Our Uncommon Essay Approach is a step-by-step process that teaches students to brainstorm, freewrite, sculpt and polish their final drafts to a high shine. We know it works because we have been using it for over a decade. Also, these people say it does!
We work to accommodate busy schedules, providing ongoing support for both students and parents to help them better navigate the essay writing process and maintain their sanity.
A stellar essay begins with a strong topic that speaks to who an applicant is at his or her core. We work with students to unearth their best stories and put fresh spins on classic subjects. We refuse to let you hand in a bland essay.
When you are juggling a full academic schedule along with a mountain of application essays, time management is key. We serve as the liaisons between student and parent and are the evil deadline setters and expert nags. You will still love us in the end.
We help students proactively combat writer’s block and manage admissions-related stress. Sometimes this involves writing exercises. More often it involves ice cream.
Students who work with CEA exit the advising process with sharper writing, research and organizational skills, which will come in handy on campus and beyond. We will prepare you for college whether you like it or not.
We advise, students write. Though our process is thorough and intensive, students are responsible for getting the words on the page. When filling out their applications, all students know their work is their own.
This process can be time-consuming and challenging, so we have to make it fun – both for you and for us. We will make jokes. We might send you videos of cats jumping into boxes. We will probably Skype you while eating ice cream at some point.
Stacey Brook is an accomplished writer and admissions expert who has spent more than a decade helping students conceptualize, edit and refine their college essays. During her college years, Stacey discovered she had both a knack for consistently reinventing the creative personal statement and a perverse love of bridging the gap between stressed-out teenagers and their parents. She received her first exposure to the admissions process in the Dean’s Host program at Boston University’s College of Communication, serving for two years as the program’s coordinator. She was also the ’04 commencement speaker for the College, winning a coveted scholarship from Burston-Marsteller Public Relations.
Stacey has since spoken at schools around the world on the subject of the college essay and has advised over 1,000 students on their admissions essays. She is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and is on the faculty at nytEducation: The School of The New York Times, teaching students to wrangle their school-specific supplemental essays. Her writing has been published in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Money Magazine and USA Today and she pens a regular admissions column for The Huffington Post. Stacey also honed her branding skills, personal and otherwise, as copywriter for world-renowned ad agency, Cline Davis & Mann. She lives in New York, NY where she spends most of her spare time eating her way through the city like it’s her (second) job.
Stacey’s own college admissions essay involved a contrived The Wizard of Oz metaphor comparing her life journey at 17 to the yellow brick road. Though it successfully secured her admission, in retrospect she kind of wishes she had hired an essay consultant.
Rebecca Myers is a poet and creative nonfiction writer who thinks it doesn’t get more exciting than the essay: immediate, personal, variable, challenging. Rebecca graduated with Honors from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in English and Creative Writing, then earned a Masters in English from The University of Georgia. She went on to study with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds and receive her MFA in poetry from New York University. She has taught composition, literature, and creative writing courses at both large universities and small liberal arts colleges, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Wells College in upstate NY.
Her published personal essays have covered subjects as diverse as that summer she spent working food service at Disney World (purple polyester is about as breathable as you’d imagine) to her toddler’s refusal to sleep (he’s fond of waking her up by banging two puzzle pieces against her face like a defibrillator). Most recently, her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Creative Nonfiction, Best New Poets 2015, The Rumpus, The American Literary Review, Gulf Coast, and featured as part of an NPR Radiolab segment on the periodic table.
Rebecca’s college essay was about that sole time she snuck out of the house…to go to the library.
Kat Stubing is a writer and communications specialist who has worked for grassroots and nonprofit organizations, theaters, newspapers, magazines, and digital publications reaching audiences all over the world. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a BA in Media and Communication Studies, where she received an Award for Academic Excellence from the College of Arts and Humanities. As an undergraduate, Kat studied Journalism for a semester in Leicester, England, where she discovered her passion for narrative writing and travelling. Kat has explored the streets of Cardiff and Chirk in Wales, Rome and Mirabella Eclano in Italy, and Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand. She believes travelling is the key to self-discovery and a broader mindset.
Kat’s college essay was an instruction manual on how to overcome adversity and make the best lemonade out of life’s sour lemons. She takes full credit for Beyoncé’s award-winning album.
Emma Harrington is a freelance writer and former magazine editor who has been working with various student-lead publications since her sophomore year in high school. She graduated from Fordham University at Lincoln Center with a BA in Journalism and a minor in Psychology. She was also one of the founding editors of Fordham’s French literary magazine, Le Bélier, as well as the assistant Fashion Editor for the Fordham magazine FLASH. Though she is originally from Maine, she fell in love with New York City while touring colleges and has lived there since 2016, while she was obtaining her degree. Her favorite place in New York is the main branch of the New York Public Library, and she has spent many afternoons studying and reading underneath the beautiful ceilings of the Rose Reading Room.
Emma’s college essay was about the importance of focusing on the academic and cultural enrichment offered by attending university and not losing sight of why people apply to college in the first place.
Carolyn Balbo is a client relations specialist who has worked with clients for over 30 years. Carolyn has vast experience working with people as a group sales associate, retail sales assistant, parent liaison/association officer, executive function coach, occupational therapist, and college admissions specialist. Carolyn is passionate about helping families navigate the college essay and admissions process, and enjoys speaking with parents as they assist in their child’s journey. As a graduate from Franklin & Marshall College, Carolyn majored in History. She continued her education at Columbia University with a Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy, earning an academic award for Excellence in Pediatrics. As an occupational therapist, Carolyn worked in a school setting with children with Autism. Carolyn is a proud mom of two children in their twenties.
Carolyn has guided many high school students through the undergraduate college process, including her own children. She understands firsthand the stress that high school students and their families face as they start the college application process. Carolyn is an avid spectator of competitive swimming and loves to travel. You will likely find her driving numerous hours on a weekend to watch a swim meet! Carolyn currently lives in Virginia, but is originally from the New York Metropolitan Area. Carolyn would describe herself as fun and energetic while maintaining a calm demeanor when working with others. She loves a funny story, a good laugh, taking long walks while listening to books on tape, and spending time at the beach.
Carolyn’s college essay was about her experiences providing “safe rides” to peers who were under the influence and unable to safely drive themselves home.
Elaine Larson is a freelance writer of two blogs, a behavioral technician working with children on the spectrum, and sales professional who originally hails from the Chicago area. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, with honors, she majored in Business Administration and minored in Organizational Behavior. Elaine is a bit of a renaissance woman with a broad range of job and life experiences (which she’d love to tell you about if you have 9 hours). She spent 10 years in the staffing industry, and went on to sell everything from yellow pages advertising to DVD’s by the bin. She is a self-professed Scrabble maven, freakishly maintaining 40+ games at any given time online and playing up close and personal with her 93-year-old friend, a retired teacher who resides at the local senior living facility, whenever possible.
Elaine doesn’t readily recall what she wrote about for her college entrance essay because it’s truly ancient history.
Rachael Fendrich is a communications specialist and has worked as a copyeditor for over 10 years. She earned her BA in English with a minor in Philosophy from Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo. While studying there, she realized her passion for literature and the power of the argumentative essay. She went on to earn her MA in English at Cal Poly, teaching Rhetoric and Composition during her studies and continuing as a lecturer after graduating.
As an editor, she loves the structural world of grammar and linguistics, but also has an eye for rhetoric and how word choice and tone affect the reader. Rachael spent two years writing and editing textbooks for children with learning disabilities at Lindamood Bell’s Gander Publishing. Her experience there taught her that language is not merely text on a page; language can create images in the reader’s mind that persuade them to believe a story’s purpose or argument—this is especially true in the college entrance essay.
Rachael’s own college entrance essay explored how Kate Chopin’s use of symbolism in “The Awakening” actually “awakened” her to how powerful language can be. She really hit the nail on the head with that one.
Josh Hawkins has nearly 20 years of academic, professional, and freelance experience as an editor-from college essays to college textbooks and everything in between-with a special place in his heart for making complicated or convoluted material consistent and easier for everyone to read and understand. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia with a BA in Journalism and worked for a time as a freelance writer and magazine editor before embarking on a career in book publishing. During extended stints in the editorial departments at McGrawHill and Oxford University Press, Josh acquired new titles and developed projects in the areas of communication, journalism, film, and television. Since 2010, he has worked full time as a medical editor and group supervisor in the world of pharmaceutical advertising; he has been the Lead Editor at CEA since 2013.
Josh’s college essay was a long time ago, but it was most likely about wanting to get out of the small Georgia town where he grew up and make something of his life, which was a recurring theme for him. Mission accomplished.
Nina Bailey is an experienced high school English teacher who has taught at independent schools in New York City and the San Francisco Bay Area. She is passionate about working with high school students to develop their own written voice and gain the confidence to address any written task. Nina graduated Magna Cum Laude from Tufts University with a BA in English. After completing her undergraduate studies, she moved to New York City where she worked for several years in book publishing and at Christie’s Auction House. Nina then embarked on a Masters degree at New York University where she became a graduate writing instructor teaching freshmen composition courses with a focus on the personal essay. After completing her MA at NYU, Nina went on to teach English and writing at the Branson School in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Dwight School in New York City. Nina has worked one-on-one with numerous students over the past nine years helping them craft insightful, unique, polished college essays.
Nina’s own college essay was a meditation on writing as a process of discovery and transformation, a subject that still inspires her to this day.
Megan Grandmont-Melendy is a high school English teacher whose passion for writing was ignited as a teen by the world of Harry Potter fan fiction (she’s a Ravenclaw). She graduated summa cum laude from Boston College with a BA in English. After spending several years working in animal welfare, she went back to school to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher, earning her Master’s in both English and Teaching from Salem State University. While in grad school, she studied a variety of writing pedagogies, as well as researched the needs of graduate student writers and designed programs to meet those needs. Today she teaches English at a public high school in Massachusetts, where she delights in coaching students to grow in confidence and skill as readers and writers.
Megan’s college essay was about how encountering homophobic language in high school awakened her to the power of language in the real world.
Carly Hernandez is a New Hampshire native who attended Franklin & Marshall College to earn a degree in Creative Writing, and has an M. Ed in Secondary Education. She currently works in the Office of Admission at one of the Top 20 liberal arts colleges in the country. After a decade in a selective, holistic college admission environment, Carly estimates she has reviewed over 15,000 college essays since she began in 2009. Carly has travelled to over 60 countries to present college admissions workshops and informational sessions. Her favorite places to visit have been Vietnam and Rwanda.
Carly’s college essay was about being an anachronist, having a love of old photography equipment (and even making a basic wooden camera obscura herself) while the age of digital photography was just beginning to boom.
Will Howard graduated Cum Laude from Pomona College, where he majored in English with a concentration in creative writing and a minor in Spanish. He also wrote for the student newspaper, taught creative and expository writing in an afterschool program for low-income youth, and was a mentor in the Queer Mentorship Program. During his junior year he lived in Buenos Aires and took art history classes in an old cigarette factory. Now he lives in Los Angeles and listens to podcasts while he sits in traffic. In the summer of 2018 he participated in the Disquiet International Literary Program. He hopes to earn his MFA in creative nonfiction one of these days.
Will’s college essay was about surfing.
Bill Kelly has been a college English instructor, soccer coach, athletics and admissions liaison, athletics recruiter, and summer camp director over the past 25 years. A graduate of Macalester College, he majored in English and went on to earn his MA in English and Creative Writing at the University of Minnesota, where he won an Academy of American Poets prize. His poems have appeared in numerous poetry journals, and in 2015 his book of poems, Water Tiger, was published by David Robert Books. He has published children’s stories in Cricket magazine, Highlights for Children, Scouting magazine, and others. He is also a painter; his work has been shown and sold in Minneapolis, Albany, and Boston.
Bill’s college admissions assignment was for a “Character Sketch” which he produced in two parts: First, he drew a cartoon character he created, a little penguin named Maurice, shown sketching a giant self-portrait on a huge wall. The image filled the entire page. The second part of Bill’s Character Sketch, written on a separate page, described his love of storytelling. When he arrived for his college admission interview, he was stunned to see his cartoon pinned up on the Admissions office bulletin board. At the end of the interview, he learned he’d been accepted.
Tara Reyelts earned her PhD in African History from Michigan State University, where her dissertation received distinction. She also earned her BA in both English and African Cultures & Colonialism from St. Olaf College, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude. Tara is an experienced writing tutor, having worked at her school’s writing center during graduate school. After winning a Fulbright and other grants to support her historical research and writing, Tara led multiple grant-writing workshops for students seeking research funding. Tara has also taught several undergraduate and graduate courses in the social sciences and humanities. In each class, she has walked her students through each step of writing strong critical analyses and research papers. Originally from West Michigan, Tara now lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She played ice hockey and ran track from elementary school through college. In fact, one of Tara’s publications is a short non-fiction piece about preparing for her first college hockey game (in which she scored her first goal!). The piece was featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hooked on Hockey edition.
Tara’s own college essay was about her love of and commitment to playing hockey – she travelled all over the Midwest and Canada for games and tournaments throughout middle school and high school. After all, hockey was the main reason she chose to attend college in the great State of Hockey (Minnesota).
Daniel Ryan is a professor and writer who has taught composition, literature, and creative writing courses at Columbia University in the City of New York and Johnson & Wales University, where he currently teaches Advanced Composition & Communication. He graduated from Boston College with a Bachelor of Arts in English; in 2020, he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (with a concentration in Fiction) from Columbia University in the City of New York, where he also received a Creative Writing Teaching Fellowship. Daniel has received scholarship support from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and his first story was recently published in Electric Literature. He is currently working on a novel and collection of short stories. Daniel has always been interested in storytelling—before earning his master’s degree, he worked in digital marketing, helping clients find innovative ways to share their narrative online—but his true passion is helping students develop the writing skills to clearly communicate their ideas, advocate for what they think and believe in, and share their stories.
Daniel’s college essay was about finally recognizing the heroes in his everyday life—particularly his father, a state prosecutor who advocated for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors for three decades.
Caryn Schwartz has been an editor—of school assignments, newspaper articles, college applications and more—for eight years. She earned her BA from Vassar College in English and Chinese, and then promptly took off to join the college consulting industry in Shanghai. She has worked with high school, undergraduate and MBA applicants. After five years in China, which included stints editing for the People’s Daily and Penguin’s North Asia office, she has made her way to NYC to work in book publishing. These days she reminisces fondly about Chinese breakfast foods and tries to read everything.
Her college essay was about a particularly traumatic haircut.
Kayla Soyer-Stein is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher from New York City. A graduate of Oberlin College, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in French, she went on to earn her M.F.A. in Fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she was an Iowa Arts Fellow. She has over ten years of experience writing and teaching in various capacities, including to undergraduates at the University of Iowa, graduate students in Southern New Hampshire University’s College of Online and Continuing Education, and high school students through several nonprofit organizations in New York. In her free time, she volunteers at the ASPCA and walks around the block with her perfect dog.
Kayla’s college essay was about painting, writing, and dyeing her hair.
Melanie Ashkar is a freelance editor and opera singer from the Washington, DC area who received her BA in music and linguistics from the University of Virginia (Phi Beta Kappa). A lifelong lover of words, Melanie is a creative writer whose curiosity about language led her to earn a Master of Science degree in linguistics from Georgetown University, specializing in syntax. She went on to complete a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from Mannes College, The New School for Music, and continues to sing professionally.
A natural explorer, Melanie has lived across the U.S. from New York City, NY to Salt Lake City, UT, and has visited 38 states and four continents. Her keen editorial eye emerged as early as her elementary school years, when she began editing newspapers, essays, resumes, and more. She has worked for five years as an academic editor, and is passionate about helping writers find the best words to convey their ideas while maintaining their unique voice and style.
Melanie’s college essay was about a choir trip to Brazil and her profound experience of the power of music to connect people across cultures.
Steven Pfau is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. He graduated from the University of Idaho’s MFA program in Creative Writing, where he wrote a collection of essays on uncles and nephews. He taught a variety of composition, literature, and creative writing courses at UI, and he was the managing editor of the MFA program’s literary journal, Fugue. He previously lived in New York City, where he received a BA in English from Columbia University and worked for several years in the publicity department of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Steven’s college essay was about discovering his love of writing as a contributor to a music magazine based in Boston, where he grew up. The magazine has since folded, so you can no longer read what teenage Steven thought of Björk and Fiona Apple, which is probably for the best.
Michael Ventura is a freelance designer, animator, and illustrator with a love of all things creative. He graduated with Honors from Northampton Community College with a degree in New Media Design, and graduated Cum Laude from Lesley University with a degree in Animation and Motion Media. He has six years of freelance experience working on websites, promotional materials, short films, and mini-series. Michael likes to bring his creativity and love of design to the CEA team, and his work can be seen around this website; as well as in our college essay writing tip videos and our College Essay Academy YouTube series!
Michael wrote his college essay on the influences animation had on shaping his youth. How cartoons, video games, and other forms of art helped to drive his imagination and creativity to new heights; inspiring him to make things that would uplift and inspire other people’s imaginations as well!
The CEA Student Advisory Board comprises an all-star group of alumni who now attend some of the most elite colleges and universities in the country. They review and test new products to ensure that we’re always providing the best advice-plus they recommend the best TV shows!
NAME: Caroline Wang
SCHOOL: Duke University
MAJOR: Public Policy Studies
ACTIVITIES: Volleyball/Leo Club/Guitar/Community Service
COMMON APP PROMPT: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content.
ONE LINE ESSAY SUMMARY: I am perfectly content within the letters I write to the senior citizen I volunteer for, Norma.
BEST ADVICE FOR APPLICANTS: Your first (or even hundredth) idea will probably not end up becoming your essay. Be patient and stay creative.
NAME: Sam Gochman
SCHOOL: Dartmouth College
MAJOR: Biological Sciences
ACTIVITIES: Fencing, jazz saxophone
COMMON APP PROMPT: Transition from Childhood to Adulthood
ONE LINE ESSAY SUMMARY: The tools you receive in life are only valuable if you use them and give them to others.
BEST ADVICE FOR APPLICANTS: Be authentic and show how you can contribute to your school of choice.
NAME: Vikram Ashok
SCHOOL: New York University
ACTIVITIES: Band, Model UN, Super Smash Bros
COMMON APP PROMPT: Name One Time You Failed
ONE LINE ESSAY SUMMARY: Test out different approaches to a problem and adapt accordingly.
BEST ADVICE FOR APPLICANTS: You’re going to get into college, don’t worry.
NAME: Joshua Landsberg
SCHOOL: Duke University
ACTIVITIES: Soccer, Lacrosse, Sunrise Club
COMMON APP PROMPT: Background story
ONE LINE ESSAY SUMMARY: Life might knock you down, but that just means you have to get back up and fight harder.
BEST ADVICE FOR APPLICANTS: Work hard because the feeling of acceptance is all worth it.