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.