Category Archives: College application essay

College Essay Writing Workshop

Workshop Description

Students will learn how to turn everyday experiences into compelling stories that will help them catch the attention of  counselors to their admission essays. This workshop takes students through Steps 1-4 of the ten-step Wow Method.


At the conclusion of the three-hour workshop, students will:

  • Understand the concept of “knowing your audience
  • Understand the concept that “an admission essay is a story about you
  • Understand that every writer has a unique writing voice
  • Explore experiences to write an admission essay, and choose a topic
  • Understand the importance of details
  • Have a theme for one essay and understand that a theme has two parts: 1) What happened? and 2) Why does it matter?
  • Understand that they are not writing about a static topic; rather, they are writing about an experience (what happened?) and what they learned/gained from it (why does it matter?)

Time Commitment

  • 3 hours

Student Materials

  • Students should come to the workshop prepared to write. They will need paper and a pen. A laptop or tablet is optional.

Instructor Preparation

Review all instructions and handouts. Please note that instructions include suggested language. Make the key points using your own words.

  • The purpose of this workshop is to teach young people to tell their own stories in their own voices, and to do so as clearly and effectively as possible.
  • For this reason, the curriculum intentionally does not include any full sample essays. If students are interested in sample essays, they can find them online or in books. However, we discourage them from using any samples they find as models for their own work. Everyone’s voice is unique. There is no formula for writing the “right” type of essay.

Bring These Items to the Workshop

  • Enough copies of all handouts for your students
  • Pens
  • Lined paper
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Chicago Professor W.J.T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book “What Do Pictures Want?”   According to Professor Mitchell, “we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own” – including wanting the viewer to feel or think something specific.  Choose a picture and explain what that picture wants you to feel.” (“What Do Pictures Want?” University of Chicago Press.)

Answer the following questions about this picture:

 What is your immediate and instinctive reaction to this picture?

WHY do you think you reacted to it in that way?

Relate this picture to a personal experience.

Relate that personal experience to a universal theme.


Use your responses above as a guideline to WRITE A 500-WORD ESSAY answering this question:

What needs and demands does this picture have?  Ultimately, what does this picture want you to feel?

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An ESSAY is a short work written from the author’s point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, and may seem very similar to a commentary or blog.  What distinguishes the essay is its deeply personal tone, and a theme that unfolds largely through personal observations, recollections, and reflections on his or her life and experience.

According to an admissions trend study conducted by the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, over 62% of colleges said that the college admission essay or writing sample was either “considerably important” or “moderately important” in the admissions decision.  (See the whole survey at

College admission essay questions are generally broad, and epic in what they want you to convey.  They are intended to help you reveal your personal philosophies and your personality.  They are meant to test your critical and your creative thinking skills, as well as your ability to make abstract connections.

Here are some examples of actual college essay topics:

  • What is a mission you are accomplishing on this earth?
  • Describe a significant event that changed the course of your life.
  • How would your friends characterize you? Look at yourself from the outside and describe what you see.

When it comes to writing your response to such a broad and abstract question, where do you begin!??!?

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