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Are you a quick brainstormer?

-In and out in an hour? Or do you spend weeks mining for jewels among your students’ experiences?  

Do you think brainstorming ideas is all about finding a unique story? Or are you trying to help students identify an effective topic?

We’re in the quick and effective camp.  

Why? Because drawn-out, elaborate brainstorming exercises…

  • don’t necessarily lead to better essays.
  • wear students out before they even get to the first draft.
  • send the message that students will never stand out unless they can tell an amazing story that no one else has ever heard. (Most students are normal people with normal experiences, and that’s okay. In fact, we think it’s amazing.)

What do we do instead? We keep it simple. Our students spend 1-2 hours on three tasks before we meet. 

  • Morning Writing: Students complete a simple writing exercise that helps them recognize what their writing voice sounds like when they’re not trying to impress anyone.
  • Step 1 (Understand the prompt): We ask three key questions: 1) What is the prompt trying to find out about you? 2) What do readers already know? (accomplishments) 3) What would you like readers to know about you? (characteristics)
  • Step 2 (Brainstorm ideas): On their own, with no coach input, students come up with four potential topics. These ideas are usually too broad, full of cliches and otherwise imperfect. But they tell us a lot about what matters to the student. And they make great conversation starters.

Pre-work in hand, we meet for a relaxed, one-hour conversation. Almost every student comes out of that conversation with a theme for their essay. After that, they’re on their way, ready to write.

Could this work for you? We suggest giving it a shot. Here’s a link that explains our brainstorming approach in even more detail.

Want to learn more? Join us each month for a Free Pro Chat with Wow’s Susan Knoppow. If you can’t join us live, sign up anyway; we’ll send you the recording.

Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements.  We teach students – and we train professionals

Coming Up 

Wednesday, April 14:  How to Run a Group Workshop, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Wednesday, May 12: Should My Students Write about Covid (and other sensitive topics?), at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let your students know we have a free class for them, too!

If you wants to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for our monthly free student class, or listen to the recording. Next up: Wednesday, April 14 and Wednesday, May 12, at 7 p.m. ET! You are welcome to sign up, too.

Bullying in the US Study

Comparitech recently conducted a study of more than 1,000 parents (with children over the age of 5) to find out how technology contributes to kids bullying. Check out these infographics to see what they found:

History of Harassment
How Do Parents Help?
Tech for Teens
Who’s on Which App?
Time Spent Scrolling

5 Tips to Managing a Retirement Account

Most of your students can’t even imagine retirement as they are not even sure what career path they are about to embark on, but setting up a retirement plan immediately when they begin their careers is one of the best long term decisions they can make. With the power of compound interest every dollar they invest in their 20’s could be worth 5-6x’s that amount by the time they reach retirement age. Based on experience, it will be here sooner than they think.

Barron’s published a nice article on 5 key tips to managing a retirement account. Here is a summary of each:

  1. Load up on stocks when you are young: Stocks offer the highest return potential but the most risk so when you are young it is best to have a higher concentration of stocks in your portfolio.
  2. Don’t automatically opt for target-date funds: Many companies will automatically put you in target-date funds if you don’t specify where you want your money to go. These can be right for some investors but it is important to investigate all your options.
  3. Keep an eye on expenses: Over 40 years expenses can cost you into the tens of thousands of dollars. Many index funds will have lower expenses than managed funds. It is good to monitor the expenses of your funds on a regular basis.
  4. Check if your plan offers a Roth 401(k) option: These are great if offered as you pay the tax upfront and 40+ years later when you withdraw the money you don’t pay any taxes on the interest earned over that time. Roth 401(k) accounts are especially attractive to younger workers in lower tax brackets. They’ll take home less money today, but they’ll have tax-free income in retirement, when they might be in a higher tax bracket.
  5. Consider automatic rebalancing: Checking this box when setting up your account makes things easy. When one portion of your portfolio has grown too much some of those gains are automatically shifted over to other investments that haven’t gained as much to rebalance your portfolio.

Here is a link to the complete article on

Two New Scholarship Opportunities Available to Your Students

We recently learned of two new scholarship opportunities available to your students.

  1. $2,500 TEFL Scholarship:

In order to be considered for our scholarship, we want students to send us in a video clip no longer than 60 seconds (videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube with a link sent to us) talking about why they’re looking to pursue a career teaching english abroad. We want to know how you’d set about to change peoples lives in your career as a TEFL teacher, a little bit about you and your background and why teaching english abroad is something that’s right for you.

Clips will be uploaded to our YouTube channel and shared on our social media platforms with the winner announced on the 1st August, 2022. If you do not wish to have your submission made public, please specify when submitting (privatising your submission does not make a difference on receiving the scholarship)

All submissions should be accompanied with the following information before July 1st 2022 (please send this info along with your clip in an email to and must meet our eligibility criteria (please see below)

Full Name


Date of Birth

School you’re currently attending

Phone Number



Must be a US, UK, European or South African citizen Minimum GPA of 2.5 Must be a current student (proof will be required)

2. $5,000 Kitchen Cabinet Kings Entrepreneur Scholarship:

Kitchen Cabinet Kings was founded by two entrepreneurs and is a leading supplier of kitchen and bathroom cabinets nationwide. In 2010, we started as just two guys with a dream to disrupt the cabinet industry and today we’re fortunate to have thousands of satisfied customers throughout the country.

As members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), we provide entrepreneurs with the resources and social capital they need to succeed. Today, our commitment to helping entrepreneurs is stronger than ever, and to that end, we are proud to introduce the Kitchen Cabinet Kings Entrepreneur Scholarship, designed to help young entrepreneurs afford the rising costs of education.

Kitchen Cabinet Kings will award one (1) $5,000 scholarship for the best submitted entry determined by our team. The scholarship will be awarded in check form, made payable directly to the winner. The deadline to enter is June 30th, 2021. Any current college student or incoming freshman enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program in a Spring, Summer, or Fall 2021 semester is eligible to apply. Student must be enrolled at an accredited American college, university or trade school.

Do Any of Your Students Have a Disability? Below are some Ideas to Help Them Settle into College.

Section 504 for College Students

Things to Consider during Transition for High School Students with IEP/504 Plans

  1. Plan to apply for accommodations in college.
    1. Recognize that increased academic demands will require more academic support.
    1. Services received in high school will not automatically follow students to college.
    1. Not all accommodations granted in high school are considered reasonable in college.
    1. Students can choose not to use college accommodations; it is better to have them and not use them, than to not have them and seek them after falling behind.
  • Locate the documentation of your disability from high school to ensure that you have appropriate and updated documentation for the application process.
    • Most documents should typically be dated within three (3) years of starting college.
    • Documentation that is not current but otherwise meets College guidelines may qualify the student for one semester of provisional accommodations while the student seeks re-evaluation.
    • Parents may have to seek out and pay an outside provider for private testing.
    • It is recommended that students have information as up-to-date as possible that reflects the most recent services they were provided.
  • Find out as much as possible about the disability support services office at the colleges(s) of the student’s choice.
    • Take advantage of college tours, college presentations, etc. to find out as much information as possible about the application process and the services offered.
    • Use the college’s website to gather information about the application process, especially deadlines and documentation guidelines.
  • Complete the intake process as early as possible to ensure accommodations are in place on the first day of classes.
    • June/July for fall semester; November/December for spring semester; March/April for summer semester.
    • Students who start strong are more likely to persist in college. Having and using accommodations can contribute to college persistence.
  • Expect the first year in college to be different than high school.
    • Course grades are based more on performance and achievement as compared to the flexibility of some high school grades utilizing effort and participation.
  • Academic demands will be higher in college courses. If your college offers it, the Introduction to College/Introduction to University Life, College Success Skills type course will be helpful as it covers topics such as study skills and time management.
  • Students will be considered adults and will have adult decisions to make about class schedules, course selection, managing time, etc., and can expect adult consequences as well.
  • Prepare for an increased level of self-advocacy.
    • Learn how to communicate information about disability/diagnosis, strengths/weaknesses and functional limitations.
    • Inform the college disabilities counselor immediately if barriers/concerns arise about your accommodations.
  • Consider starting slow in the first semester/year of college.
    • Aim for a successful first semester to grow into the new environment and new role as an adult.
    • Embrace the idea that getting good grades is more important than finishing fast. For some students, taking four courses instead of five may be a way to increase chances for academic success during the first semester.
    • Resist comparisons with friends/other graduates. Remember that everyone learns differently and at a different pace!
  • Remember that a student’s progress and success in college is the student’s responsibility!
    • Under FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), once a student reaches the age of 18 or enters post-secondary education (i.e., college) at any age, parents no longer have the right to access the student’s records or intervene on the student’s behalf with college faculty/staff, except when given permission by the student.

College staff are awaiting the opportunity to work with students as they learn how to function independently in the college environment to achieve success!

By Kenneth McGhee, Director DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG)

SAT/ACT Introduction Class: Learn about the differences between the SAT & ACT

Do you know the differences between the SAT and ACT and whether students should take both or not take the tests this year given the test optional trend? A free class will be offered on May 15th at 5:30-7:30 PM Eastern Time. The class is intended for parents, students and educators. 

In this class you will learn what to expect on the SAT and ACT tests, such as what topics will be covered, how much time will be given, how many questions will be asked, what the directions will be, and how the tests will be scored. The discussion will also cover overall test-taking strategies such as pacing, guessing, and coping with test anxiety.  The discussion will also include how testing fits into the greater landscape of college admissions, including the movement toward test-optional colleges.  If you are unsure as to whether you should take the SAT, ACT, both, or neither, you should definitely take this class. 

Register free here:

The speakers will be Heather Krey, director of Test Prep for Success & Michelle McAnaney, owner of the College Spy

Does Crime Pay? The Varsity Blues College Admissions Scandal Says No

From the producer who brought us viral sensations like “Tiger King” and “Fyre,” director Chris Smith has turned his cinematic lens to the 2019 college admissions scandal in the new Netflix docu-drama “Operation Varsity Blues.” In between the melodrama and cliched reenactment of recorded phone conversations, however, are a few points worth discussing in the context of today’s college admissions landscape.

Authenticity Matters

While peeling back the layers of what made the Varsity Blues admissions scandal so sensational to the American public – images of rich elites going to prison, the galling entitlement exhibited by the parents, the complicity of coaches in cheating their institutions – one core element felt the most egregious: the dishonesty. Pretend to play water polo to be processed as a recruited athlete? No problem. Fake a learning disability to get more time on the SAT? Why not? What Rick Singer offered to parents and students was a game of fraud, which these families agreed to because they believed that it was the only way to gain admission to the college of their choice. And it is this flawed perspective still driving many families today, albeit on a much smaller scale, that we IECs who work in college counseling need to confront head on and actively combat.

In my work as an IEC, an Independent Educational Consultant, I’m lucky enough to work with wonderful students whose personalities run the gamut from nerdy robotics savants to head-in-the-clouds poets to nurturing outdoor leaders. My students are amazing! But they are all still susceptible to the pull of presenting a “beautified” version of themselves to colleges. Perhaps this is the zeitgeist of the Instagram-filtered times that we live in: self-presentation is increasingly manicured and manipulated, inflated and illusory – so much so that, in the extreme examples of the Varsity Blues scandal, students and parents found themselves unmoored from reality and ethics, crossing the line from “Instagram touch up” to outright fabrication.

But here is a reality check for families and students: college admissions readers are inured to this fakery. These experienced readers can smell the inflated resume and self-aggrandizement from a mile away, and it’s not appealing. Authenticity matters in college admissions, in everything from the essays to the activities list, not just because presenting yourself authentically is the moral thing to do, but also because it’s more effective. Win-Win.

Misrepresenting yourself in a college application does not “pay.” This is the message that high school guidance counselors, IECs, career coaches, test prep tutors, and all of us in the college counseling world should band together to promote!

Turn Down the Hype

Some of the most tragic elements of the Netflix documentary were the brief snapshots of high school students discussing the anxiety they feel about the college application process. That anxiety is real and pervasive, and educators need to work harder to counteract the toxic messaging that equates a college acceptance with a student’s worth. It is this fear that drives students (and parents) to take the unethical steps that were on full display in the Varsity Blues scandal. We, as counselors, must educate families about the need for honesty, for authentic representation, and discuss with more frequency how this authenticity will not only lead to better “results” (i.e. a more honest, compelling essay will be received better than a transparently padded personal hagiography), but this authenticity will also lead to less anxiety and improved mental health for our students.

There is something fundamentally freeing when you can say with conviction: “I did my best. This essay represents my hard work, my honest reflections, my curious observations about the world. And if colleges don’t accept me on the basis of that writing, well, at least I know I didn’t hold anything back.” It is liberating to experience this mindset shift, and it’s an experience that I hope more students will embrace.

To me, that is the best way to defeat the Rick Singers and the fraudsters of the elite education industry: by being authentic, by leaning in to your own unique identity, and thereby transcending the temptation of a society that suggests you need to misrepresent yourself to succeed.

Rachel Coleman is an IEC (independent education consultant) at and an active member of HECA (Higher Education Consultants Association) who received her certificate in College Counseling from UCLA in 2016 and her B.A. in Comparative Literature from Stanford University in 2014. The best part of her job is working with students on their writing and empowering them to be effective communicators.

Common questions asked on a job interview

As your students begin interviewing for internships and ultimately jobs they are sure to be asked many questions during their interviews. What are some of the typical questions they should prepare for? Here are some examples they can use to prepare:

Common interview questions include:

  • Can you walk us through your resume?
  • Can you tell us a little about yourself?
  • Why do you want to work for (insert firm)?
  • What have you done that has prepared you for this position?
  • Why should we hire you over someone else?
  • Where do you see your career in five years?
  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • Can you tell us about a time you made a mistake?
  • How do you handle stress and working under pressure?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Talk about a time you worked in a group and encountered a conflict.

Practice all types of questions

There are different categories of questions that will be asked during an interview. Depending on the position, business, or industry, an interview may consist of more questions of a specific type than another.

The categories of interview questions that can be asked include:

Fit: Fit questions are asked to find out just that. Are you a good fit for the position, team, and company?

Behavioral: These are asked to gauge how you HAVE acted in certain situations or how you WOULD act in certain situations.

Technical: Questions of this type revolve around technical knowledge and capabilities related to the position.

  • Examples can include questions on how the financial statements tie together, how to value a company, how to perform a discounted cash flow, etc. Technical questions are notoriously tough.

Case Study: Case study interview questions involve questions asked after a case is laid out in front of you verbally or through a written document. The interviewers will ask you questions related to the case and this will test your analytical and problem-solving abilities.

Firm/Industry Specific: Interviewers will ask questions specifically about the firm or the industry it is in. This tests what you know about the company and industry and also gives a gauge to the interviewers about how strongly you want the position. If you wanted it bad enough, you would do your research.

Current Events: These questions test how in touch you are with what is going on in the news and if you actually understand what is going on.

  • Interviewers will ask a basic question and drill deeper with follow-up questions on the underlying concept the news event is on.

Looking for more information about what to expect in the interview and the entire interview process? Here is a link to a guide put together by Bizness Professionals that should be of interest: How to Prepare, Practice and Study for an Interview: The Ultimate Guide

Varsity Blues scandal – two years later

On March 17th Netflix released  Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, a documentary about the bribery scandal from 2019.

It’s a powerful film that shows the ugly underbelly of what happened to the college admissions process. It features reporters, independent educational consultants and the sailing coach from Stanford who pleaded guilty. Since William “Rick ” Singer, the kingpin coordinator of the bribery scandal agreed to plead guilty and share information with law enforcement officials, the documentary has the original taped conversations between Singer and his unknowing clients.

The Netflix film takes a deep dive into the 2019 college admissions scandal, dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues,” involving a criminal conspiracy to influence undergraduate admissions decisions at several prestigious American universities. The scandal led to more than 50 high-profile arrest, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman. The conspiracy was arranged by Singer, who claimed to be an educational consultant and used millions of dollars from wealthy parents of college applicants to fraudulently inflate entrance exam test scores as well as bribe college coaches and administrators.

The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), of which I’m a professional member, has been the leading voice in putting students first in the college admissions journey. commends its members for their continued commitment to the highest standards in ethical college advising, while at the same time calling for greater transparency in the college application process.

According to IECA, while the Varsity Blues scandal exposed the specific efforts of wealthy, privileged parents to ensure their children’s admission into the national’s top colleges, it brought to light broader problems in the college application process:

  •             Access to college advising in high school is unequal across the country, and particularly strained in urban and rural public high schools, where the average student-to-counselor ratio is 455:1 and more than 700:1 in some areas. This leaves school counselors overburdened and students under-resourced.
  •              Colleges have become increasingly opaque in their admission criteria.
  •              College acceptance rates continue to decline, partly due to the increase in applications, leading to heightened anxiety levels among students and parents
  •               Sophisticated modeling means computers play an outsized role in college admissions, minimizing the personal stories of students and admissions counselors

Lessons Learned, according to IECA

What have we learned over the last two years?

  • there is an unjustified need that many families feel to attend a “name-brand” college
  • there continues to be an unhealthy over-involvement of parents in the process
  • there is a lack of clarity about how admissions offices decide who gets in, who gets wait-listed and who gets rejected

What changes have been implemented?

  • This scandal has led to reforms in some admissions offices, including some colleges that now require more information and a closer scrutiny of athletic recruits
  • There have also been reforms in athletic recruitment to guarantee a student admitted as an athlete deserves that designation.

What additional changes are needed?

  • The focus must shift from thinking “it’s all about getting into the most exclusive school that will take me” to “finding the college that best fits my learning, social financial and community needs.”
  • Colleges need to assure that multiple individuals are needed to sign-off on a special circustance admission.
  • Colleges need to better explain how their admission process works and the type of students would be most successful at their school.
  • Students and parents must look toward best fit rather than biggest name – it’s about getting OUT successfully, not about getting in!

Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. Send questions to:



If you can’t tune in live, it is rebroadcast every evening at 9pm and you can always go to  and listen on their archives.

Insight into the U.S. News Best College Rankings

Many of your students use the U.S. News & World Reports Best College Rankings each year to decide which Colleges to apply to. How are these rankings determined and what criteria goes into creating them?

Summer Discovery and U.S. News & World Report will host a webinar that answers these questions.

U.S. News Education Managing Editor Anita Narayan will guide students and parents in a discussion about the college rankings and how they can inform a student’s college choice.
What You’ll Learn:

  • What factors are used in the U.S. News Best College rankings
  • Why U.S. News started ranking colleges and developing “Best” lists
  • How prospective students and parents can use the rankings to help narrow college lists 
  • Firsthand advice about the college selection process
  • How pre-college summer programs can help guide your college selection process

The event will take place on Wednesday, April 7, 2021,  3:00 PM EST | 12:00 PM PST so mark your calendars now.

Here is a link to register for this free webinar –

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