BREAKING: The College Essay Confidantè is Bringing You A College Prep Panel Discussion

The College Essay Confidantè is bringing a panel of college experts together to help you prepare for the college application experience in September. The event will be video-taped and posted for on demand viewing. More information to follow. Rising seniors are also invited to register for a short workshop on finding an essay topic (see below).

Brainstorm Your College Essay, Thursday, June 28, 5 to 6 p.m., J.V. Fletcher Library, 50 Main St., Westford – Find your kernel of truth through brainstorming and writing exercises. This abbreviated workshop will help you find an essay topic and figure out where to begin writing. Workshop presented by award-winning journalist Joyce Pellino Crane, the College Essay Confidantè.

Applying for College; What You Need to Know, Thursday, June 28, 7 to 9 p.m., J.V. Fletcher Library, 50 Main. St., Westford Get a jump on the college application process by attending this FREE panel discussion provided by college experts and moderated by Joyce Pellino Crane, the College Essay Confidante. Experts will take you through the application process from beginning to end.

Panelists are; Wendy Pechacek, Westford School Department Guidance Coordinator 6-12 Wendy Pechacek; Troy E. Lazaro, Assistant Director of Multicultural Recruitment, UMass-Lowell; Andrew N. Carter, Senior Associate Director, Office of Admissions, College of the Holy Cross; Julie Shields-Rutyna, Director of College Planning at the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority.

Priority given to rising seniors and their parents/guardians.

Pre-registration for both events is required by emailing Space is limited.

Prepping for the College Application, June 28

The College Essay Confidante is bringing a panel of experts to Westford, Massachusetts, for high school rising seniors.

The event, “Prepping for the College Application,” will take place on Wednesday, June 28, 7 to 9 p.m. at the J.V. Fletcher Library, 50 Main St., Westford.

The panel includes: Director of College Planning Julie Shields-Rutyna, Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority, Westford School Department Guidance Coordinator 6-12 Wendy Pechacek, and College Essay Confidante Joyce Pellino Crane.

Admission is free! More information to follow.

Ask questions in person or email them in advance to:

Two new prompts for the college essay

The Common Application has added two new prompts for the 2017-18 school year from which students can choose for their college essays. The maximum word count remains at 650.

“The goal of these revisions is to help all applicants, regardless of background or access to counseling, see themselves and their stories within the prompts. They are designed to invite unencumbered discussions of character and community, identity, and aspiration. To this end, we will be creating new educational resources to help students both understand and approach the opportunities the essay presents for them.

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. [No change]

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? [Revised]

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised]

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution. [No change]

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised]

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]”

Source: The Common Application

If you’d like help brainstorming and refining your college application essay, contact the College Essay Confidante at

Why the college essay matters

The college essay gives you an opportunity to tell a college admissions officer what makes you unique and genuine. It gives you a chance to illustrate what gifts, talents, or specialties you can offer. Sometimes that quality is as simple as a good character or the ability to persevere. Other times it might be that you’ve overcome a significant challenge in your life.

The trick is to reach inside yourself, find a topic and write about it in a compelling style. The best way to do this is to think deeply through brainstorming and writing exercises, read sample essays, and give yourself enough time to revise, revise, revise.

Like ribbon around a flagpole

Six high school juniors attended my March 5-6 workshop in Westford, Massachusetts and each had unique and wonderful story ideas by the time the workshop ended.

One student was planning to write about how a serious health issue has affected her life. Another was planning to focus on how a sports injury led her to mentor and coach younger gymnasts. A third was recalling his experiences at a New Hampshire summer camp first as a camper and then as a counselor.

“Brainstorm Your College Essay,” is a workshop I run for high school juniors and rising seniors to help them find a topic for their 650 word essay. It’s one of the most anxiety-producing aspects of applying for college. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be.

I limit the number of students in each workshop to six. That allows me to really get to know you over the three hour session and help you realize there are many stories in life. Our goal is to find the topic about which you feel passionate.

Then we begin shaping the story.

The trick for all essay writers is to find a focal point — something you can wrap a story around like ribbon around a flagpole.

How do you find this? It helps to talk about it with family and friends, and then start writing. I encourage my students to jump in. Put words to paper because that will help you home your topic.

If you need help, I’m just an email away at

Here’s what your story would look like if you drew it

Anatomy of a story.

Understanding the elements of a story will help you write your college essay.

Here you can see that a well-written story:

1.) begins with a hook (lower left corner);

2.) includes facts (real ones, not alternatives :);

3.) adds tension by creating a mystery or raising a question to keep the reader engaged;

4.) puts things in context, such as a geographic location or a time frame;

5.) moves the story along by telling what happened, using action verbs and detail. Take the reader into the scene of the story.

6.) concludes with a powerful ending that resolves something.

Your first college essay brainstorming exercise

The College Essay Confidante can be reached at

UPCOMING WORKSHOP: Wednesday, March 15, 6 to 7:15 p.m. and Thursday, March 16, 6 to 7:15 p.m.; $150 per student for both nights. Location will be in Westford. Address provided to registrants. If these dates are not convenient for you, private sessions can be arranged.

As a high school junior you are at the beginning of the college application process. Determining how to present yourself in an essay will be one of your more challenging endeavors.

Most students, when they begin thinking of writing the college essay, wonder how to come up with a topic that highlights their traits, character, and talents.

This is where brainstorming comes in. You fine a topic by taking baby steps.

In my workshops, “Brainstorming Your College Essay,” I usually begin with a simple writing exercise, asking the students to describe their bedrooms. “Tell me what color are the walls,” I say. “Where is the room located inside the house?” What do you see when you look outside the window?”

This simple exercise takes students inside their heads and helps them to reflect on what is important to them. It teaches them to put things in context. A bedroom is the most personal space you occupy. It’s where you store your dreams and thoughts in the books you place on the bookshelf, the jewelry you leave on the dresser and the pictures you hang on the walls.

If you can reflect your bedroom, you can reflect a part of yourself.

From there we take time getting to know each other.

The workshop has a maximum of six students and runs for three hours.

This gives us the time we need to get to know each other and to discuss potential topics.

You’ll leave with a written paragraph and the option of emailing me your completed essay for editing, if you meet a reasonable deadline.


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