Ten Steps to a Great College Essay

Before you begin Step 1, watch the video introduction to the 10-Step Wow Method. When you are done, continue reading to learn more. There is no Try It activity for this segment.

Note: the video tells you to “Click Read It.” There is no click! Just read the page.

Play Video

Once you recognize and believe in your writing voice, the Wow Method makes perfect sense.

Wow’s ten steps help students put their stories on paper in their own words and in their own voices. We don’t provide a template, and we never tell anyone what to write. Instead, we teach our students how to do it themselves. As a result, they end up with beautiful stories and a great sense of pride.

Michael, a young man who worked with us on the personal statement for his law school application, put it this way: “I didn’t know I could write. My friends just help each other, and they end up emailing (their essays) back and forth to three or four friends for review. They just keep rewriting without any real input. You taught me a process so I can do this again by myself. You helped me come up with my own ideas.”

Here’s another comment, this one from a parent in New York whose daughter got into eight schools, including Princeton, Yale, Columbia and Georgetown: “I’m convinced her essays made a big difference, and we are so grateful for everything you did for her.”

And finally, a comment from Peter, a transfer student who was already a skillful writer when he came to us: “Wow did much more than help me craft strong and effective essays for my college applications, though they certainly did that too. They taught me to approach writing in a new way, and gave me a process that I will keep with me forever. It is hard to explain just how useful their approach has been, but within minutes of sitting down (and I was skeptical at first) I was in awe of its efficacy.” 

Follow the Process

The best essays emerge during the process of writing. Don’t start with preconceived notions about what makes a good essay. Just write. The results might surprise you.

Because we believe so completely in the writing process, we frequently share excerpts from our students’ work, but we never share full-length samples. If we showed you six great essays, you might set out to model yours after one of them. If you follow our 10 steps, you will sound like you. Ultimately, that’s what matters most.

Content: Steps 1-6

As you begin the process, you don’t need the perfect opening line, and you shouldn’t worry about keeping everything in the right order just yet. In fact, you won’t even start writing your first draft until step 5.


Preparation is paramount. It is critical that you understand exactly what you are trying to achieve before turning your ideas into an actual essay. By the time you finish that first draft, the content of the essay should be absolutely clear. Step 6 offers an opportunity to confirm that the content is all there.

Structure: Steps 7 and 8

Next we concentrate on structure: making sure every part of your essay is exactly where it belongs. You will check and re-check that your essay works from every possible angle. Content is still important here. Through revision, you will likely find new and better ways to express yourself.

Many students find that their essays go in wonderful and unexpected directions as they revise. When you understand that revision involves “re-seeing” your essay, it feels less like fixing something that is broken and more like a process of discovery.

Sarah, one of our students, had this to say about revision: “I am not just becoming a better writer. I am learning to transform something I have written into something totally new. It is no longer taking apart something that I made but creating something bigger and better than I had before.”

Polish: Steps 9 and 10

After working on structure, it is finally time to polish. This is where you cross every t and dot every i.

Content and structure are still in play, but now you will move from revision to editing and proofreading. By the end of step 10, you should be ready to send in your essay with a completed application to the college of your dreams.

Time to get started on your essay