consultants.

While each of our writing coaches brings a different style to Wow, we all follow the same proven process with each student who comes through our door.

Our Writing Coaching Team

Missy Borman
Head Writing Coach

Missy Borman loves a challenge, which makes her a perfect fit for the Wow team. Organized, focused, and process-driven, Missy works closely with Wow CEO Susan Knoppow and President Kim Lifton to develop all of Wow’s writing coach and other training programs. Missy teaches staff and independent educational consultants how to use the Wow Method with students, and she supervises our team of skilled coaches. Before joining Wow, Missy was a K-12 English teacher who also worked extensively with community outreach youth programs. She received a BA in English and an MA in Education. She is an avid movie buff and sports fan; Missy watches Sports Center every day and charts team statistics with her two young sons. She is married to Alan, an advertising industry web producer.

Joe Kane
Writing Coach

Joe Kane wrote his first poem at his childhood home overlooking Lake Huron, where he also spent many days at the beach playing volleyball. He loves to write—and teach! A poet and copy editor, Joe has been teaching college and high school writing for nearly a decade. He comes to Wow after working as a writer-in-residence for the nationally recognized Inside Out Literary Arts Project, where he used the Wow Method to teach Detroit Public Schools students how to write college application and scholarship essays. He holds a BA in English and an MA in creative writing, and his poems and stories have been published in a variety of magazines.

Norene Cashen
Writing Coach

A veteran writing teacher and poet, Norene Cashen is a writer-in-residence with Inside Out Literary Arts Project and Wow’s newest team member. Before joining Wow, Norene coordinated Citywide Poets, Detroit’s youth poetry slam team, which earned the prestigious Coming Up Taller award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Norene, also a former music journalist, holds a BA in English. She is the author of a poetry collection, The Reverse Is Also True, which was released by Doorjamb Press in 2007.

Get a Jump on the Application Process

Summer is the perfect time to get a jump on the application process! If you would like a writing coach to supplement the online writing program, it’s best to sign up now before the end-of-summer rush. The more you get done now, the easier time you’ll have meeting college deadlines this fall! Remember, good grades and test scores are not enough to stand out. Wow them with your college application essay.

6 College Essay Tips to Help You Find the Perfect Idea

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

brainstorm1Before you decide what to write about in your college application essay, first consider two things: 1) What does the prompt mean? and 2) What do you want colleges to know about you beyond grades, test scores and extracurricular activities? Once you have answers to those two questions, you’re ready to brainstorm ideas! Here are some great brainstorming tips from our FREE eBook, Write Your Way Into College.

(To get your copy, join WowWritingWorkshop.com!)

  1. Talk to yourself. Your story is inside your head, waiting to come out. Start by asking yourself a series of questions to get those ideas flowing. What did you learn while fishing with your grandpa? Describe your study plan for final exams. What is your favorite subject? Follow up every question with WHY?
  2. Keep a journal. Journaling is like talking to yourself on paper. Think of your journal entries as though they were quick snapshots from your cell phone. Their purpose is to jog your memory and remind you of an experience, not to capture it in spectacular detail.
  3. Focus on YOU! Whether you write about shopping for sneakers with your little brother or building houses for disadvantaged residents of rural Arkansas, the topic is secondary. You are the subject of your essay. Choose a topic that will allow you to share something genuine about yourself.
  4. Start with a cliché. When in doubt, go for the obvious. It’s okay to start brainstorming with a cliché, like I play to win or I give 110%. Think of examples that exemplify that characteristic. Jot down notes. Talk it through with a friend, parent, coach or counselor. You never know where or when the story will emerge. Be patient. Trust yourself.
  5. Don’t let anyone tell you what to write. To be genuine, your essay has to start with an original idea – not an idea from a blog or a book, not your mom’s idea, not something your tutor thinks you should write. Admissions officers want to know what you think about yourself, what you learned, how you got to be the person you are.
  6. Get FREE tips. Join WowWritingWorkshop.com and get the eBook, Write Your Way Into College for free. Lots of companies will tell you WHAT to do. Wow can show you HOW. Make your ideas sizzle so your application can make it to the top of the pile. Our students get into their top choice schools. You can too!

 

6 Super Summer Strategies for Rising Seniors

By Julie Tschirhart
Marketing Associate

summer1Summer before senior year can be stressful for rising seniors who have college on the brain. To help you stay calm, and get the job done, we’ve put together some tips taken from last month’s webinar: Super Summer Strategies.

The webinar featured two national college admissions experts, Patrick O’Connor, Associate Dean of College Counseling at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, and Rebecca Joseph, professor of education at California State University, Los Angeles, and founder of the All College Application Essays app. Susan Knoppow, Wow Writing Workshop CEO, moderated the panel and provided insight into the college essay.

Here are 6 Tips:

  1. Be yourself. Embrace who you are and pick activities that make sense. Don’t spend too much time worrying about how you are going to appear to colleges. It’s really important to be genuine in your choices for summer.
  2. Be easy on the pocketbook. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars for a leadership program or summer service trip to bolster your college application. Do something that reflects an authentic interest. Consider a summer job or producing a film with friends. And have fun! Make sure to recharge your batteries by going to the beach, and hanging out with friends.
  3. Reflect. Summer is a great time to start digging deep and reflecting on who you are. That will help you begin the process for writing your college application essays. WowWritingWorkshop.com can teach you how to stand out inside the admissions office with a stellar story about yourself.
  4. Research colleges. Do your homework, and identify the qualities you are looking for in a college; do you want big or small, rural or urban, private or public? What programs interest you? Do you like sports? Summer is quiet on college campuses, and is a great time to visit or reach out to the admissions office with questions.
  5. Begin your college essays. You don’t have to know just yet what the topic of your essay will be, but you should start thinking about what you want colleges to know about you that they wouldn’t otherwise know from your application package. Are you a hard worker? Are you passionate about something? What are your best qualities? What have you learned? Why does it matter?
  6. Get your FREE Wow membership. Wow Writing Workshop is the leading authority on writing for college admissions. A FREE membership will get you get started on writing your application essay that stands out, and gets you the results you desire.

Graduating from College with Minimal Debt

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Wow marketing associate Julie Tschirhart (center) with friends at her college graduation.

As we gear up for our June 5 webinar, Paying for College Without Going Broke, we wanted to share an inspirational story about our marketing associate, Julie Tschirhart, who graduated from a prestigious east coast liberal arts college in 2011 with relatively low debt.

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. “I graduated with student loan debt totaling less than 10% of the cost of attendance.”

“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 24-hour 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.”

Find out more by registering for Wow’s June 5 webinar, Get Ready! Get Set! Get In! Paying for College Without Going Broke. Our guests 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 will help untangle the complexities of financial aid, share scholarship opportunities, and suggest ways for parents and students to discuss these issues honestly at home.

9 Tips to Master ACT/SAT Writing Tests

By Kim Lifton
President
Wow Writing Workshop

Are you registered for the June 7 SAT, or the June 14 ACT? In either case, you should brush up on your essay writing skills before the test. Time management and focused practice can make or break the writing score.

The SAT writing test is 25 minutes; the ACT is 30 minutes. For both tests, students 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 to the prompt.

It’s More Than a Writing Test!

The SAT/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, and write on every line. You will have space to write notes and organize your thoughts.

9 Tips to help you master the SAT/ACT writing tests:

  1. Know your audience: You will have two readers grading your 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. The structure “While many believe X, some say Y” is perfectly acceptable.
  3. Introduction: Use a nice opening (e.g., a quote, anecdote or statement).  Remember you need a thesis – it should be the last sentence of your introduction. The thesis should support your position. There is no right or wrong response. It doesn’t matter which perspective you choose, as long as you can support your position.
  4. Body: Use specific examples, and introduce one example at a time. Start a new paragraph for each new example. Don’t forget to include your counter-argument.
  5. Focus: Your points should be distinct. There should be a reason for every word on the page. Don’t repeat yourself.
  6. State your views: There is no need to say, “I think,” “I believe,” “In my opinion,” etc. Just make your point. Your reader knows that your essay is written from your point of view. This is not to say you can’t include personal anecdotes. First person is acceptable; just don’t waste time or space with unnecessary statements. Make every word count.
  7. Keep it simple: This is not the place for grammatical experimentation. If you know how to use a semicolon, then go for it. If you’re not sure, don’t try it here.
  8. Conclusion: Restate your thesis. Summarize your main points. You can wrap up with something clever or insightful, but don’t add new evidence.
  9. Plan: Remember to plan your essay, and leave time to proofread. When you’re done, your essay should sound like a coherent, concise, clear first draft.

Wow Writing Workshop offers online and in-person services to teach high school students how to write college, ACT, SAT and scholarship essays that stand out. Read Kim’s blogs and get writing tips by signing up for Wow’s newsletter. Wow is on Facebook and Twitter. Check Wow’s calendar for webinars, writing test and online college essay course information.