Are Your Students’ College Essays About Great Storytelling?

An independent educational consultant recently asked me this question: “Is the essay about great storytelling?”
Day after day, we get emails and calls like this one from counselors, teachers and educational consultants with questions and challenges. We’re always happy to answer.

This time, my answer was “Nope.” That’s a myth.
We say this all the time: At its core, the college essay is all about reflection –  NOT great storytelling, and not great writing. We say it because it’s true.
Some people believe the essay should be beautiful. Perfect. Like a piece of art. A story written with dynamic words, fancy sentences, flawless grammar and spelling.
But that’s a myth, too.
Because college admissions counselors who read application essays are not looking for great. Not before COVID-19, and not after. They want an essay that answers their prompt and will help them get to know the applicant beyond the application package. They want to hear what the student has to say, understand how that student thinks, NOT what the student thinks they want to hear.

As we move into application season in the most unsettling time in our history, it’s important to remember that great writers sometimes write great essays, but only if they show reflection. Just as many not-so-great writers crank out meaningful stories that get noticed inside the admissions office.

Questions? We’ve got answers.


Pro Chats: Every month we record a new College Essay Pro Chat. Check out the recording, or sign up for next month’s webinar. Wow CEO Susan Knoppow answers questions live for 30 minutes.

Free Student Classes: If you’re a school counselor who wants to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for my next free student class, or listen to the recording. You are welcome to sign up, too.

Stay healthy. We’re sending warm and calming thoughts to all of you.

Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop a premier college application essay coaching and professional training company, offering private, virtual writing coaching services to professionals and students throughout the world.  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.  Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. 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.