Is an “A” English Paper a College Essay?

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

English paper not a college essayYear 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.

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

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

It’s important to keep in mind that 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, and that will make the person reading your essay smile and want to know more about you.

Danny 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 Danny 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.

Learn how to stand out from the national experts on the college essay!

Get the same insight and instruction as Danny so you can stand out and get in! From now through April 30, Wow is giving away a FREE professional review to every student who signs up for our $149 Do-it-Yourself Platinum. You’ll get short videos, written guidelines and simple writing exercises so you can get that essay done on your own schedule. Here’s a demo to show you how it works.

Purchase Do-it-Yourself Platinum, and the coach’s comprehensive review, which usually costs $169, is FREE when you are done with your essay! You’ll save more than 50%. But you have to act soon! This offer expires April 30. (Don’t worry. You don’t have to write your essay just yet. Sign up now, and work on it later! You have until September 1 to send us your essay.)

3 Things Juniors Must Know About Getting into College

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College questionsHigh school juniors, as you begin your college searches in earnest this spring, it’s important to know what to expect along the journey. Here are answers to the Top 3 questions Wow gets from students and parents about the college application process:

1) How do admission counselors rank the different application elements, like GPA, test scores, essay, and recommendations?

No matter what we read, or which expert we ask, the answer is always the same: High school grades are the No. 1 factor in any admission decision.

Colleges look first at college prep course grades, then strength of curriculum, test scores and college application essays. The National Association for College Admission Counseling surveys its member colleges each year; they found that colleges do not choose students based solely on highest grades and test scores. Rather, they use many other factors to add depth to the numbers so they can build a diverse class that fits a college’s mission.

Smaller colleges and the more selective institutions are more holistic in their admissions approach. In a holistic admissions process, the essay helps colleges:

  • Determine whether you will fit in
  • Know if you can write
  • Get a glimpse into who you are beyond your grades, test scores and activities.

As college becomes increasingly competitive, the essay becomes more and more important. It will not save you if you are not qualified academically for a college, but if you are qualified, and there are just a few select spots at your chosen school, the essay can push you to the top of the pile.

Think of every essay question, mandatory or optional, as an opportunity to stand out!

2) What are some of the cornerstones of a good application essay?

A good college essay can help you get in, and a bad one can sometimes keep you from being noticed. That’s why it’s important to do it well. A good college application essay will always answer this question, no matter what the prompt: “What do I want this college to know about me beyond my grades, test scores and extracurricular activities?”

To stand out, college essays must:

  • Feature YOU as the subject; the topic is secondary.
  • Feature meaningful stories that are focused, not broad.
  • Focus on what you learned from your experiences, not on what you accomplished.
  • Sound like you – a smart high school student who is ready for college!

3) Who can help me write my application essay?

Writing is not a group activity, and you should always write your college application essays on your own. You can get guidance, but make sure you seek out the right kind of help. There is a fine line between getting assistance and having someone write an essay for you. Calvin Wise, Johns Hopkins University Senior Associate Director of Admissions (and every admissions officer we’ve ever asked) says he can always tell when essays are over-edited or written by someone else.

“They don’t shine through the process as well because we’re not hearing their voice,” Wise said. “The essay is a student’s opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office, and we want to hear a 17-year-old’s voice.

Many colleges that require essays will scrutinize those that they believe have been forged, borrowed, heavily edited or influenced by someone other than the applicant. Some colleges have instituted their own verification processes, while others have contracted with businesses that double check essays for plagiarism. You may be denied admission if this is suspected, and you may never know the reason.

Do you want to stand out?

Reserve Your FREE Spot with a Wow Coach: Limited-time Offer

Wow students get into their top choice colleges! You should too.

We want to give you every opportunity to get in, so for a limited time, we’re giving away a FREE professional review to every student who signs up for our $149 Do-it-Yourself Platinum

You’ll get short videos, written guidelines and simple writing exercises so you can get that essay done on your own schedule.

Purchase Do-it-Yourself Platinum, and the coach’s comprehensive review, which usually costs $169, is FREE when you are done with your essay! You’ll save more than 50%. But you have to act soon! This offer expires April 30. (You have until August to send us your essay.)

Don’t worry. You don’t have to write your essay just yet. Sign up now, and work on it later! This offer is too good to pass up.

Does Anyone Really Read College Application Essays?

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Juniors, by now you should be thinking a lot about college. What schools sound interesting to you? Do you have any campus visits scheduled during spring break?

Whether you are busy with a spring sport, school play or selecting your classes for senior year, don’t forget to carve out some time to get ready for your first-choice college. Consider the things that are important to you, and explore what you’ve done beyond going to school, taking the SAT or ACT, or both, and participating in extracurricular activities.

College application essay

Will your essay stand out from the pile?

Before you know it, you’ll be writing a college essay – or four! And, if you want to stand out in the piles and piles of applications inside the admissions office, you’ll need to find a way to incorporate something you’ve learned during the past few years into a meaningful and personal statement.

Because we are national experts on the application essay, students, parents, and educational professionals come to us for help. As you can imagine, we get peppered with questions on the subject.

This is one of the most common questions we get: Does anyone really read the college application essay?

Of course admissions officers read the essays!

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

Admissions professionals want to read your story, the one you feel it’s important to share with them. It’s your story. Your voice. Your words. What they don’t want is to read a story you think they want to hear; they want to read a story about YOU that you want them to know!

Every essay is an opportunity!

At the September 2014 National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference in Indianapolis, we polled about two dozen admission representative to find out if they really read the essays. The collective answer: yes!

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

In addition to Hoffman, we have interviewed dozens of admission officers from around the country. Watch the video interviews here. If you are not already a member, get FREE access to our video library by signing up for Wow today.

FREE Writing Resources: What Does a Top STEM School Want to Read in the College Application Essay?

Sign up for Wow FREE, and stay in the loop! You’ll find out what University of Miami College of Engineering Director of Admission David Poole wants to read in a college essay, plus get video tips from many other top admissions experts.

Get College Information Direct from the Source

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

National college fairsHigh school juniors, it’s important to get information direct from the source, especially when you are applying to college.

The National College Fairs, which take place throughout the U.S. in the spring and fall, are great venues to start your college research and find out exactly what you need to know to find the right college for you!

Check the schedule to find a fair closest to you. If you live in Michigan, come hear Wow speak, and find out how to sign up for free information to help you write your way into college.

As one of the leading national experts on the college application essay, we speak throughout the U.S. at schools and conferences, and we also train professionals who work with students on their college essays.

We are pleased to be returning to the Metro Detroit (March 30 and 31) and West Michigan (April 1) National College Fairs to talk about why you need to write an essay, what admissions officers want to know about you, and to how you can best reflect on life experiences that matter so you can stand out in the crowded field of applicants!

Will the college essay help you? Can it hurt you?

Come to a session to find out. If you live outside of Michigan, or cannot make it to one of our presentations, you can find everything you need to know about writing a college essay that stands out by signing up for Wow’s FREE tips, webinars and video interviews.

Here are the dates and times Wow will be speaking:

Metro Detroit:

  • Monday, March 30, 7:30 p.m., Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi
  • Tuesday, March 31, 11 a.m., Suburban Collection Showplace, Novi

West Michigan:

  • Wednesday, April 1, 8:45 a.m., DeVos Place, Grand Rapids
  • Wednesday, April 1, 5:45 p.m., DeVos Place, Grand Rapids

Kim Bryant, College Admissions OfficerFREE Writing Resources: What Does U-M Want to Read in College Essay?

Sign up for Wow FREE, and stay in the loop! You’ll find out what University of Michigan Assistant Director of Admissions Kim Bryant wants to read in a college essay, plus get video tips from many other top admissions experts.

Score More Points on the SAT/ACT!

Our friends at provide valuable FREE resources for college-bound students. This guest blog is a few years old but still relevant; it will help you learn how to map out critical reading passages on the upcoming SAT (and ACT too!)

How to Tackle the SAT Critical Reading Section

By Rory Hatfield

When I went grocery shopping. I didn’t know quite what I needed; all I knew was that I ran out of food and needed to buy some. So, I drove to the supermarket, picked out a cart, and went shopping without a list, a budget or any specific guidance. Despite my best efforts at buying nutritious, wholesome food, my grocery cart looked like this:

SATNeedless to say, shopping without a list didn’t pan out. I bought a lot of stuff I didn’t need, neglected to get things I did need, and frittered away my money and time. Pretty silly, right? Well, when you map out passages on the SAT and ACT without a plan, you’re doing the same thing.

Approaching a Critical Reading passage with an attitude of “I’m going to read it and take notes” is exactly like going to the supermarket thinking, “I’m going to buy food” – the right idea, but can easily backfire if you don’t know what you’re specifically looking for. This is especially important given the strict time limits on both tests – ACT reading sections allot forty minutes to read four passages, and SAT reading sections are only twenty-five minutes long.

There is simply not enough time to retain all the information in a passage – thankfully, you won’t need to! Detail questions give students a lot of clues right in the stem – their paragraphs, their line numbers, sometimes even the actual details themselves! Since the SAT and ACT give you that information up front, you don’t have to write it into your passage map.

So what is necessary? Here’s what you should understand from every reading section on Test Day:

  • The thesis
  • The topic sentence and main idea of each paragraph
  • Author’s opinion
  • Keywords that project the author’s opinion (“therefore”, “however”, etc.)

Getting this information gives you an overview of the passage that you can’t get from just reading the details – you’ll be better able to answer “big picture” questions that require you to understand the main ideas. Even though those questions often give you the same clues that Detail questions do – line numbers, quotes – they’re not enough to answer those questions by themselves. Knowing where a detail is won’t tell you its purpose, or what the author is implying; you can only get that information by reading for the gist, taking brief notes, and using them to find the right answer!

Treat this information as your “Test Day grocery list” – no matter what the passage is about, you’ll be prepared to get the most useful information. You’re no longer wading lost through the text – you’ll be reading with purpose.  In short, write down the gist of every paragraph, the thesis, and the author’s opinion. Fill up your cart with the good stuff on Test Day – good luck!

SAT, Rory HatfieldRory Hatfield teaches pre-college classes (SAT/ACT/PSAT) for Kaplan’s Live Online division full-time; and is also a student at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, where he is earning a Masters in Instructional Design. He has taught numerous courses and events for Kaplan, including sample classes on college admissions, writing an effective personal statement, and whether to take the SAT, ACT, or both.


FREE Online Test Prep Help! Sign up by March 12!

Are you taking the SAT this weekend? Get Wow’s best 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 SAT (and ACT) resources. But we’ll give them to you FREE if you sign up by March 12! This offer is valid for students taking both the SAT and ACT.

Secure Your Spot at a Top College

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College, James CotterHigh school students, Michigan State University’s Director of Admissions James Cotter has an important message to share with you about where you will get into college.

“Everyone can be admitted somewhere,” said Cotter, a 30-year veteran of the college admissions office. “Don’t worry so much about getting in; worry about getting out. Where can you be admitted that you can succeed?”

During his tenure, Cotter has accumulated quite a bit of first-hand knowledge about what it takes to get into college, as well as what it takes to succeed once you get there.

First, you have to be qualified. Make sure your grades and test scores match the school’s requirements. And always keep in mind, the college application essay can help you!

“It’s value-added,” Cotter told Wow. “At a moderately selective school, the essay can pull a student on the cusp up. At a highly selective school, a poor statement can make the difference between being admitted or not.”

Join Wow for FREE today to find out more about what Cotter has to say about getting into the Big 10 and other colleges, how admissions officers choose prospective students, and whether or not there is one perfect school for each applicant.

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.

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!

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.