Hi, I'm Jen! (I'm the short one in the middle.) I'm a professional writer, a credentialed teacher, and I help students craft standout college essays.
There is no easy formula to writing a great college essay. But after consulting with admissions readers and officers, leading college essay workshops, and coaching lots of high school students, I can offer students a tried-and-true, totally personalized approach to essay success. I support my clients to:
answer the essay prompts fully and well,
balancing clear, clean, conventional writing
with bold and creative touches.
Here's how (plus a bunch of free tips every single college essay writer needs to know):
Students I work with create what college admissions officers want: compelling essay-stories written in lively, authentic voices. They do not waste essay space with resume-rehash or uninspired listings of accomplishments. Rather, they confidently and justifiably weave their skills and achievements into their essays to support the larger point that they are ideal candidates to attend their chosen school.
Don't believe that only straight-A students with heaps of extracurriculars have great essay material to work with. I've helped students write knockout essays about starting a (doomed) business, missing the last train in a foreign country, and not making the cut for an elite soccer team. It's about owning who you are and showing how you've grown, led, listened, changed... and will continue to do so.
Applicants get 650 words for the Common App, 350 for the UC PIQ's, less for most supplementals. Organization, prioritization, and ferocious editing are musts! Most colleges claim that grammar and syntax don't matter, but they do if they lessen the impact of your storytelling. A good essay is a tightly-crafted word-puzzle, and the student's task is to fit all (and only) the value-adding pieces in.
If a student gets "stuck" in the complexity of putting it all together, co-writing on a Zoom shared screen is a game-changer! Together we dump out all the puzzle pieces, turn them right side up, and arrange them to create a seamless whole. I *love* doing these kinds of puzzles, and can help you sort yours out efficiently -saving time and frustration!
The most important thing a writing coach does is take the student seriously - their stories, their goals, their concerns, their voice. Every student I work with - whether they know it yet or not - has an authentic take to share, and every single one could use a little help owning it! Even very self-aware students benefit greatly from a professional gently helping them identify what is and is not important in terms of their college essays.
I believe your essay should be a proud and positive reflection of who you are. I listen, ask for detail, clarification and expansion, and help clients gather the threads until a) a really memorable story comes together, and b) the student's voice shines through, strong and compelling.
We typically start with a free 30 minute Zoom call where I get to know the student’s goals, timeline, and “where they are at”. Then, I send students a Google Doc to help organize their schools, deadlines, essay choices, etc. I will ask them to create a casual but comprehensive resume of their high school years; this makes sure that nothing gets left out, and they will need it for their applications anyway! Then, we exchange Google Docs four times:
Student sends me their essay ideas / outlines / resume / draft essay(s) -- whatever materials they have.
I return ASAP with edits. Zoom call to discuss resume / choose essays / co-write.
Idea to Draft
Student sends next draft incorporating ideas, edits, and recommendations.
I return ASAP with edits. Deep dive into resume, goals, and dreams. Zoom call to discuss and possibly co-write.
Student sends next draft incorporating ideas, edits, and recommendations.
I return ASAP with edits, or we set up a Zoom call to discuss, item by item, line by line. Tone is refined.
Student sends completed essay(s).
Final content check, final proofread, "one last think". Confirm “ready to submit”.
Every student is different. Some like to check in by text, trade ideas, go back and and forth. Others (especially if there's a time crunch) will crank their essays out with me, over Zoom, in one or two sessions! As a teacher and parent of three teens myself, I am all about encouraging their independence and I am 100% willing to meet students where they are at, working with them the way they like to work.
Details & FAQ's
(for parents trying to decide "Does my student need a college essay writing coach?"
I'll admit, this is gonna sound rich coming from me... but every kind of student can benefit from working with a writing coach. Here's some ways you'll know if your student really needs me.
What kind of student benefits most from working with a writing coach?
students who want to go above and beyond and write seriously standout essays;
students who feel stuck; feel like they have nothing original to say; are just rehashing their resumes;
students who need help explaining something deeply challenging or complex about their lives in their college essays;
students whose essays read boring, blah, vanilla... but they don't know how to fix it.
students who are busy! Or who procrastinated! Or maybe both, and now they need to get those essays done and done right!
What kind of student really doesn't need (much) coaching?
If your student has answered the essay prompt fully and well; feels fantastic about their essay, with no lingering uncertainty or "what-if's?"; if you or another adult who is a very good writer (and not afraid to be brutally honest) have looked over the essay and agree that's it great: then CONGRATULATIONS, your student is #goals!
I would humbly submit that a second opinion from a pro writer/editor is always a very good idea, not to mention a zero-risk investment as I don't charge for a 30-minute initial consult / look-over. Personally, I always send my important work to my Writing Salon, experienced writers and editors, etc., to "sign off" on before pressing "submit". I can't tell you how many times they have caught not just silly typos, but places where I really could have done better, been clearer, said more. It takes both engaging writers and engaged readers to make an essay great! Something to think about.
What is your rate? How much can I expect to pay?
I do not charge for a fee for our initial 30-minute get-to-know-you session.
My Winter/off-season rate is $50/hour. My services include all aspects of writing help including content editing, content coaching, fine-tuning of tone and style, rigorous grammar and syntax check, and final proofreading. If need be, I will share student's work with UC Reader and college advisor colleagues.
My time/fee may include light project management (creating timelines, check-ins, organizing info, etc.) if the student/parent indicate that it's needed. I do not charge for the time I spend learning about your student’s desired schools, and what those schools look for in their applicants, unless you ask me to go above and beyond my usual process on your student’s behalf. I charge only for time spent specifically in the craft of helping your student create brilliant college essays.
The amount of time each student requires varies varies greatly, but 4 to 6 hours is typical / average.
Can't we find college essay help for free online?
You bet! College websites have terrific guides on answering their own essay prompts, and I would advise every student to start there. A simple Google search yields lots of quality essay-writing resources, and I'm glad to share my favorites - I really like Essayhell.com. If your student can glean what they need from online resources, that's fantastic!
My student's high school teacher / counselor / high school essay writing helper looked over their essay. They're good to go, right?
This is a tricky one. I am a teacher, I love teachers! School counselors, English teachers, even some internet essay gurus can be great resources for college essay writers. But unfortunately, my students' experiences attest that not every counselor or college advisor is a great college essay writing coach:
A student received feedback from his counselor that his essay was done- great! And yet... he felt he could do better. He just didn't know how. We ended up completely rewriting his essay (4 hours of work) until he felt 100% confident in it. Either the counselor had severely underestimated what he was capable of, or they saw nothing wrong with a student submitting an essay that did not make a focused case for why he was a good fit for that college. Nothing beats one-to-one engagement to help a student go beyond the ordinary, and write an essay they feel great about.
Also common - a teacher or advisor recommends a change, good advice- which the student then struggles to implement. This is where the writing coach comes in, with a technician's eye for content and detail, and an artist's feel for craft, to show not tell students how to turn their experiences into words that shine.
An example I'll always remember: an advisor told a student to delete from their essay a single reference to the architect who inspired them. This advisor was strictly (slavishly?) adhering to the true college essay writing credo - "write only about yourself, not about anyone else". In this case, however, it made total sense for this student to cite someone who was an integral part of their journey. This is how creatives communicate! We weaved the student's appreciation for this architect back into their essay, in a subtle way that communicated heaps about the student and their aspirations.
I find that nothing works better than the dedicated, one-on-one, professional relationship I create with your student to assist them to write an essay that truly does it all. I don't tell just tell your student what to do and leave them to figure it out (or not)- I break the process into achievable steps, and support them through it.
AI is the future! Shouldn't students use it to write at least the first draft of their essay?
I sincerely caution all students against using Chat GPT or other AI resources, even in the draft process. There is just too much at stake. Admissions readers are excellent at identifying AI-influenced writing. Colleges are investing in technology to identify AI-generated writing. None of them condone the use of AI in college essays. Why risk it?
There's another reason why I'm firmly against using ChatGPT in college essays. ChatGPT produces very well-put-together sentences with clean grammar and clear syntax. Problem is, most people (and just about all high schoolers!) naturally write with, shall we say, funkier grammar and syntax. These charming idiosyncrasies help create *voice*, one of a writer's strongest assets! Students and parents are sometimes surprised when I choose not to iron out every last syntactical kink in an essay. I leave this stuff in because a) it's them, it's awesome, it's honest, and b) it lets colleges know that this student did not use ChatGPT or other AI outsourcing.
What is your background? What makes you an expert?
I began working with college applicants in 2020 after completing a training with Encuentros, a non-profit organization that pairs professional writers with college seniors are the first in their families to attend college. I was amazed to learn (from sources including UC, CS, etc. admissions officers and essay readers) that there are serious do’s and don’ts when crafting college essay responses, and that these are not necessarily common knowledge. I don't believe in "gatekeeping" information that would benefit many; my new writing mission was to share this knowledge with as many students as I could! Since then, I have helped several dozen young people craft their college essays via workshops, one-on-one Zoom sessions, and lots of swapping of Google Docs!
My "why": I do this work because I genuinely believe in the possibilities of language, self-expression, storytelling, and I LOVE giving kids the tools they need to succeed! It matters to me that my students enjoy the process of writing their stories.
How do we get started?
Contact Jen to schedule a free consultation by email or phone. I highly recommend getting started in the "off-season", Winter/Spring, as I will book up (and may have to charge more too) during the high-demand period of late Summer/Fall.