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

EditingThink 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!

Join Wow, I’m First, Chegg for College Essay Twitter Chat!

Join Wow Writing Workshop President Kim Lifton this Thursday night, December 4, at 7 p.m. ET for a Twitter chat about standing out in the college essay. The event is part of a monthly series hosted by the Center for Student Opportunity, a nationally acclaimed nonprofit that works to empower first-generation college students on the path to and through college.

CSO’s monthly Twitter Office Hour series is run through I’m First!, an online campaign funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaign’s purpose: to celebrate first-generation college students and help aspiring first-generation college students research and plan for college. In addition to Lifton, CSO has invited Jocelyn Johnson of Story to College And Gil Rogers of Chegg to serve as expert co-hosts.

How to Participate:

We hope you’ll join us!

Wrap Up College Essays and Enjoy Thanksgiving!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

ThanksgivingAre college essays stressing you out? Is the computer screen still blank? Do the essays look messy?

We don’t want the journey to college to ruin Thanksgiving. So here are some tips to help you master the college essay, arguably the most daunting task of the application process.

“There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office,” Johns Hopkins University’s Senior Associate Director of Admissions Calvin Wise explained during a Wow Writing Workshop webinar, Hands Off That Essay! How to Help Without Overdoing It. “We are trying to predict future potential. We need to dig deeper where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student.”

Wise (and every admissions officer we’ve ever asked) says he can always tell when college 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 added. “The essay is a students’ opportunity to speak directly to the admissions office, and we want to hear a 17-year-old’s voice.

Students can have vision and ideas, but they need to be willing to be surprised and open to ending up somewhere they didn’t expect. Parents and professionals, you need to let yourself be surprised, too.

If you are a parent or other adult reading a student’s essay, ask yourself:

  • What is the real goal?
  • Am I too invested in the beautiful essay?
  • What are the schools looking for?

If you are a student, make sure your readers know what you are trying to accomplish. For more insight, watch our webinar with Calvin Wise, Hands Off That Essay.

Last minute help available! Regular admission deadlines are just around the corner. Wow can take the task off your plate. Whether you have already started your writing process or need to begin, Wow Writing Workshop can help you tell your story so you’ll get noticed!

Show Admissions Officers Who You Are in College Essay

Kim BryantBy Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

Kim Bryant, a veteran University of Michigan admissions officer, reads a lot of essays each year from applicants who worked as camp counselors, suffered sports injuries or traveled to third-world countries on mission trips.

“Most of them are not that impressive; they are pretty boring,” she said.

Admissions officers like Bryant read thousands of applications each year, and they look to the essays to find out more about who you are. Will you do well at their school? Will you fit in on campus?

In this video clip from a college essay presentation last spring, Bryant shares tips to make your essay stand out among the huge pile of applications she and her colleagues receive each year. As she says in the video, “I really want to hear about you.

How to Master the “Why College X?” Essay

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

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?”

At Wow, we call these “Why Us?” essays. Lots of students misunderstand the prompts, and miss out on an important opportunity to stand out. Recently, I read a typical one. It was a beautiful story from a student answering the “Why Us?” 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 the stadium; he was certain he would feel at home at this university.

Unfortunately, this story did not respond adequately to the prompt.

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?” The better question is, “What do I want them to know about me?” They know how great they are; your job is to let them know how great you are, and why you are a good fit for their school or program. What do you bring to the table?

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 offers 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 for their 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 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:

  • 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.
  • Make sure your essay 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 is inaccurate or confusing. As you delve into the college application and essay writing process, be careful whose advice you follow.

For more tips on mastering your college application essays, sign up for free resources from Wow Writing Workshop. Wow students get into their dream schools year after year. Find out more at

Top College Admission Essay Myths Debunked

College essay mythsBy Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

It’s officially crunch time if you are a senior applying to college – most early admissions deadlines have passed; regular deadlines are just around the corner. But that’s no reason to get all worked up.

Get out your calendar, make sure you leave room in your busy schedule to get your college essays done right, and don’t forget to make time to proofread everything before you click send.

During this stressful time in your life, please remember to breathe! You’ve done all you can to up to this point to get good grades and tests scores. There’s only one thing left you can do to stand out: nail that college essay!

“It’s value-added,” said Michigan State University Director of Admissions Jim Cotter, a 30+-year industry veteran. “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.”

There is a lot of misinformation out there that can take you off track. Consider these college essay myths and facts before you get started:

Myth 1: No one really reads the essays!

Fact: Of course admissions officers read your essays. They wouldn’t ask you to write something they did not plan to read.

At Wow, we speak regularly to admissions professionals at top universities across the entire country, and we know what they are looking for. 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.

Last month, during the National Association for College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference in Indianapolis, we polled about two dozen admissions 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,” said Amy Hoffman, Assistant Director of Admissions at Miami Universityof Ohio.

Myth 2: An 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.

One student came to us confident that a trip to help the poor in Central America would capture someone’s attention inside the admissions office. A Wow writing coach encouraged her to talk about what she learned about herself. Turns out, her most important moment occurred when she was hanging out with friends during the trip. She overcame her fear of heights by jumping off a cliff into the water. That experience would have been meaningful whether it had happened during a service trip in Costa Rica or on a family vacation.

“The essay does not have to be about something huge, some life-changing event,” said Calvin Wise, the Associate Director for Undergraduate Admissions at Johns Hopkins University. “You can write about an aha 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?” Wise asked. “That is what we want to know.”

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

Fact: Nope, admissions officers do not expect you to sound like a professional writer. The college essay is your story, and it should be written using your words, and in your voice. 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 the writer down the street.

“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.”

Myth 4: Admissions officers will never know if a parent, tutor, teacher or college coach has “helped” a student with an essay. They won’t know if you plagiarized, either.

Fact: There is a fine line between getting help and letting someone write part or all of your essay. While parents and others cannot always tell the difference, admissions officers know when someone other than the student writes a story. They don’t like it.

“If a student has an adult write it, the admissions committee can tell,” Cotter said.

Many schools, including the University of Michigan, will automatically reject a student’s application, even if they merely suspect plagiarism. The U-M website states: “Plagiarism is academic fraud and will cause your application to be thrown out of consideration. You know those great websites that will write your essays for you? We know about them too. Aah, the power of Google.”

Myth 5: 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 tricks, and no shortcuts. You just need to trust the process.

The college essay does not need to be so daunting. That does not mean it will be easy, but it can be a little less stressful if you allow it to emerge from a process of discovery that includes brainstorming, free writing, revision, review and editing.

Keep in mind, there is no magic formula to help you ace this assignment. To stand out, tell a genuine story about yourself using your words and your voice, and show some reflection.

Myth 6: Only superstar students will impress admissions officers with their essays.

Fact: Anyone can stand out with a great story!

You don’t have to rescue a child from a house fire, get a million downloads for an app you developed, or teach an autistic boy how to swim to impress admissions officers.

One Wow student wrote a fabulous college essay about memorizing the general intestinal track to ace his anatomy final. Another wrote a gorgeous story about finding her passion for nature while pulling weeds in a community garden. One boy focused on the moment he forgot his cello for an orchestra concert and improvised his performance with a bass guitar. His problem-solving skills impressed admissions officers, and one college sent him an offer of admission that praised his essay.

“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.” personal. Be reflective. Move away from the English paper formula and write a first-person story that draws the reader in.

“There’s a misconception about what we do inside the admissions office,” Hopkins’ Wise added. “We are trying to predict future potential. We need to dig deeper where the essay comes into play. That’s where we find out more about the student. 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.

How do you do that? Be personal. Be reflective. Move away from the five-paragraph English paper formula and write a first-person story that draws the reader in.

For more tips on mastering your college application essays, sign up for free resources from Wow Writing Workshop. Wow students get into their dream schools year after year.

Wow’s Best Essay Tips Featured All Week!

CollegeXPressFind Wow’s Best Essay Tips on! 

Where in the world is Wow this week?

In a word, we are everywhere! Wow Writing Workshop has taken over the essay clinic page for CollegeXPress, a free online resource for finding colleges and scholarships. CollegeXpress offers comprehensive college and scholarship search tools, tons of informational articles and advice, plus college lists and rankings.

You’ll find four blogs by Wow’s Kim Lifton on the site with tips and tricks to help you master the college essay, stand out, and get into the school of your dreams.

Check it out at

Ready to Click Send for Early Decision Apps Next Week?

Need a last-minute essay review before the Nov. 1 early application deadline? We’re almost at capacity but still have essay coaches standing by. For $199, you’ll get your review in 24 hours or less!

Mundane Moments Make BEST College Essays!

By Kim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop

College Essay DancerFrequently, we learn our enduring life lessons during ordinary moments – the moments when our best and most authentic selves emerge. That’s why some of the best college essays we read focus on the most mundane moments.

  • Two brothers on a bike ride through their neighborhood
  • A talented dancer choosing to drop all but a few of her dance classes
  • A boy and his sister stuck in traffic
  • A high school junior trying out for the pom-pom team at her new school
  • An aspiring baseball player watching his cousin take endless batting practice

Everyone has a story to tell.

If more students (and parents!) would relax and let those stories develop, the college essay wouldn’t seem like such a stumbling block. Instead, it would be seen as the opportunity it is – a chance to tell people who may never meet you something compelling about you.

Want to learn more? You’ll find information on why we like mundane moments, why you need to think of your essay as your college interview, topic versus subject, how to listen to your writing voice, and what it means to sound like a student, and not an adult, in our FREE ebook, Write Your Way Into College. Sign up for your free account at to access the eBook today!

Make Sure You Apply to the Right Schools!

Introducing, a FREE College Admissions Resource 

ApplyMapWe would like to introduce to you one of Wow’s affiliates,, a new college list tool that builds personalized, data-driven college lists based on your grades, test scores, and school preferences.

It’s easy to use – and it’s FREE.

The service will help you figure out which colleges to target, and where to aim. Want to give it a try? First, consider these questions:

  • How many dream, reach, match and safety schools should be on your list?
  • Which kinds of schools fall into each category for you?
  • Which schools in particular will fit you best?

Try it now at!

Ready to Stand Out from the Crowd? Get a Wow Essay Review!  

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!