Don’t Tell Me What Not to Write!

I’m annoyed.

I came across an article on Pinterest this morning entitled “5 College Essay Topics to Avoid.”

This seems to be the latest trend in College Essay advice. But I can’t think of anything worse to tell a student. Why don’t we force him to wear blinders, blast music so he can’t think, and criticize every idea he offers until he becomes so confused he produces nothing?

The author presented his list with the arrogance of someone who can’t step outside his own shoes and into someone else’s.

So he told high school seniors who have lived all of 17 years to avoid writing about the following:

  1. “You love to help people” —  His reasoning: too many student have traveled overseas to help underprivileged people, so you don’t have a unique story.
  2. “Beating an injury sustained in sports” — His reasoning: the common topic proves you can’t think of something substantial in life that’s happened to you.
  3. “How you feel about hot topics” — His reasoning:  Admissions officers are not interested in your political views.
  4. “Discussing your role model” — His reasoning: Admissions officers have read a lot of these so they’re not interested.
  5. “Your favorite celebrity’s issues” — His reasoning: This type of essay suggests you’re more interested in a celebrity’s point of view than your accomplishments and skills.

Here’s the thing. An essay on any topic can be compelling and memorable. It’s not really about the topic. It’s about how you present the story.

A topic about helping people

Writing a story about how you helped a group of people in an impoverished country can be fascinating, especially if you delve deeply into the hearts of the people who live there. That’s what foreign correspondents do every day in war torn countries and places where genocide occurs. Stories like these can change the world by raising awareness and giving hope. Don’t underestimate the power of such a story.

Your experience with a sports injury

If you’re a high school senior, a sports injury is substantial to your life. You’ve only been alive for 17 or 18 years and much of that period has been spent in childhood when you’re most sheltered by your parents. Not a lot of life happens by age 18. If this is an experience that is important to you, go for it!

Discussing a role model

One day while teaching a workshop on “Brainstorm your college essay,” I was struggling to interest my students in some writing exercises until I suggested they produce a brief profile of someone important to their lives. Suddenly their eyes brightened and they each took turns telling me exactly who they would profile and why. The people in our lives matter. When someone influences us in a meaningful way, he or she looms large and we’re happy to share why. Consider starting your essay with a characteristic of the person, such as “Nigel Bennington puffs cigars until the smoky front is an inch from the grin that welcomes every new arrival at his lumber yard. The 78 year-old carpenter can build anything with his hands and will happily teach you what he knows…”

A persuasive essay

Discussing hot topics and sharing a celebrity’s point of view are probably not the best choices for a personal statement, but I would never tell my student not to give the topic a try. Writing is a creative process that benefits from experimentation and a few wrong turns. Every draft you write will lead to something better, so don’t let anyone tell you what not to do. Go with what feels right and see what comes out.

If you need guidance, I’m here to help. Writing is what I do and telling stories is my passion.

I’ve won journalism awards and mentored several successful journalists. I’m happy to help:



Get Inspired! Essays from the New York Times and a Challenge from the College Essay Confidante

CHALLENGE TO 2016 HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES: Send me the essays you wrote for your college application and I’ll publish the best ones here!!! You can inspire the next group of graduates.

Every year, the New York Times editors publish their favorite college essays submitted by the college-bound seniors who wrote them.

Click here for the 2016 batch.

Read them and get inspired!

Your essay can be just as compelling.

If you have an essay idea, but don’t know how to get started,  I can help.

I’m the College Essay Confidante at



COLLEGE ESSAY: The Smallest Occurrence Can Make the Greatest Story

If you’re a high school senior, would you please drop me a line?

I’m determining the best date for another workshop on “Brainstorm Your College Essay.”

I know this is the busiest time of your life and fitting in another classroom event is the last thing on your mind.

But if you’re struggling to find a topic for your college essay, this workshop can put you in the driver’s seat. It will help you think about your life from a new angle and see the possibilities of a well-constructed story wrapped around an incident that you may never have viewed as a worthy topic.

Great stories can come from minor occurrences. Keep that in mind as you mine your brain for ideas.

Email me now and let me know if you’d like to attend a workshop in early October with the College Essay Confidante:

And don’t forget that I’m offering the same workshop at Acton-Boxborough High School, 36 Charter Road, Acton, on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Register here.


The 150-Word Essay is Harder Than It Looks

You’ve got the personal statement written and you’re almost done with revising it, so you’re home free, right?


Most university applications ask students to also write short essays ranging from 150 to 200 words. These pesky paragraphs are far more challenging than the main essay which allows you to be creative and to craft a story with a beginning, middle, and ending.

By contrast, the shorter essays often require you to answer a decidedly uninspiring question, such as, why do you want to attend such-and-such college? And your immediate answer is likely to be that you visited the campus and felt at home there because of a pleasant professor or tour guide and the beautiful scenery.  With room for only 150 words, there is little space for mapping out a well-rounded response.

However, I encourage you to dig deeper into your thoughts and to research the course catalogue to figure out what other factors are attracting you to this college. Dare to be different and memorable. Find a reason that isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

Think about the learning options the college offers. Does it have a theater arts group that you’d like to join? An orchestra? A religious or recreational group that’s up your alley? Does it offer a unique curriculum for the degree you want?

I help seniors with this process and gladly work one-on-one to get them into a thoughtful mindset.

Let me help. Email me:

Brainstorm your college essay workshop, Oct. 12

Still struggling to find a topic for your college essay?

The College Essay Confidantè is holding a workshop to help you.

“Brainstorm your college essay” will take place on Thursday, Oct. 12 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Acton-Boxborough High School, 36 Charter Road, Acton, Massachusetts.

Register here and find the course description here on page 33.

Designed to help students find a topic for their college application essay, “Brainstorm Your College Essay,” offers an idea-sharing session followed by writing exercises and feedback. Students will leave with a solid topic and an opening paragraph for the essay. Fee: $180 per student. Limited to 8. This three-hour workshop is for seniors only. Questions? Email

About the presenter
Joyce Pellino Crane is an award-winning journalist, recognized for editorial writing by two major newspaper organizations. Her essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, Newsday, and GateHouse Media publications. She has taught college essay workshops to high school students for five years. Joyce is the former editor of the Westford Eagle and Littleton Independent and is an approved Westford Academy tutor. She is currently the multimedia news director at Westford Community Access Television.

You’ve got plenty of time…Not!

What’s the worry? It’s still early September.

Why start your college essay now? The application deadlines are weeks and months away.

But think twice. Senior year is busy and time is short.

Your essay takes careful thought, precision writing, and flawless editing.

The process takes more than a night while doing your math and physics homework.

Do you have a topic that will reflect you well? Do you know what the story arc is?

Write your draft. Give yourself time to think.

If you need help, call me:

Ask for Help When You Study, Says Wall Street Journal Article

Here’s an interesting Wall Street Journal article on how to study more efficiently.


“What’s the best way to study for a test?

Many students will plunge into marathon study sessions this fall, rereading textbooks and highlighting their notes late into the night. The more effort the better, right?

Not so, new research shows. Students who excel at both classroom and standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT aren’t necessarily those who study longest. Instead, they study smart—planning ahead, quizzing themselves on the material and actively seeking out help when they don’t understand it.”

Read more…


The Common App is Now Available

Rising high school seniors across the country now have access to the 2017 Common Application where they can submit an application to more than 700 colleges with one form.

The website streamlines the application process and allows applicants to use one main essay for all schools.

The essay is used in lieu of a face-to-face interview with college admissions officers or university representatives.

“The college essay can be the deciding factor in a student’s admission to the college of his or her choice. Choose a topic that reflects something about the core of your personality and illustrates what you will contribute to society,” said Joyce Pellino Crane, founder of the College Essay Confidantè, a remote and in-person tutoring service for college applicants.

College Essay Confidante Unveils New eBook

Joyce Pellino Crane has written a free eBook for rising high school seniors planning to apply for college this fall.

Writing Your College Essay,” packages the seven prompts from the Common Application with interesting story ideas into one simple eBook. Opening sentences from sample essays are also offered.

The book is designed to help essay writers connect the dots between their every day lives and the compelling story they are hoping to tell about themselves. It tells them how to discover that story and where to begin.

“The college essay should reveal the uniqueness of the writer. This is an opportunity to tell a personal story that no one else could write because each essay is exclusive to that person,” said Crane.

Crane noted that most colleges don’t require face-to-face interviews, so the college essay is considered the equivalent. It can become an admissions officer’s deciding factor regarding a borderline student, she added.

“That’s why the essay is so important and should not be left up to chance,” Crane said. “And never leave it to the last minute. Besides the unnecessary stress, a last minute submission doesn’t allow the writer to give the essay the attention it deserves.”

Crane is known as the College Essay Confidante. She is the News Director at Westford Community Access TV and a former community newspaper editor. She was a Boston Globe correspondent from 2000 to 2010. Between 2011 and 2016, she was the recipient of numerous newswriting and reporting awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. In addition, she won an editorial award from the 2015 Best of GateHouse and a first prize NENPA award for commentary writing.