Lately, I’ve found myself shutting off the water when I brush my teeth. I try to not run the dishwasher until it is completely full, either.

I got this idea from one of my college application essay students who told me about a life-altering volunteer experience while we brainstormed college essay topics. My student changed her own water consumption habits after a trip to a community without clean running water. I was moved by her story.

As a college application essay writing coach, I have the privilege of finding out how my students think and what they’ve learned. Our entire team feels the same way. Student stories stick with us long after they leave for college. I am going to share with you some of our learnings from the Class of 2019. I’d love to hear your stories, too.

Our Senior Writing Coach Joe Kane had never heard of VEX robotics competitions until one of our students competed in one. Joe became so engrossed in the college application essay story he started watching the world finals competition on YouTube. “They are a blast,” he said.

Over the years, we’ve helped countless students craft meaningful college application essays they are proud of, no matter the topic. With each essay, we learn something new and interesting about the student – and the experience.


  • “When I encouraged a student to point her college application essay in a new direction, she (respectfully) said no. I complimented her for her strength and confidence, and together we found a way to save the material she felt was most important, while revising the essay to demonstrate her positive characteristics.” Wow CEO Susan Knoppow

 “I try to acknowledge that applying to college and trying to express yourself in writing can be stressful. Meeting a student where they are is more beneficial than pushing them to be someone they’re not.” Wow Writing Coach David Bersell

  • “I learned a new word from one of my students who spoke English as a second language. The word was “bosk,” and it means a thicket of bushes. I think she landed on such an interesting word because she would write her first college application essay drafts in Chinese and then translate them into English. It’s such a simple, lovely word, and it was perfect for her story. I’m excited to add it to my lexicon.” Joe Kane

  • “I had a student who wanted to make a case in his college application essay for a broken Electoral College. I pulled out all of my tried-and-true techniques, peppering him with questions during our brainstorm session to move him toward something personal and away from an intellectual argument. He nailed it. He made a controversial essay topic work in a way that amazed me when he focused on himself and shared insight.” Kim Lifton

  • “When I told a student who wanted to build his essay around being born September 11 that his idea was too clever (and not really relevant), he trusted me, jumped back in and wrote a stand-out piece about creating a political club from scratch at his high school. And he did it by showing us the day he received the club’s new T-shirts.” Susan Knoppow

Congratulations to the Class of 2019! They all deserve to stand out and get noticed, which is what the college essay is all about.

What did you learn from your students over this past year? If you’d like to share what you’ve learned, I’d love to hear it and perhaps blog about it at a future date. Please email me your stories at

Kim Lifton, a LinkedIn Top Voices in Education, 2018, is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communication company staffed by experts who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the industry with our unique approach to communicating any message effectively. The Wow Method helps business and nonprofit leaders create better blogs, manage social media, develop websites and create other communication materials. It also helps students write college application essays, grad school personal statements and resumes that get results. If it involves words, Wow can help.

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