Funky Sentences and Big Words Won’t Make or Break Your Students’ College Essays

Last month, I had an interesting conversation with our intern, Sammy, a bright and delightful University of Michigan junior and English major. He’s a voracious reader who likes to write, too. (Full disclosure: He’s also the son of my business partner, Susan Knoppow).
As part of his job, Sammy – who was a Wow student when he applied to college – read several dozen essays. And when he was done, I asked him what he noticed.
Without pause, he said, “Funky sentences with big words…thesaurus words.” He also noted that those sentences, while funky, were grammatically correct.
I was so happy. Sammy observed something that is key to our approach to the college essay, something I hope will give you reason to pause if you decide you don’t like the way your students write and feel the urge to change things a bit. At Wow, we are student-focused, which means both high-touch and hands-off.
What do I mean by that? We meet students where they are. We provide lots of support, but we don’t change their words, and we don’t tell them what to write. If we notice a lot of thesaurus words, we encourage them to tone it down a bit, but we don’t insist.

Some students go deep. Others don’t. That’s okay.

Some are exceptional writers. Others are not. That’s okay, too!
We believe that every student can write an essay to the best of their ability, which is why we encourage them to make the important editorial decisions as we guide them through our process.
And guess what? Our students write beautiful essays that they are proud of – even with occasional funky sentences or big thesaurus words. We have learned when to push and when to let go, so they can write effective essays with less stress.
It’s all okay, as long as they answer the prompt, reflect a little and share something meaningful.
Our job, and yours, is to balance each student’s innate ability with their willingness to reflect, meet deadlines and focus. An occasional big word won’t keep them out college! Nor will a funky sentence.
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.  

We’ll be talking about willingness and ability a lot this year. If you’re curious, you can watch this Pro Chat, where Susan Knoppow discussed the concept in some depth.   MONTHLY FREE WEBINARS FOR STUDENTS AND PROS
  Pro Chats: Every month we record a new College Essay Pro Chat. Check out the last recording, or sign up for next month’s webinar. Wow CEO Susan Knoppow will answer your questions live for 30 minutes.

Free Student Classes starting in February: 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.