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Our Approach

Time-tested methods:

Time-tested methods:

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!

Continuous Support:

Continuous Support:

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.

Strategic Personalization:

Strategic Personalization:

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.

Deadline Setting and Mediation:

Deadline Setting and Mediation:

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.

Active Stress Management:

Active Stress Management:

We help students proactively combat writer’s block and manage admissions-related stress. Sometimes this involves writing exercises. More often it involves ice cream.

Lifelong Skill Building:

Lifelong Skill Building:

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.

High Ethical Standards:

High Ethical Standards:

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.

Meet the Founder

Stacey Brook

Founder and Chief Advisor

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.

Meet the Team

Kat Stubing

Communications Coordinator

Kat Stubing is a freelance writer, advisor, 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.

Thea Hogarth

Director of Product and Senior Advisor

Thea Hogarth is an experienced teacher, tutor, and educational product mastermind. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Haverford College with a BA in Comparative Literature and French, and is now nearing the completion of an MA from Columbia University’s Teachers College. As an undergrad, Thea sought out opportunities to guide younger students in their transition to college life, participating in Haverford’s “Customs” orientation program, tutoring in the Writing Center, peer advising new Comparative Literature majors, and giving campus tours to prospective students. Beyond the college campus, she has spent nearly a decade teaching English, literature, and writing to all grade levels from K-12 in a variety of settings, both in the US and abroad. In recent years, she has also cultivated a love and knack for product development and digital learning, and has led the charge on many projects from app development to video production.

Thea’s college essay described a moment in her life when grammar made her cry…with joy.

Jacqueline Abrams

Senior Managing Advisor

Jacqueline Abrams is a freelance writer who has taught at Emory University, New York University, and UC Santa Cruz. She earned her PhD in Comparative Literature and her MA in Humanities and Social Thought, and for the last decade, she has brought her love of writing to high school students across the country to help them craft winning college application essays. She believes that the college application essay is more than a hurdle for students to jump through; it is an opportunity for students to learn how to build powerful narratives about their lives. She teaches her students how to examine the details of their experiences and find meaning in even the most mundane moments. In addition to her scholarly work, Jacqueline has lived abroad for many years—as a university student in Bologna, Italy, a samba dancer in Bahia, Brazil, and a writer on a dissertation grant in Berlin, Germany. She has spent the better part of her life developing strategies for creative thinking and emphasizing the importance of effective communication.

Jacqueline’s own college application essay was a creative piece about the benefits and dangers of competition.

Nina Bailey

Senior Advisor

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 her 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.

Alexa DeGennaro

Senior Advisor

Alexa DeGennaro works in international television marketing for NBCUniversal in Los Angeles, where she also proudly mentors teen girls at WriteGirl and moonlights as a YA author. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Boston University with a BS in Journalism, which lead her to a job with BU in London, and then to EF Foundation for Foreign Study, where she found homes for exchange students (and read many a student application!). The lure of using her German minor and working in TV brought her to Los Angeles in 2010. At WriteGirl, Alexa has worked with underserved teen girls guiding them through the college application process with a focus on crafting essays that sing.

Alexa’s own college essay charted her experience as a high school foreign exchange student to Germany, capped off with a now cringe-inducing use of a Fiona Apple song lyric.

Sharon Cooper

Senior Advisor
Sharon Cooper has been an educator all of her adult life. She taught English, Creative Writing and Speech at Henrico High School’s Center for the Arts in Virginia, English at Sacred Heart and directed plays for five years at The Browning School in New York City. An accomplished writer and playwright herself, Sharon has been published in newspapers, magazines, and in several anthologies, including The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2010, 2014, and soon to be 2016; Laugh Lines: Short Comic Plays; and several editions of The Bedford Introduction to Literature and Literature to Go. Her short play “Mistaken Identity” is taught on college campuses and internationally. Sharon attended Longwood University (BA), where she studied English, Theatre and Secondary Education; and New York University (MA), where she attended the Gallatin School of Individualized Study and created a program called “Writing as a Means to Create Social Change.” When Sharon isn’t writing or tutoring, she may be found teaching a yoga or spinning class.
Sharon’s essay for college was about how she gave up cheerleading to participate in the theatre. It seems to have worked out well.

Rebecca Myers

Senior Advisor

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 NonfictionBest 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.

Kate Seldman


Kate Seldman is a freelance writer and editor who is passionate about helping clients find their voices and tell their stories. She specializes in identifying the ideal voice for companies and individuals and guiding each one through the construction of a branded narrative–or a college essay! Kate graduated from Vassar College with a BA in English and Film, then earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. She began her career as a writer’s assistant on the CBS TV dramas JAG and The Agency. Since then, she has written, edited, and consulted for an eclectic array of clients, including children’s cartoons, men’s lifestyle magazines, news websites, software companies, environmental nonprofits, and bodybuilding publications. On her personal blog, she writes narrative nonfiction about her sweet, rambunctious sons and her love of all things bizarre.

Kate wrote her college essay about the culture shock she experienced as a teenager when her family moved from London to Los Angeles, and the many times her classmates asked her to say the words “banana” and “water” because they wanted to hear her English accent.

Megan Brown

Megan’s love for the written word began at an early age; she was so shy she wouldn’t speak to anyone (no, not even her teacher) when she began kindergarten, but writing provided her an outlet to create and explore. She received a Kentucky Young Authors’ Award during her elementary years, and decided this just might be something worth continuing. Megan graduated Magma Cum Laude with a BA in Psychology from Beloit College, a private, liberal arts school included in the Colleges That Change Lives Consortium. She fell in love with the concept of qualitative research, spent a semester in Spain, and learned to adjust to Wisconsin winters. After graduation, she served a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA, facilitating community-based literacy tutoring initiatives in Title One elementary schools. Megan received her Ed.S in School Psychology in 2014 (The University of Tennessee – Chattanooga), and has been a practicing school psychologist since. She is passionate about hiking, rescue pups, and working through her ever-growing list of books to read. She is a freelance writer in her spare time. Megan fondly remembers her summer working for Beloit’s admissions office during undergrad – please don’t tell Jim about the time she extended the mail pick-up run to include an ice cream pit stop!
Megan’s admissions essay was a tribute to the house her mother grew up in, an exploration of the concepts of home, community, and identity. Nine children, numerous pets, fifty years… and no key to the front door.

Caroline Manring

Caroline Manring’s Manual for Extinction won the 2012 National Poetry Review Book Prize. A graduate of Cornell University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has taught college writing and literature since 2006, including courses such as Environmental Literature, Creative Writing, Honors Poetry Thesis, and a first-year seminar on birding and bird literature called The Avian Persuasion. She’s been a writer for the non-profits The Skaneateles Festival and GlamourGals Inc., and her work has appeared in literary magazines such as Colorado Review, Conduit, Drunken Boat, Jubilat, Seneca Review, and Verse Daily. She’s been a Teaching Writing Fellow, a Leggett-Schupes Fellow, and a semi-finalist for the Siskiyou Prize. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found gardening, leading bird walks, running, sailing, wrangling her two parrots, and playing fiddle in a family band. Personal essay is one of her favorite forms to teach because the discoveries that happen in personal essays can stick with you for the rest of your life!
Caroline’s college essay was about encountering the reality of war for the first time when guests from the Middle East stayed with her family for a week.

John Brown Spiers

John Brown Spiers has spent a lot of time teaching a lot of different things about writing to a lot of different people. He taught encyclopedic novels and essays of a single sentence to college students in Georgia. He taught Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and the tricky art of film adaptation to high school students in Ohio. Now he teaches students from all over the country how to conquer the college application essay. His recent breakthroughs in that field include discovering that Harold and the Purple Crayon is exactly the right length of the common app–helpful to keep in mind because if one of the most amazing stories ever put to paper is compact enough for the most demanding schools in the land then there’s no reason your amazing story can’t fit exactly, too.
He has dim memories of his own application essay, but does recall that he got into every school he applied to except the one he really, really wanted to attend. So he would very much like to help you get into the school of your dreams & daydreams; it would be a salve for his old wound.

Josh Hawkins

Lead Editor

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.

Sarv Kreindler


Sarv Kreindler received her BFA with Honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she majored in Film and Television and minored in French. This means she got to spend most of college running around and making movies (it was a lot of fun). She has dabbled in all sorts of writing including screenwriting, Emmy-award winning copywriting and copyediting, and professional tweeting for the likes of Bravo and MTV. She is also an award-winning YA and children’s book author.

Her college essay was on the many laudable qualities of her all-time favorite movie…Grease.

Rachael Fendrich


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.

Rebecca Semenetz


Rebecca Semenetz is an up and coming senior at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She studies Communication and hopes to work in marketing in New York City after she graduates in 2017. Rebecca has worked with New York State children’s cancer charity, GiantKids, creating promotional materials for their summer family fun event and also participated in a directed study with South Brooklyn Community High School, creating promotional materials for recruitment purposes. She also enjoys volunteering for numerous charities including St. Baldrick’s, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The American Cancer Society, and Friends of Karen. Rebecca went through the stress of applying to colleges and writing her own essay only a few years ago and continues to help her 16 year-old brother and 17 year-old cousin as they go through the same process.

Rebecca wrote her college essay about how her brother being a cancer survivor has shaped her life and inspired her to help others.

Student Advisory Board

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

MAJOR: Finance

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

MAJOR: Economics

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.