Jun   2015



Application Essays in Class vs. In Reality

President, Wow Writing Workshop

Not too long ago, my daughter, Sarah, a high school junior, took her first crack at a college application essay. It was an assignment for her English class. Sarah said she needed help—she had no idea what story to tell.

I suggested she take a step back and rethink how she was looking at this assignment. Instead of thinking solely about what story to tell, she should also consider what she wanted colleges to know about her beyond her grades, transcript, and extracurricular activities. This advice was new to Sarah.

Her assignment said to read a sample essay, pick a prompt, and tell a story about herself that answered the prompt. While there were also some decent tips included in the assignment, everything about the assignment focused on what do to and what not to do—there was no mention of how to get there. It was a good class assignment; it just wasn’t enough to help a student master this task and write an essay that would stand out in a college application.

The secret to standing out in your application essay

Here are the questions admission counselors are asking themselves when they read your admission essay: Who you are? Can you write well enough to succeed in college? Are you a good fit for the university?

Answering those questions and letting them know who you are requires thinking and reflection. To start, you must answer this question: What do you want colleges to know about you that they can’t find out from the rest of your application? Are you smart? Resilient? Funny? Social? Hard working?

Sarah told me she wanted colleges to know she was responsible. That was perfect because it was her idea, and there was no right or wrong answer to my question. Once she answered it, brainstorming for story ideas was a lot easier.

Don’t treat the college essay lightly. Good grades and test scores are not enough to land you a coveted spot at your top choice college in this competitive landscape. When it comes to your application essays, take a step back and think about how they can best help your case in proving to admission counselors that you’re the kind of student they want in their school.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton, President and Cofounder of WowWritingWorkshop, has been reporting the news, writing for businesses and nonprofits, and teaching students how to tell their stories for three decades. Her articles on the college essay and other topics appear in a variety of publications, in print and online.  

Kim and her business partner, Susan Knoppow, founded Wow in 2009 as a full-service company that specializes in personal statement and supplemental essay coaching services to students applying to college, graduate school, and beyond. The company also provides professional essay coaching to educational consultants and strategic communications and writing services to businesses and nonprofit organizations. Kim and Susan are co-authors of a popular e-book for anyone who works with students applying to college: How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents ($9.99 on Amazon.com).

Kim is a recognized national expert on the college application essay and speaks to high school and parent groups about the role of the college essay within the competitive admission world. Kim is also a frequent guest speaker at industry conferences, and has planned and moderated expert panel discussions on the college essay with admission professionals from the nation’s top universities. Kim conducts monthly webinars for parents and represents Wow during webinars and interactive social media events (Twitter Chats, Google Hangouts, etc.) sponsored by community service organizations, test prep organizations, and financial aid companies.