It’s March Madness of College Admissions – Time to Start Thinking About That College Essay

For high school juniors, March Madness means more than a basketball tournament to determine the next NCAA national champion. March is also the unofficial start of college admission season for you, members of the Class of 2019.


As the season begins to kick into high gear, we are getting a lot of questions about the college essay, which is arguably the most daunting piece of the process. It doesn’t have to be so stressful for you, or for the rest of your family.


To help you maintain a sense of calmness from now till you click send on your last application, I’ll share some insight from years of working with students — and from being inside this college prep industry. Let’s start with the most common questions we get from students (and Moms and Dads!)


 Wow’s Top 5 College Essay Questions


  • What makes a great college essay topic?
  • Do admissions officers really read them?
  • What do colleges look for in an application essay?
  • When is the best time to start?
  • Can colleges tell if a parent helps too much?


Remarkably, finding a topic is always No. 1 on the list of questions from both students and parents.


Do your students ask for guidance on topic selection?


I find it fascinating, though not surprising, that the topic of a college essay is always the go-to question. Yes, the topic is important, but the subject — the student who is applying to college –

is critical.  Why a topic matters to a student is far more important (and definitely more interesting!) than any experience or accomplishment they may want to talk about in an answer to an essay prompt.


Before your students pick a topic, ask them to consider what colleges are asking them to write.  At its core, the college essay is all about reflection. It’s a story about the student that should answer these two questions: What happened? Why does it matter?

Then make sure they know why they are being asked to write an essay or 10 of them? Colleges want to get to know them a little better. They want to know how every applicant thinks – beyond the application, grades, test scores. Colleges want insight.


We tell our students that any topic is good as long as it answers the prompt, focuses on them and shows insight into their character. Please make sure your students know they do not need to climb a mountain or travel to a third-world country to write a compelling story.


Admissions officers tell us time and again they are impressed with simple, yet meaningful stories about what applicants learned about themselves while babysitting or making meatballs with grandma, navigating an icy highway or playing basketball with friends.  The best topics we see are often mundane and focus on anything that truly and vividly demonstrates who the applicant is.


Get a free book for yourself – and for every parent in your school!


Feel free to email me with questions? We offer free training webinars for counselors, too. Meanwhile, we probe deeper and answer all 5 of those questions in our book. To show you how much we appreciate the work you do, we’d like to give you a free electronic copy of How to Write an Effective College Application Essay: The Inside Scoop for Parents. You’ll find out how to get free books for every parent in your school when you click on the book link.


LINK to book offer:


Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communications and writing coaching company. Wow has s a team of professional writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. The Wow Method has been used by students to write application essays and resumes; by business owners to create blogs, websites and other communication materials; and by English teachers to improve student writing skills. We can even help you write a great poem or short story. If it involves words, we can help! Feel free to email your questions to