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Author Bio: Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop, a strategic communications and writing services company that is a leading expert on the college application essay. Kim, a former journalist, has made it her mission to know EVERYTHING about college admissions, and the essay’s role within it. She speaks with senior admissions officers from the nation’s most selective colleges almost every day. Wow works directly with students, and trains school counselors, English teachers and independent educational consultants who want to improve their essay-coaching skills. Wow also offers professional communication and writing services to businesses and nonprofits. Get free resources!
At its core, the college application essay is all about reflection. It’s as much a thinking task as a writing task.
At Wow, we have many tools to help any college-bound student reflect to get ready for the essay. This time of year, we suggest that high school juniors (sophomores and freshmen can do this, too!) keep an informal journal.
Here are our top 5 tips for keeping this journal:
1) Ask yourself, “What do colleges know about me?” After that, ask, “What else do I want them to know? Why?” Think traits and characteristics, rather than experiences. (Are you serious? Industrious? Resourceful? Creative? Shy? Funny? Hardworking? Analytical?) Write the answers down on the first page of your journal.
2) Once you know what you want readers to learn about you, start thinking about stories or experiences that illustrate those characteristics. You’ll write about them in this journal as often as you want, with as many details as you need to remember the experiences you choose to include in your journal.
3) Think of your journal entries as though they were quick snapshots from your cell phone – something you might post on Facebook or a photo-sharing website. Their purpose is to jog your memory and remind you of an experience, not to capture it in spectacular detail.
4) If you try to record everything that happens on your trip to the Grand Canyon or every life-changing insight from your summer job as a swim teacher, you’ll give up after a day or two. On the other hand, if you jot down, “Sunset with Brian and Sarah. The sky looked like it was painted in watercolor,” you will remember that evening forever.
5) If you scribble, “Ava finally put her head in the water! I threw the red plastic ring to the bottom of the pool, and she went straight down for it,” you’ll also remember the way the sun hit the diving board and the lady in the lounge chair who sat by the pool all summer with iced tea and a trashy novel.
As professional writers, this is the type of journaling we do, too. Sure, we sometimes write pages and pages, but we also collect scraps of experiences and moments. There’s no doubt that journaling will help you find insight from your life experiences. Ready to give it a try?
Our students journal, and they get into to their top 3 schools, year after year. You should too!