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).
It can be hard to identify weak sentences and awkward phrasing when you’ve been looking at your own writing for a long time. This clever app acts as a second set of eyes for your editing process. Just paste your text onto the page and it will highlight run-on sentences, common errors, phrases written in passive voice, and adverbs. You can also format your text directly in the app. So handy!
The defining factor for this essay is what book or movie you choose. Stay away from pop culture novels that many people may use (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, etc.) and try to pick a book you have read in school or something unique you read for fun that stayed with you. However, don’t use a book you didn’t enjoy! Inauthenticity will always come through in your writing.
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The value of education is something that I have understood since a very young age. Neither of my parents had an opportunity to attend college, and faced many struggles in their personal and professional lives because of this. They made a commitment early in my life to do everything within their power to instill in me a love of learning and an understanding of the importance of hard work and dedication.
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We love Prompt #4, which asks students to talk about a problem and how they have solved or are planning to solve it. This question is similar to Prompt #2 in that it is meant to tease out a student’s problem-solving skills and provide a glimpse into an applicant’s frame of mind when dealing with challenges. It also provides a few bonus opportunities for creative expression, leaving both the scale and the time frame for setting up a problem/solution wide open.
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Admission officers already know your grades. They can see which sports and clubs you’ve joined from your college application. They know what types of courses are offered at your high school, and whether your neighborhood is wealthy, poor, or somewhere in the middle. They can even figure out which types of books you’ve read, depending on your classes. Your transcript provides them with a wealth of information.
Remember that stories don’t begin with a repetition of the prompt (e.g., please don’t start with, “One time when I questioned or challenged a belief or idea was …”) or a definition from a dictionary (e.g., avoid saying, “Merriam–Webster defines ‘success’ as …”); instead, you should begin with something descriptive, such as setting the scene or jumping right into the middle of the action. Then, go on to illustrate how the event took place, devoting details only to significant moments. (Life hack: Keep in mind that this is also a story and not a novel, so don’t go all Charles Dickens on this.)
Chicago author Nelson Algren said, “A writer does well if in his whole life he can tell the story of one street.” Chicagoans, but not just Chicagoans, have always found something instructive, and pleasing, and profound in the stories of their block, of Main Street, of Highway 61, of a farm lane, of the Celestial Highway. Tell us the story of a street, path, road—real or imagined or metaphorical.
Hello, students and parents of the future class of 2023! The time has come. The Common App essay prompts for 2018-19 have been released and—spoiler alert—they’re exactly the same as last year’s! In 2017 the Common App added two new prompts to the pile, one of which was a return to the much-beloved “topic of your choice.” (Cue the confetti!) So 2018-19 college applicants, like those who came before them in 2017-18, will have seven (that’s right, seven) essay prompts to choose from. This wide range of questions, meant to inspire candidates in their search for compelling personal stories, is ideal for exploring essay topics of all tones, styles, and subjects. Students’ personal stories and feats of insight will again be relegated to 650 words, which equates to a little more than a single-spaced page. We happen to believe this is the perfect amount of space in which to make a quick and powerful impression with admissions (or write a comprehensive fan letter to Beyoncé), so as far as we’re concerned, you’re golden.
“I think he looks beautiful,” my oldest brother Ethan chimes in. At that moment, I wish I could have hugged Ethan. No, not because he was defending my brother-in-law (who actually isn’t gay, as my uncle was suggesting), but because Ethan was defending me. My uncle has no idea that I recognized earlier this past year that heterosexuality wasn’t meeting all of my needs for intimacy with other people and that I’ve come to define myself as queer. It all started when I took a hard look at how my upbringing in Miami had taught me that the only way that boys are supposed to connect with others is by having sex with “beautiful” girls – that intimacy with other guys or “ugly” girls isn’t as meaningful.
All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.
10. Be smart. Colleges are intellectual places, a fact they almost always keep a secret when they talk about their dorms, climbing walls, and how many sports you can play. It is helpful to show your intellectual vitality. What turns your mind on? This is not the same thing as declaring an intended major; what matters is why that subject interests you.
My class of twenty-six has shown me the benefits of a collaborative rather than a competitive environment, especially the impact that camaraderie with my peers has on our collective learning experience. Each student has an inspiring level of passion and motivation that made me excited to learn, work on projects, and participate in discussions both in and out of the classroom. I used my education to gain skills and open doors for myself such as an internship at my local hospital. I gained confidence in my abilities to communicate with individuals from strangers my age to practicing professionals. I was thinking longer and harder than I ever had before to solve individual problems and large-scale challenges. In all honesty, I was having fun.
As always, remember to use specific examples to illustrate your point. What relevant experiences have you had or interests have you pursued? What made you think this subject or career would be a good fit for you? Are there related classes or activities you're excited to participate in at the school? The more specific you can be in addressing these questions, the stronger your essay will be.
Throughout this guide, we’re going to refer to a few example essays. Some of these are made up but others are closely based on essays we have worked with students on over the past ten-plus years—and these students successfully met their admissions goals, including getting into multiple Ivy League and other top-tier schools. Let’s meet our students now!
We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Accordingly, Prompt #2 essays should be predominantly filled with a student’s response, outlook, and demeanor when presented with one of life’s many hurdles, rather than a detailed account of the hurdle itself. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables. While the possibilities are almost endless, students should be careful not to choose challenges that may seem trite (the inability to achieve an A on an exam and/or secure tickets to that Drake concert) or that illustrate a lapse in good judgment (that time you crashed your car or ate 15 bags of Cheetos in one sitting). Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore.
Common App essays are not traditional five-paragraph essays. You are free to be creative in structure, employ dialogue, and use vivid descriptions—and you should! Make sure that context and logic are inherent in your essay, however. From paragraph to paragraph, sentence to sentence, your ideas should be clear and flow naturally. Great ways to ensure this are using a story arc following a few major points, or focusing on cause and effect.
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This can’t be stressed enough. The essay is your opportunity to reveal something about yourself that can’t be found anywhere else in your application – use it! Many students use the essay to expound upon activities or interests that are already heavily demonstrated in their application through courses, the activity list, and more. Instead of reinforcing a top activity or interest, instead, write about something that reveals another dimension of your life or personality. If your top activity is swimming, don’t write about the big championship meet. Find something else that reveals something new and that shows you put a lot of thought into your essay. If your study of AP biology conflicts with your religious views, write about that and how you reconciled the two. Dig deep to find a topic that’s meaningful.
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No matter how well you write your first draft, there’s probably room for improvement. After your initial draft is complete, let it sit for at least a day. With some space between yourself and your initial writing, you’ll be able to view your essay objectively and have better luck finding the flaws. After polishing it up, let it sit again and give it another coat of polish before showing it to your proofreaders. The best college admission essays go through several drafts before they’re finished, so don’t be afraid to rewrite your essay as many times as needed.