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Kim Lifton

College Essay Advice: “Trust Yourself”

Check out this post from our friends at Wow Writing Workshop, and an excerpt from their new book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, The Inside Scoop for Parents.

Year after year, students say they cannot write, or they despise it. We don’t believe them. You shouldn’t, either.

Before we start working with our students on the college essay, we remind them that this is their journey and they should own the process. We also assure them that when they are done, they will be more confident, empowered writers, ready for college and their futures. Our message: “Trust yourself!”

Here’s an excerpt on that subject from our new book, How to Write an Effective College Application Essay, The Inside Scoop for Parents:

“Every year, we work with students who tell us they cannot write. But we know better. With instructions, anyone can learn how to write. We train educational consultants and high school counselors, coach professionals and adults who want to improve their writing, and we teach students. In all of Wow’s years working with students, we have never had a student who could not follow our guidance and complete an application essay.

David was one of those students who lacked the confidence to write his essay. Applying to college was stressful; writing the essays paralyzed him. He came to Wow convinced he just couldn’t write.

David had good grades in math and English, and scored well on the ACT (in writing, too). He spoke clearly and articulately. He had good reasons for wanting to study business in college. The boy who said he could not write was a sports reporter for his high school newspaper (and an exceptional varsity hockey player!).

Like so many students feeling pressure to get into college, David’s fear of writing this essay prevented him from getting the job done.

“Can you think?” we asked him.
“Um, yes,” he said.
“Well, then, you can write.”

Our mantra: If you can think, you can write. We talked about what mattered to David, and why. Why did he want to go to college? What did he want admissions to know about him? What made him tick? He said everyone thought of him as a gifted hockey player. But he had another side few could see. He was kind and compassionate with a soft spot for special needs children. That, he said, would be a nice thing for colleges to know.

We brainstormed ideas based on what David wanted colleges to know about him. David was afraid to write about hockey. “Everyone” told him not to write about sports. We explained that a college essay was not about an experience; it was about him – his insight into the experience, any experience. If David had a story about sports that demonstrated his kindness and compassion, then it might work.

In the end, David wrote about the moment that his cousin with Down Syndrome, who regularly attended his hockey games, held up a homemade sign to cheer him on during a game. “I just wanted to score one for my cousin,” David said.

David’s story about his relationship with his disabled cousin turned into an insightful essay that illustrated something meaningful to David that colleges would never have known about him. He used it for two different college applications. It was his genuine story, his idea, and no one else could possibly duplicate it. He was admitted to both schools.

That night, David’s mom called. She had never seen her son this excited about anything other than girls or sports. He finally believed he could write.

David listened to his writing voice, and he liked what he heard.”

Your child can do the same. Read more of the book here, or explore more advice on the Wow Writing Workshop website.

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About Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim is a former journalist who has made it her mission to know EVERYTHING about college admissions. She speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges almost every day. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills.


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