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.

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About Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President and Cofounder of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company specializing in college admission and grad school application essay writing and professional training. She leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Wow’s team teaches students how to write application essays, and provides expert training on their unique approach to professionals who want to improve their essay coaching practices. Kim blogs regularly about the college essay’s role in the admission process for multiple industry publications and websites. In 2019, she was named a LinkedIn Top Voice in Education.

Before co-founding Wow, Kim worked as a reporter and communication consultant. Highlights include: Co-producing a PBS documentary about teens and depression, No Ordinary Joe: Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness; writing “First Class,” a weekly lifestyle column about the area’s most successful businessmen and women for the Detroit Free Press; creating “A Small Business Adventure,” a 12-part monthly series about the perils and pitfalls of running a small business for the Detroiter Magazine; supervising a public relations campaign and accompanying print materials that attracted local and national print, radio, and TV media coverage for the National Council of Jewish Women’s annual convention in celebrating its 100th anniversary.

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