You’ve gone through a rough patch and lost some high school friends along the way. Things don’t feel right and you need an outlet to express your angst.

You can write about it in your college essay, you tell yourself. After all, one of the five prompts asks students to recount an incident or time when they experienced failure.

Wrong. Your college essay is not the place to write about how your friends left you high and dry. It’s not meant to be a cathartic exercise for releasing anxieties or a confessional for the things you did wrong. It’s meant to illustrate the part of you that positively sets you apart from the rest and makes you stand out in a flattering light.

Here’s a list of don’ts for your college essay:

  1. Don’t write about your heartbreak over a relationship that didn’t work out.
  2. Don’t discuss how you turned into a shoplifter in middle school until your parents caught you.
  3. Don’t talk about the day your English teacher sent you to detention because you and your best friend wouldn’t stop laughing in the back of the classroom.
  4. For heaven’s sake, don’t describe the time the narcotics dog sniffed marijuana in your car while it was parked on school grounds.
  5. Don’t write about how much you love basketball, football, baseball, lacrosse, etc. If you write about a sport, you’d better find an extraordinarily unique angle.
  6. Don’t write about the night you went out drinking and totaled your parents’ car.
  7. Don’t write about how you hate your mother/father/sister/brother.
  8. Don’t admit you put someone at physical risk by being reckless.
  9. Don’t write about how you walk through life pretending to fulfill a role decided by others. You should have some inkling by now of how you fit into society.
  10. Don’t write about your cute cat or dog, unless you really have no other story idea. But if that’s the case, you’re in need of a creativity boost.

There’s nothing wrong with writing about failure, or a mistake you made. But it’s important that you can show the experience taught you something or helped you to mature as a result.

Choose your topic wisely.

You have ideas locked inside you. The trick is to unlock the vault and let them flow.

If you’re still searching for an essay topic or want help with editing an essay draft, email the College Essay Confidantè at


10 Tips for finalizing your college essay


The early college application deadline of Nov. 1 is fast approaching. Is your essay ready for submission?

If not, it’s time to set aside a block of three hours on a Saturday or Sunday and write your heart out. Write one draft and then another, and another. Once you’ve written your final draft it’s time to chisel every sentence and word. First, make sure your essay is not more than 650 words and not less than 250. If so, you’re ready to apply the final touches.

Here are my tips for finalizing your essay:

  1. Read it once, read it twice, read it three times. Ask your family members to read it.
  2. Take notes on their feedback and give their comments consideration.
  3. Stay true to your own heart. Don’t allow anyone to sway you away from the story you’re burning to tell. If you feel emotionally attached to your story, so will your readers.
  4. Scour your essay for unnecessary words and delete them.
  5. Evaluate each verb and consider using a more descriptive one.
  6. Evaluate each sentence, one by one, to see if you can reconstruct it to be shorter and more precise.
  7. Check to make sure you’ve presented the best part of yourself. Don’t present yourself as someone who pretends to be someone you’re not just because of what others expect of you. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to reflect an inward struggle that shows a thoughtful and heartfelt effort to sort through things.
  8. Rethink the story. Did you explain it so that someone who knows nothing about you or the storyline will understand it quickly and effortlessly? If not, you may need to reorganize the paragraphs and revise them. Keep in mind that an admissions officer flips through hundreds of essays at this time of year. Yours needs to be immediately comprehensible and compelling.
  9. Rethink your conclusion. Was it serendipitous or did you struggle to find an ending? If you’re not completely satisfied with your last sentence, try something else. Play with the words. Sing it to yourself. Then go and meditate for 10 minutes and take your mind completely off it. When you come back to it, the right ending will pop into your brain. I promise.
  10. Most important, finish writing and editing your essay before Oct. 31. There’s nothing worse than working under last-minute pressure. You’re bound to make a typographical or grammatical mistake. Give yourself a gift by going gently into your deadline with confidence and grace.

Joyce Pellino Crane is the College Essay Confidantè. She is the multimedia news director at Westford Community Access Television and the former editor of the Westford Eagle and Littleton Independent, two community newspapers in Massachusetts. Crane was a Boston Globe correspondent for 10 years and her commentaries have appeared on the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper’s opinion page. She is the recipient of numerous journalism awards including recognition for editorial writing.

If you need help with your essay, email the College Essay Confidante at

Brainstorm • Write • Edit • Submit

The College Essay Confidante mantra