Nick Gowen ’11 puts his money where his mouth is with The $100,000 Essay
It’s that time of year again—when motivated high school students begin the grueling college application process, filled with a whole bunch of college visits, a little soul-searching, and most important—and often dreaded—of all: the college admission essay.
Luckily for students, there’s a solution out there that makes the final piece of the puzzle a little easier, thanks to Nick Gowen ’11, who just finished The $100,000 Essay, a manual designed to give high school students precise, practical tips on how to write a better admission essay.
When asked what gave him the idea to write a book on such a specific subject, Gowen explains, “In a way, I felt I had to. I read other books on application essay writing and thought, ‘I would fall asleep by page five if I were a high school student reading this.’ I wanted to create a manual of action—one that immediately gets students writing.”
For Gowen, accessibility and ease were key aims of the book.
“High-schoolers don’t have time to read an encyclopedia on essay writing, and after a day of school and extracurriculars and a pile of homework, they’re exhausted, too,” he says. “My manual teaches them exactly what they need to know, exactly when in the writing process they need to know it—and hopefully makes them laugh along the way. A piece of writing should never be boring, whether it’s a college essay or a manual on the college essay.”
For Gowen, the key to any good admission essay is to stop thinking of it in the rigidly defined terms the word “essay” conveys to students.
“You should think of it instead as a story,” he says. “Pretend like you’re sitting around a campfire with the admissions staff, trying to entertain them with a tale about your life. My goal is to teach students how to tell a great story and give their applications a human face; otherwise, those applications are lifeless lists of accomplishments, awards and GPAs.”
Gowen’s passion for good storytelling was originally fueled by a creative non-fiction workshop led by Associate Professor of English and Director of Creative Writing Lisa Williams.
“Her class was the first time I thought about my audience,” Gowen explains. “What would make them want to keep reading? That’s vital for college applicants to ask themselves, too, because they must connect with application reviewers in a way that sets them apart from the thousand other applications in the stack.”
In designing and publishing the book, Gowen teamed up with long-time creative partner and Assistant Director of Admission for Communication Adam Brown. When Gowen was a student, he and Brown worked together on the SNL-styled campus news show Front & Centre News and the campus mockumentary Lil Smitty. Brown worked on the visual and graphic design of the manual, including the eye-catching front cover.
When asked about the manual’s interesting title, Gowen explains that it is meant to reflect the cost of an average four-year degree.
“A well-crafted application essay can earn you the scholarships to cover that cost and graduate debt-free,” he says, “which, at least for me, was the most important factor in choosing a college.”
And despite the book’s specific use, Gowen intends for it to be more than just a get-into-college quick fix.
“I hope readers realize the manual doesn’t just help them write a great college essay. It applies to anything they write—from a dissertation to an email to a tweet to a Post-It Note,” he explains. “I think anyone can learn to write beautifully with the right guidance.”
With the book now available for digital download, Gowen is ready to think about other projects.
“Over the past few years, I’ve met a lot of young Kentuckians whose stories are missing from the Kentucky narrative most of the country is familiar with,” he says. “I’d like to find a way to collect these stories and tell them to a national audience. We need a more complete picture of our state.”
To download a copy of The $100,000 Essay, click here.
By Mariel Smith