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Kim Lifton

Master the College Essay With These 4 Questions

This post is a contribution from our friends at Wow Writing Workshop.

Your senior year peers are about to complete the college application process; it’s also time for you to get started. Is it too early for you to start prepping for the college essay? Can your parents help? What should you expect?

As you well know, the pressure is on; the journey to college is indeed overwhelming. Confusing. Distressing. So what can you do now to get an advantage inside the admissions office (and stay calm!) when you apply to college next fall?

Learn How to Reflect

Despite what you might have heard, writing is not the most challenging part of the college essay. The tough part comes at the beginning of the process. Rather than writing drafts and bringing them to someone for a review later, you can give yourself an advantage by exploring in the next several months how you exhibit your most significant traits or characteristics. This will better prepare you to write your essays at the end of the school year. That’s the first step toward reflection.

While most of you spend a lot of time thinking and talking about friends, moving out of the house, figuring out life, choosing a career and deciding which college to attend, you will need to find out what’s important to you, and why, in order to master the college essay. Look at it like it’s your journey to discovery.

When you can reflect and focus up front, the rest of the process moves much more smoothly. Too many students start in the wrong place, year after year. That makes it hard for any adult to guide them. They come to the process full of ideas about topics, with little consideration of the essay’s purpose. Forget ideas for a moment. Who are you? What do you want colleges to know about you? Why?

All too often, students look for activities that might lead to stories, and they waste a lot of time talking about their experiences and their accomplishments. When they do this, they do not answer the prompt, which, no matter how it’s worded, is really asking you to show some insight into those experiences or accomplishments. That’s reflection.

We hear all the time from your school counselors that too many students bring them essays to edit very close to the deadline; at this point, it’s too late to help. There’s not much they can do.

You want to get it right? This much we know is true: You’ll write better essays (and experience less stress!) if you start at the beginning of the process with a conversation about what matters to you with your friends, counselor, parents or a Wow writing coach. We know that you are unique, and have amazing stories to share that colleges want to know. We cannot wait to hear them!

Questions for Reflection

Here is a short list of questions you can answer to start reflecting on your life experiences.

  • What would your best friend tell me about you?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
  • What are your best traits? (Think qualities and characteristics, not accomplishments.)

Get Your Gift From Wow!

We wrote two books (one for students and one for parents) that are short, easy to read and full of useful tips, advice from admissions, insight into the admissions industry and strategies to navigate the journey to college.

To get both How to Write an Effective College Application Essay books, email me at Kim@wowwritingworkshop.com. Please type “Free book offer – Magoosh” in the subject line; we’ll need both your email address and your parent’s email address to send you the books.

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication and writing services company. Wow was founded by professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. Go to WowWritingWorkshop.com for more information.

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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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