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College Essay Help Desk

A Ten-Minute Tutorial FAQ

Lisa Buchanan's Resource Page

You are here because you are applying to a graduate or undergraduate program and are faced with the exciting (and possibly stress-soaked) task of writing about yourself. For the applications to schools you select, you'll be writing personal essays of various lengths.

• You want your writings to make a memorable impression.
• You want your writings to distinguish your application from the multitude.
• You want your writings to be reflective, genuine, and insightful.

GraduateCap   Twenty-One Favors I Beg of College Applicants Writing Personal Essays

1. You may have built a robot salamander as a model for computerized prostheses, sung a solo at your uncle’s funeral and gained some unexpected political enlightenment by volunteering in an election campaign. However, please do not mention them all in a single essay; better to write deeply about just one significant experience.

2. Please don't assume that fact equals truth... "How To Write A College Application Essay"

GraduateCapGraduateCap   Seventeen Favors I Beg of Transfer and Graduate Applicants Writing
   Personal Essays

1. Please don't structure your personal essay like a research paper with a thesis statement and topic sentences. Rather, reflect on a significant personal experience using language that is sophisticated and conversational. Use contractions. Use “I.” Avoid “Firstly,” “Secondly,” and “Thus, we can conclude..."

2. Please demonstrate rather than explain... [Continue reading here]

A Ten Minute Tutorial
Raphael "The School of Athens" "Advice from a Master" - A ten-minute tutorial on scope.

Raphael may not have intended to give advice on college-application essay strategy, but we can learn about scope from him and his fresco… Click here to go to Step 1 >>

College Essay Editor FAQ
1. What is distinctive about you as an essay editor?
In my 25+ years as a published author, I've earned degrees in journalism and creative writing, and won awards for my personal essays (see my Trophy Corner).
2. Are you currently accepting new students?
Not at this time.
3. To which schools have your students been accepted?
After working with me on essays for their applications, students have been accepted to Amherst, Barnard, Beloit, Boston University, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Duke, Emory, Fordham, Georgetown, Georgia Institute of Technology, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Kenyon, King's College London, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Northwestern, NYU, Oberlin, Pitzer, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Tufts, Tulane, University of British Columbia (Sauder School of Business), UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Edinburgh (Scotland), University of North Carolina, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh Honors College for Bioengineering, USC, University of St Andrews (Scotland), Vanderbilt, Vassar, Washington University (St. Louis), Wesleyan, Wharton, Williams, and Yale, and other schools.
4. What have students and parents said about working with you?

"We greatly appreciated your help. You are the best writing coach one could hope for. I really liked your ideas/suggestions and energy. My daughter used your editing suggestions to her essays in her application. Again, it was great working with you. I would definitely use your service again in the future.." -- parent of first-year student, Stanford University.

"Yale considers the statement of purpose the single most important part of the application package; your help was integral to my success." -- graduate student, Yale University.

"Thank you for helping me organize my thoughts into a well-written essay! I felt my essay definitely helped me get into Cornell, and your tips and comments have taught me essay-writing skills that I've been able to use elsewhere as well." -- first-year student, Cornell University.

"Thanks for all your help. I really appreciate it. My son learnt a lot by working with you. I take pleasure in letting you know that he got into Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, and many state schools. You taught him the art of concise prose and for that we are very grateful. Thanks again for all your guidance." -- parent of first-year student, Harvard.

"Thank you for your incredible advice, guidance, and support -- I would not have been able to find my voice without you. -- first-year student, University of Washington (St. Louis).

"I applied to Emory, Yale, Brown, Penn, Dartmouth, and NYU--and was accepted to all six. I can't thank you enough for helping me brainstorm for my personal statements and carving out the first page--your help proved invaluable. Thank you very much for your assistance, edits, time, and suggestions. I really can't begin to tell you how appreciative I am!" -- graduate student, Yale.

"Thank you SO very much for all your assistance with our daughter's essay. We greatly appreciate your guidance and gentle constructive direction in helping her create the essay that will best promote her to all the colleges that she is applying to. We have another daughter who is 2 years younger, so don't be surprised if you hear from us again in a couple of years! My husband and I also greatly appreciate your willingness to work within in our budget." -- parent of first-year student, University of Notre Dame.

"Thank you so much for your help. I couldn't have done it without you and I thought it was only appropriate that I let you know how grateful I am. :)" -- transfer student, NYU Stern School of Business.

"Thank you, Lisa, for all of your assistance and guidance that you provided for our older daughter during this process. It has been a pleasure working with you as well. I was just reviewing the newly released essay questions with our younger daughter last week. I'm sure we will be in touch down the road as she will be applying to colleges in the fall of 2018 ;)" -- parent of first-year student, Loyola Marymount University.

"Lisa was an incredible help to our daughter in advising her on how to write a powerful college admissions essay. Our daughter was an excellent student with high test scores but needed assistance in writing an essay that would make an impact on admissions officers at highly competitive schools. Lisa diligently and patiently guided our daughter through the process and the result was an excellent essay that undoubtedly helped her get accepted at two of the top universities in the U.S." -- parent of first-year student, Brown University.

"Before my son worked with Lisa, he had no idea what to write, or simply had too many ideas but did not know which to use. Lisa does not write for your child, but points out areas to improve or ideas to develop. Magically, she knows what schools are looking for. My son is not a 4.16 GPA student, so his essays really helped him get into his dream school (UC Berkeley) and get wait-listed by other top schools. My next child will start the process in a year and we are lucky to know to whom we will come for help. Thanks, Lisa!" -- parent of first-year student, UC Berkeley.

"College essays frightened me the most about applying to college. I truly didn't think anything I experienced or anything about me was worthy of submission. With Lisa's incredible patience, guidance and talent, I was able to create meaningful essays that reflected who I was as a person and who I would be as a student. I was accepted to my first choice, early admission. I don't think this was even feasible until Lisa began to coach me through this journey. I would recommend Lisa to anyone who wants to create a superior college essay." -- first-year student, Georgetown University.

"I set out to look for a tutor that could help me get my words on paper. I had many thoughts, too many actually, and I needed someone to help me organize and put them into writing. Working with Lisa really helped me to do so. She helped me learn not to lose my thoughts in the process of writing an essay and to condense the million ideas that I had, into a pithy piece." -- first-year student, USC.

"Lisa worked with my three daughters to help them with their UC and Common App essays. She not only helped them discover great topics to write about, but also worked with them to develop the topics into engaging stories. Lisa helped set clear schedules and ensure they stuck to them. Thank you Lisa! We greatly appreciate your help." -- parent of first-year students, UCLA and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

"Lisa's comments were always thought-provoking, detailed, and very thorough. Her feedback pushed me to improve my essays without making me feel pressured into any decisions. I loved working with Lisa, and would recommend her service to anyone going through the college process!" -- first-year student, Dartmouth College.

"Thank you so much for the fine work you did with my daughter on her college application essay. With your guidance, we went from being worried and frazzled to relaxed and optimistic as she became increasingly confident in her writing. It was convenient for her to communicate with you via email and it was easy for her to follow your clear schedule. Best of all, she really "got" how to write an engaging essay using point of view and descriptive details. It was wonderful to see her find her unique voice and we're sure her essay was an important factor in her admission to Reed College. Thank you!" -- parent of first-year student, Reed College.

"Thank you so much for your help, not only with these college essays, but also finding my voice in my writing." -- transfer student, Boston University.

"Lisa was a huge help when it came time to apply to colleges. She is professional and kind, and made the long writing process easier, and surprisingly fun." -- first-year student, UC Santa Cruz.

"Thank you so much for everything that you have done to help me with my college essays. Your comments led me not only to produce better material, but also to become a better writer. As the old saying goes, you didn't just give me fish, you gave me some tips on how to catch them. I have no doubt that when I am in college writing essays for my classes, I will look over some of these pieces and ask myself "What would Lisa say about this?" That question alone will improve the quality of my writing significantly. Thank you once again for all of your amazing commentary." -- first-year student, UC Davis.

"Lisa has been tremendous in helping me discover how to convey my message beautifully... Thanks to her, I got into my first choice college with the highest merit-based scholarship. Thank you, Lisa, for your advice, support and understanding!" -- first-year student, Dickinson College.

"I was so overwhelmed by the whole college process, time management for writing essays, and balancing a heavy work load and tons of extracurricular activities. Lisa helped me slow down, breathe, and get organized. What I loved most about working with Lisa was the manageable schedule of due dates for each of my essay drafts. Without the schedule, procrastination would have been very tempting. Her comments for essay revisions were extremely helpful and not generic whatsoever. I loved working with Lisa and will recommend her to future friends and acquaintances struggling with the college essay process." -- first-year student, UC Davis.

"Working with Lisa, my daughter found her voice in her college essay. Lisa drew her out and helped her better articulate her thoughts. In the end, her essays really reflected who she was. I was concerned about working with someone we never met and who lived 3000 miles away but it was never a problem.." -- parent of first-year student, Fordham University.

"Lisa provided not only enormous help for my college essays, she was also extremely flexible and worked with very short notice. I would recommend Lisa for anyone who is looking to better their writing." -- first-year student, University of Virginia.

"I just wanted to thank you again for your help. I've gotten into 7 of my 8 schools so far and I attribute a large part of my success to your help with my essay." -- first-year student, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"Thank you for all of your fine work with my daughter! You really helped unlock new ideas and she found both pleasure and confidence in working with you. The steady effort was a huge payoff over the holidays, where our stress was really quite minimal. I consider it a very good investment." -- parent of first-year student, Skidmore College.

"Thank you so much for your follow up. My daughter and I spoke a long time about your session and she felt so encouraged after talking to you. She said you were so positive and asked a ton of great questions to draw things out of her....She also said you complimented her a lot and told her she had some good ideas which she was just beaming about. Thank you so much for inspiring her and lighting a fire to get her working on these essays. We feel so lucky to have found you. -- parent of first-year student, Claremont McKenna College.