​​College Essay Boot Camp

How important is the college essay?
The college essay is the only part of the application you have total control over. You can’t change your grades or your test scores or your extracurricular activities, but you can represent yourself well in the essay. Colleges are more competitive than they have ever been, and the essay is the only chance you have to represent yourself as an individual.

A good college essay not only reveals something about your value system and your personality, but it shows how your brain works in a way that no other data in the admissions packet can capture. Through a college essay, you can represent yourself as a human being to the admissions counselors who are judging you. It’s like your best self, standing there; it’s the real you, not the SAT scores. Words can do a lot more than number can to convey who you are, and if you deny yourself that opportunity, you’re nuts.

Most students fall into the middle of the applicant pool at the schools they apply to. You have to ask yourself, what’s the hook? What will make them choose you? They are looking for the extracurricular energy that you will bring to their campus, the vision, insight and passion that will make their school a vital place, as well as the talent and intelligence you will bring to your coursework. How can your grade point average and your SAT scores possibly show that? Only the college essay can really feel like you, can give them a slice of what you’re like.

A few years ago, the big schools just made decisions based on numbers. But now, according to admissions counselors, even the big public universities are moving in the direction of the whole-person review. Essays count. Standardized tests have been driven down somewhat in the process. Many schools have chosen not to accept standardized test scores. In some ways, the essay is your last chance. Don’t let it slip through your fingers.

Can a bad writer write a good essay?
I like to think there’s no such thing as a bad writer. There are people who have been told they are bad writers, and many of them believe it. Some of them don’t trust that they have anything important or interesting to say. Some of them haven’t mastered the structural model of school essays. Some people have internal editors that make them choke when they see a blank page, because they are so used to reading negative comments written in red ink by their teachers that they are afraid to speak on the page. Some students don’t know that you need to give lots of specific details and put the reader right there in your skin. Some just need spell-check. These are all fixable problems. The tasks we get graded on in school are somewhat different than the tasks real writers face. If a reader is moved by your essay, and feels like he or she knows what sort of a person you are after reading it, you are a good writer.

Can a good essay compensate for bad grades?
It's possible. Your own perception of your growth is important. If your performance steadily improved, a college essay might be able to explain why. If there’s a reason why you didn’t do well in school, the college essay can communicate that. I’ve had students write about overcoming a learning disability in their college essay. Perhaps the most dramatic case I have to illustrate the power of a college essay is a bright, funny student who earned Cs and Ds in his courses, and was advised by his counselor to go to a community college. He told me that his dad, who had become a quadriplegic several years ago after a boating accident, was a brilliant information technology specialist. He had taught his son to be his hands, and since sixth grade, he had been building computers and doing consulting. He found school boring. His essay got him into New Jersey Institute of Technology with no problem.

How much time does it really take to write an essay?
Every person is different, but in my experience, the time difference really represents the amount of procrastination each person allows themselves before actually putting the words on the paper. Procrastination and anxiety represent 90 percent of the time spent on college essays. The actual writing is nothing compared to that. People walk around for weeks saying they’re thinking abut their college essay, but then they write it one night in 20 minutes. The Boot Camp just removes all of your procrastination excuses, and gives you easy tasks to do, one at a time, Then unexpectedly, you get interested in telling a particular story. And before you know it, there’s a page of text you like on your screen


When should I do the College Essay Boot Camp workshop?
Any time from the spring of junior year on is fine. It’s unlikely that you will have that one life-changing experience you need to write about the summer before your senior year, and if you do, you’ll have the skills to easily write it us as an alternative essay. Having a great college essay ready to send out when the early-decision crunch begins will give you a sense of relief and confidence that you can’t put a price on.

What if I don’t know what colleges I will be applying to?
We work with the topics on the Common Application, which will fit most schools.  Even schools that don’t accept the Common Application have some variation on those themes.

Suppose different schools have different topics, and I have more than one college essay to write?
If you find, after completing the program with us, that you have a very specific question you need to write an essay in response to, the rough work you’ve done with us will be material you can use, and the skills you’ll need to produce that essay will be the same ones you already have. After you do one essay with us, any essay ahead of you will be much easier. If you want individual coaching and guidance for additional essays, you can sign up for additional one-to-one coaching on an hourly basis, or you can choose CEBC PLUS, which gives you five coaching sessions and unlimited e-mail or text feedback. Dr. Wilk is always happy to give students a quick opinion on a supplement essay via e-mail at no charge. 

What happens if I have no idea for an essay topic?
That’s impossible. You have lived for 17 or 18 years. Each day, some things happen to you that you could probably write a good essay about. You just don’t see it. It’s our job to help you see it.

Will Dr. Wilk personally read every word of my essay before I’m ready to sent it out?

Yes.

Will Dr. Wilk or any of other coaches write my essay for me?
No.

What should I bring when I come to Boot Camp?
JUST BRING YOUR LAPTOP. If you don't have one, let us know and Dr. Wilk will bring an extra one for you to borrow. A rested, relaxed body and an open mind would help. A sense of optimism works well. A sense of humor would be appreciated. That’s all we need. And you should definitely eat breakfast.

What should I expect on the day of Boot Camp?

The objectives for this day are simple: we will make you feel comfortable, we will teach you what a college essay is and how it works, we will create a climate in which you can write about what is interesting and important in your life, and we will give you some techniques you can use to make those stories blow the reader away. When you are finished, we will do a final edit and send you home smiling.

We give you snacks, drinks, a pizza lunch, a journal, and a College Essay Boot Camp camouflage  pencil. 

How can you guarantee a college essay? What does “guaranteed” mean?

Of course, we can’t guarantee that you’ll get into the college that you want to. But we do guarantee that you can write an essay you’ll be pleased with, one that you feel will represent you well and will definitely help your admissions chances. If you don’t feel that way about your essay, we’ll work with you until you do—or we’ll give you your money back. When you leave us, we want you to feel pride and satisfaction. We won’t settle for anything less.


If I life in a different part of the country, can I get you to come and run a workshop there?


Maybe. Go to the CONTACT US page and send me a note. And of course, virtual Boot Camp is always an option. You miss the pizza, but the results are the same.