Five College Essay Qs I Answered on WXYZ-TV

Sept 30, 2014.  Sitting in front of me these days—in my office and on Skype—are high school seniors and their parents who sometimes look worried, stressed or befuddled about the process of writing a strong college application essay. They want to know, “What should I say?”

Last week my efforts to help these folks received a big push, when my Essay Coaching ( work was featured on Channel 7 Detroit WXYZ-TV in a segment called, “Mom’s A Genius: College essay coach helping students crack the college application code.” TV anchor Joanne Purtan filmed a 3 minute video story in my home office, and then I was subsequently interviewed for a 4 minute segment in the Channel 7 WXYZ-TV studio on Tues, Sept. 23, 2014 by anchors Keenan Smith and Alicia Smith. Watch both segments below.

I am so impressed by the professionalism of Channel WXYZ-TV, and grateful for their community support. JoAnne, Keenan and Alicia asked some excellent questions on screen, including:

  • What is the biggest mistake that students make when writing their essay?
  • What makes a strong college essay?
  • Can the acceptance really hinge on an essay?
  • Are there common problems that you see in college application essay drafts?
  • Are students given a topic?

Watch these two videos (3 min. segment, then a short commercial, then studio interview) to learn the answers. Then, keep reading to learn what I wasn’t asked.

One question that I was not asked was, “What is your favorite advice about writing college essays?”

Here is some of my favorite advice:

  1. No one was born knowing how to write a college application essay.
  2. Choose a topic that can show something positive about you. Try to make sure you reveal what you care about and what you’ve done about it.
  3. Colleges want to know if you will graduate, fit in, and contribute in class and out of class.
  4. Share your growth, enthusiasm, talents, initiative, leadership. (Which I call “Get in (the) lead.”)
  5. Be specific and use details, to help people hear your voice through your written words, visualize your story, and understand what you are thinking and feeling.
  6. If you’re not sure what to say, speak into a transcribing or dictating app on your cell phone, write lists, or try some fast free-writes.
  7. Ask yourself, “What are others going to learn about me after reading this essay?”
  8. Ask other people what they have learned about you from reading your essay. Also ask them if anything you have written has confused them. Clarify your draft so everyone understands the true story you tell in your essay.
  9. To help with editing, read your essay aloud to yourself.
  10. Typos reproduce while you’re sleeping. Let your essay marinate and then edit, edit, edit.

Do you have more questions for me? I always welcome email at debbie (at)