My Expert Secret to Picking the Perfect College Essay Topic


When I coach applicants, I listen to their ideas and ask them to be more specific with their replies. 

Tell me more about that. Why do you think that idea came up for you? Can you go back into that moment? What was that like for you? 

Here’s my experience. Applicants all have a “go-to, this-is-what-I’m-supposed-to-say” response when I ask them to tell me their ideas. They get stuck in trying to look good. So, I ask questions to help them to dig past their surface response.

Then I listen.

This may surprise you, but I’m often not listening to the content as much as I’m listening for their tone and pace of speech. 

Here’s why.

When applicants talk about the topics they’re thinking about writing, there is usually one that they speak more fluently about.

There is a switch from intellectualizing their topic (thinking of how admissions teams will view it) to expressing how they really feel. 

Suddenly, they start to speak more quickly, and they use more details to describe what was going on. It starts to feel easy for them to talk about. Their enthusiasm kicks in.  

That’s their story. 

Even if a topic “sounds good,” I usually listen to hear if the applicant I’m coaching actually feels excited to tell me about it.

If there’s no emotion behind it, then the essay won’t be easy for them to write, and it likely won’t stand out. 

I’ve seen applicants try to push topics they weren’t inspired by because they intellectually thought it was a good topic. They often ended up getting frustrated, wrote and rewrote the same sentences, struggled with finding an angle, and ended up starting over. 

When an applicant has a lot to say, then they have a lot more to work with. It’s easier to cut an essay down and refocus it than it is to add to a topic that

In my experience, it’s not that teens aren’t motivated to write their essays or that they’re lazy, it’s really that they haven’t uncovered the topics that they feel inspired to sit down to write. 

When an applicant is excited to write, that excitement influences his tone to his word choice. It helps the reader be excited to read.

When a teen switches from, “Well, I could write about this or that” to “I have the best idea!” then take some time to look at the latter essay topic--it may just be your winner.

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.

How to Have the "It" Factor During College Admissions


A few months ago, my cousin asked me, “How do you teach the “It” Factor?”

I didn’t have an immediate response.

It got me thinking: What makes people magnetic? 

There are some people who you are simply drawn to--you can’t keep your eyes off of them. 

They are people you want to be around: they have presence.

So, what do these people all have in common?

If you take a closer look, you’ll notice that “It” Factor people are not looking for outside validation. Their validation comes from within.

Why is this important?

When validation comes from within, it causes them to glow.

And, when people glow, they brighten up the room. 

On the contrary, when people are looking for outside validation, they are attempting to take other people’s light. 

“Please shine your light on me, so I can feel brighter!” 

People with the “It” Factor are not in the spotlight, they ARE the spotlight. 

They are not “taking” from others, they are giving to them. They are sharing their vibrant energy, and it makes others like them. People naturally gravitate to these people because they feel better when they’re around them. 

People might not be able to put their finger on it, but they feel lighter around “It” Factor people; they feel energized. 

So, when it comes to writing college essays, how can an applicant display the “It” Factor? 

Can the "It" Factor even translate over to writing?

Sure it can. 

It starts with coming from a place of total acceptance and confidence. “I am worthy as I am.” 

From this place, teens are no longer writing to be validated; they’re sharing themselves as they are--authentically. 

When teens know and embody that they are already enough (regardless of the outcome of the admissions decision), they write essays that give light to the reader.

The admissions officer thinks, “I’m intrigued by this applicant: there’s something about this person that I like!”

The reader isn’t drained from reading because the applicant isn’t asking for anything: they’re giving. 

So, this application season, remind your teen to be confident in who they are just as they are. 

They already have the “It” Factor, they simply need to believe it.

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.

Should You Invest in College Application Essay Advising? 5 Reasons Why That Might Be a Sound Investment

SAT and ACT tutoring agencies are as ubiquitous as Starbucks. But when it comes to college application essays, where do you go for help?

The national average for student-to-counselors is 470:1, which is nearly twice the recommended ratio, and only 22% of the time counselors spend with students is on college counseling. Some teachers are kind enough to build it into their curriculum, but with well over a hundred students, individualized help isn't always an option. Your teen's English tutor may be able to offer some guidance, but does he or she truly know the ins-and-outs of college admissions? There are plenty of online resources available, but how can you be sure the advice is sound and not subjective or misleading? 

Research from NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling).  Graphic by The College Essay Captain

Research from NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling).

Graphic by The College Essay Captain

Some colleges are becoming more selective, and there are a lot of factors that go into getting acceptance letters. Being smart and well-rounded is no longer a guarantee of acceptance. In fact, highly-qualified candidates are often turned down by colleges that they would have easily secured entry into just a few short years ago. While SAT and ACT scores, GPA, and AP courses used to be the primary focus of admission, admission officers at some schools are now looking at college essays and letters of recommendation with more weight.

Why? Think about it. If you were to graph a thousand applicants based on their scores, course difficulty, and the number of quality extracurricular activities, how many of them do you think would land close to one another? Probably a great portion of them. So, how do admission officers decide between John and Jane? You guessed it.

To some parents, it might seem like an unnecessary expense, but in reality, hiring an expert advisor can save you thousands of dollars down the road. Quality admissions essays can help your teen's application stand out. Being a better candidate opens up doors for universities with higher paying salaries after graduation, better programs, free programs, and scholarships.

Here are a few reasons you should consider hiring a college essay advisor:

1) It can save you money.

How does spending money equate to saving money?

When hiring a college essay advisor, be sure to ask if he or she can help your teen plan to apply for scholarships simultaneously. There are millions of dollars in scholarships that are up for grabs, but many students don't apply for them because they require essays or a series of essays. However, if you and your teen's essay advisor plan ahead, they can find a topic that answers the college essay prompt and can be tweaked to fit multiple scholarship essays. A quality essay advisor can help your son or daughter win money as well as get accepted to college.

2) It saves you and your teen from a lot of stress.

College applications are daunting even for parents who've done this before. They're even more daunting for teens with no previous experience with applying to college who are faced with a number of pressing deadlines for something as important as their future. An advisor will act as a guide and a mentor during one of the most stressful times of your child's high school career. An expert advisor will know how to keep your son or daughter's head up and keep them moving forward.

In addition, an essay advisor takes the pressure off you as a parent. Bickering can occur when parents begin putting their two-cents in about essay topics and editing. Often, it can become a too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen scenario, and it leaves everyone frustrated.

Lastly, hiring an expert will alleviate any idea that there was more that you could have done. Knowing that your teen's essays were the highest quality they could be at the time of submission gives everyone a bit more confidence and lets you sleep a bit more soundly.

3) It frees up your time.

Hiring someone to help your teen organize his or her application essays can free up a lot of time. Instead of writing a bunch of unrelated essays or starting over time and time again, a college essay advisor can help your teen plan ahead to make the most effective use of his or her time.

The quickest way to learn a skill is to learn from someone who's an expert in their field. If you are planning on hiring an advisor, make sure he or she has raving reviews and is able to establish rapport with your teen. You want to find an advisor who is going to bring out the best work from your son or daughter.

Knowing your son or daughter is in good hands gives you the opportunity to focus on other important tasks such as financial aid and college visits.

4) Your son or daughter probably doesn't have experience writing this way.

I've always found it a bit odd that students are often just expected to write these essays without any real guidance. Being an outstanding English student or a natural writer does not mean that you automatically know how to write for this audience and for this purpose.

In fact, I've seen many high-performing, bright students who wrote essays on their own that would appall admission officers. Why does this happen? Well, it simple: high schools rarely teach this type of writing. Students presuppose what admissions officers are looking for in an admission essay, and they end up writing an essay before anyone tells them otherwise. Sometimes their topic is overdone or their tone is off, and when a guidance counselor recommends they change it, students will resist because they already invested their time and effort into writing what they have, and they don't even know how to fix it.

This can be avoided by hiring an expert to teach your son or daughter the fundamentals of crafting an essay for this audience and purpose. It's a specific type of essay that's quite different from your standard high school writing assignment.

5) It teaches your teen a life skill.

On that same note, learning to write this type of narrative is not a one-time use skill. Your teen will find that this skill will be useful in the future as well, which makes this an investment that keeps on giving.

Like life, writing is a process. We learn and grow from our mistakes, and we need to evaluate how and why we do things. Writing a college admission essay is more than writing a paper. It's a time for your teen to reflect on who he or she is as a person during a time in which it's easy to forget to stop, breathe, and think. It can provide your teen with some clarity on what he or she wants in the future.

Writing a personal narrative allows your son or daughter to become a storyteller and to explore how to appeal to a wide audience. Your teen will learn how words can be changed to evoke different responses. It's an outlet for self-expression.

Writing about yourself requires you to ask challenging questions. It's also a skill that is becoming more important: graduate programs, honors programs, and a number of jobs now ask for a personal statement, and the same rules apply.

If your teen is applying to college, consider investing in a college essay advisor to help with the process. If you find the right one, you'll feel assured that it was money well spent.

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.

Jaclyn Corley headshot.jpeg

Can Your Mindset Really Help You Get Into College?

Can Your Mindset Really Help You Get Into College?

Have you ever been excited to start a project, and then you lost momentum half-way through?

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by how much work needs to get done? 

Do you find yourself procrastinating?

If so, you're not alone. This happens to pretty much everyone. 

With college application season around the corner, it's easy to feel motivated in the beginning of the process and then cave in to your limiting inner dialogue: I don't feel like filling out that application today. Do you think I can skip the college fair?  I have HOW MANY essays to write!?

If you're in the last leg of the college application process, and you want to stay steady toward the finish line instead of trailing off, you'll want to pay close attention to your mindset. 

How Honest is Too Honest in a College Essay?

How Honest is Too Honest in a College Essay?

Are you attempting to explain why you switched schools mid-year? Why your grades dropped? Why you were suspended?  Why you didn’t participate in any after-school activities?

Was it because you had terrible teachers? Was there family drama? Did you not get along with administrators? Did none of the sports or clubs interest you?

The thing about “brutal honesty” is that honesty is subjective, and it implies that your take on events is the accurate one.