College Essay Resources

for Students and Parents


Thousands of students have written better college essays using our Write Like a Pro process. These are some of the most useful resources we’ve developed for students and their parents.


Avoid the College Essay Wars: Our Webinar for Parents
Parents may want to start by watching our 30-minute webinar, led by Barak Rosenbloom, our Founder and Chief Essay Mentor. We cover the five most common mistakes parents make, and what you can do instead.

 On this page:

Avoid the College Essay Wars Webinar Recording

Student Foundation Material

College Essay Basics

Examples of Our Students’ Essays

Our Approach (information we share with parents of the students we mentor)


Student Foundation Material

Students do these activities before they meet with their mentor for the first time.

Write Like a Pro Video

In this 11-minute video, you’ll learn the big picture of the process our students use to write great essays. You can use it, too!

An Introduction to College Essays

We’ve led this workshop to thousands of students, parents, teachers, and counselors. All of our students go through this online or in person. You’ll learn to recognize what makes a great essay, and some of the things that make a terrible essay, by reading three versions of the same student’s essay.

College Essay Basics

How do colleges use essays?

Like the answer to so many questions in college admissions, the answer is, it depends.

For some colleges, essays play a small role. For others, they matter when a student is on the cusp. And for many (including The University of Washington), essays are a central part of the admissions process. Some schools also use the essays when they award merit scholarships.

Fundamentally, colleges want to know who the person is. What would it be like to be around this person as a friend or classmate? What does this person care about, or bring to a community? We think Berkeley says it best: your personal statement…helps provide context for the rest of your application.

Essays are not about showing off, bragging, or reciting accomplishments.

We encourage students to write the best essays they can. They may not get accepted to the school of their dreams, but they’ll have done everything they can to make it happen.

What are the different kinds of essays?

The Main Essay/Personal Statement

This is the big essay people worry about most. These essays—which include the Common Application, Coalition Application and University of Washington essays—are usually 500-650 words long. For the University of California campuses, students choose from eight prompts and write four 350-word essays.

Our definition of an effective college essay is: an engaging, authentic short story that paints a clear picture of the person.

Supplemental Essays

Many schools require additional writing. They can be short responses asking why a student wants to go to a school. They can be 1000-word essays on intellectual or ethical issues. The University of Chicago always has a quirky option, like Where is Waldo, Really?

Short Answers

These can be simple prompts like, what are the last three books you’ve read or what five words do your friends use to describe you?

Many schools (including WSU) don’t require writing or ask only very short questions.

What are the prompts?

The Common Application

Choose one prompt; 650 word recommended limit

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

The Coalition Application

Choose one prompt; 550 word recommended limit (but can be longer)

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  4. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

The University of Washington

A. Essay (Required)

At the University of Washington, we consider the college essay as our opportunity to see the person behind the transcripts and the numbers. Some of the best statements are written as personal stories. In general, concise, straightforward writing is best, and that good essays are often 300 to 400 words in length.

Maximum length: 500 words

The UW will accept any of the five Coalition prompts.

Choose from the options listed below.

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  4. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?
  5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

B. Short Response (Required)

Maximum length: 300 words

Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington.


Keep in mind that the University of Washington strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values, and viewpoints.

C. Additional Information About Yourself or Your Circumstances (Optional)

Maximum length: 200 words

You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:

  • You are hoping to be placed in a specific major soon
  • A personal or professional goal is particularly important to you
  • You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
  • Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations
  • You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended

D. Additional Space (Optional)

You may use this space if you need to further explain or clarify answers you have given elsewhere in this application, or if you wish to share information that may assist the Office of Admissions. If appropriate, include the application question number to which your comment(s) refer.

The University of California

Choose four of eight prompts; 350 words each

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.
  2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
  8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Our Students' Essays


We’ve mentored hundreds of students individually. Thousands more have used our process to write essays that helped them get into college or to get merit scholarships.

These examples—all written by students we mentored—show the breadth of what college essays can be.


I lost it when Darius peed in the girls' cabin.
Jacob applied to eleven schools and was accepted by all of them. Two schools offered him scholarships awarded in part to the quality of his essay. His first draft, which he wrote on his own, was pretty dull. His second draft, taking his English teacher’s advice to show a more sophisticated vocabulary and give more evidence of his thesis, made him sound like a pompous jerk.

I lost it when Darius peed in the girls’ cabin. It was the end, the twisted climax of a week I will always associate with pure, unbridled pain.

Darius had been building to this all week. This eleven year old had become my sole responsibility for the week he was at YMCA Camp Orkila, and he was systematically breaking me down. My directors had told me to focus my efforts on him for the week he was here, because as a first year counselor I could use the experience of dealing with a child like Darius. Yet in the seven years I’d been a camper here, I’d never encountered anything like him. Here was a child naturally skilled at wreaking havoc; harassing people and wildlife was an art form for Darius.

Before this week, all I’d wanted was to be a counselor. I wanted to support children and teach them to trust themselves, just as this camp supported me as a camper. I was ecstatic, and spent hours learning the best methods of managing children. But what about when your camper is fifty feet up a climbing tower and unstraps himself to taunt you? I realized that nothing I learned in the workshops had prepared me for Darius.

My drive to help others succeed was gone. After days of being positive with Darius, negative reinforcement became my best friend. It was all I could do to keep him in line.

Then, the finale. I’d been setting up for dinner when another camper told me that Darius had peed inside the girls’ cabin, and ran away to the forest. I led a four hour search party tracking him down, and spent an hour cleaning the desecrated cabin. I was broken. The hours of mental depravity had gotten to me. For those last two days, I paid as little attention to Darius as possible. We only spoke when he created problems.

When Darius got on the bus to leave, I started breathing for the first time all week. But as he boarded the bus, he said something I never expected: “Jacob, thank you for this week. I had so much fun.” That moment still feels as raw today as it did two years ago, and I still can’t put what I’m feeling into words .

No one was waiting for Darius back in Seattle. His foster parents had abandoned him while he was at camp; CPS picked him up a few hours later. I still question myself about how I acted that week. Was I justified in how I treated him? Or was I simply too frustrated to dig deeper and help him, to support him? I tell myself I was only fifteen, it was how anybody that age would handle it. Maybe that’s true. But the idea that Darius is still out there, living a life in which everyone treats him the same way, still haunts me. It will for a long time to come.

When I was younger, I flew.
The author wrote the lyrical first and last paragraphs of her essay in no time at all; she didn’t change a word. It took months of exploration and writing to craft everything that comes between. The best college essays are unique in how they talk about everyday experiences.  

When I was younger, I flew. I stretched out my feather-light wings against the wisps of crisp, October air, and soared up, up, up; above the buildings, over the mountains, amidst the clouds and into the galaxy. It was beautiful in every single imaginable way. It was liberating because I was above it all: the water and ozone, the tiny, rocky and breakable pieces. There was absolutely nothing but the strange subliminal drifting of stars inside my lungs. Then I would open my eyes and was always surprised to be greeted by the dry yellow and brown Australian landscape. The stars were gone, and I was brought back each time into my seven year old body, arms extended, and standing on the peak of a grassy mound. I guess I’ve always wanted to be something larger than myself. I’ve always wanted to feel larger than life.

Years have passed since I was that little girl who threw open the screen door on windy days, sprinting outside to the field behind her house. I grew older imagining myself in an office setting, clad in a newly ironed Brooks’ Brother’s oxford button up shirt tucked into a black pleated skirt. Having family members rooted in the financial world, I was engineered to believe that corporate life was the adult life. A flawless, carefully sketched path had been laid out for me to follow, but for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why my footsteps kept slipping outside the lines.

I still remember my first step inside a hospital for a volunteer interview and suddenly it was like all the pieces fit together. After letting go of business classes because of the lack of passion, I was exploring new opportunities. I remember drinking in my surroundings and thinking that it would be okay if I were to stay here for a long, long time. Because for the first time in what had been a while, I felt like I was home.

“Hey, can you go transport umbilical cord blood from 7-South to Main Lab?”

“We’ve got a guy with a 150 pound tumor in room 4320.”

“CODE BLUE – Surgery Pavilion!”

There’s never a dull moment in the on-call dispatch room. I find myself sprinting once again, not across the grassy Australian fields, but the white marble steps of the University of Washington Medical Center. Empty wheelchair gliding in front, I am unstoppable. The service elevator lifts up, taking me to see the joy of a finally homebound oncology patient’s face and to the “preemies” in the NICU whose monitors beep steadily, reassuringly. It takes me to the hallways outside Operating Rooms where lack of sound is enveloped by deafening importance. The ceiling lights seem to be sublime and twinkling.

Amidst it all, Carol, a suicidal schizophrenic woman, hands me a beautiful handmade bracelet after I had sat with her and listened to her tear-filled, frantic tales.

“Thank y-y-you so much” she splutters. “You’ve been k-kinder to me than anybody h-has this entire year and it means so so m-much to m-me”.

In moments like these, the world stops for a little bit. I’m reminded of how fragile life is. I’m reminded of why I am human, of why I am here.

Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said, some people look at the sky, at the stars and feel small: because we are such a miniscule portion of the bigger picture. But he looks at the stars and feels big: because the universe is in us, our atoms came from those stars. Living life as a sixteen year old girl in a suburban town, attending a public high school, I used to feel small and irrelevant. But then I walked across the halls of a hospital, I talked to people and patients with endless stories of their own and I feel big. I feel inspired. I feel infinite.

"No you're wrong, Aristotle did not think that" Mark yelled.
You may be surprised that this could be a college essay. There’s no obvious structure, it jumps around, it’s not even clear what it’s about. Yet, it does exactly what it should do. Why? Because you see the author’s mind at play, and see fascinating slivers of his life. It’s engaging, entertaining and unlike anything written before. This is a great example of a college essay (which should really be called a personal story); it gives the admissions office a picture of the student’s personality and intellect.


“No you’re wrong, Aristotle did not think that” Mark yelled.

“Aristotle said man’s goal is to achieve happiness by learning.” I said. “Getting hit in the boxing ring doesn’t make me happy, hanging out and debating with you in the gym does.”

My mom’s side of the family is all philosophers and my dad’s side is all engineers. I have always felt very much in the middle.

Boxing and philosophy: one pushes you physically to the limit, one pushes you intellectually. You learn both ways. You can’t have engineering without philosophy, boxing without science, or music without math.

I learn by talking.

I walked into the coffeehouse and looked for him. He was sitting in a booth surrounded by papers.

“Nick, philosopher in training, how is everything?”

“Great, Grandpa, I just finished reading Nietzsche.”

He picked up my book. Flipped through every page. Looked at my notes.

“You think too modern; everything we know came from the Greeks. They are your key to philosophy, science, boxing and medicine. Read Pythagoras.”

“The guy with the geometric theorem?”

“He was a polymath, a true thinker, just like you. He could see in between subjects and truly understand their inner workings.”

I thought my grandpa was crazy but then it made sense, I think differently.

My favorite toy as a kid was my chemistry set. During a full moon I would pull out my telescope. On the walls of my room there is a copy of Douglas MacArthur on the cover of Life, congressman John Lewis in jail, a signed picture of Manny Pacquiao boxing and Neil DeGrasse Tyson in front of the Milky Way Galaxy. In the corners I have a giant stuffed beaver wearing a Viking hat and a plastic sword, pictures of me shooting my friends with nerf guns and a karaoke machine with four microphones. On the back of my car I have a painting of a bunch of ancient Greek philosophers, quotes from Immanuel Kant and Carl Sagan and a picture of the Milky Way Galaxy. Inside I have an Iron Man mask.

I asked my boxing trainer Mark a question.

Mark says “I see you like to ask questions, don’t let anyone ever beat, harass or belittle that out of you.”

He then asks, “What’s the worst thing that can happen to you in the ring?”

“I get hit, sir.”

“WRONG, you’re going to get hit a lot in your life, you better get used to it.”

“I get knocked down?”

“That’s going to happen to you at least once! Life gets hard, you’re going to get hit, get knocked down, get told you’re wrong, dumb and that you can’t do it; the only person who has control whether you fail or succeed is you.”

“I stop trying, that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Right!” yelled Mark.

During the Renaissance, if you wanted to be a painter you would become an apprentice to one. That painter wouldn’t be just a teacher, but a mentor; Mark’s that painter to me. When I work for him he makes me think.

“Why do you think that? How do you know they are right?” He asks.

He pushes me to think outside of the box, and see what’s really there.

Maybe that’s why I ask so many questions?

Maybe happiness is debating Aristotle in the boxing ring?

I hit a boy with a bat in the second grade after he said "short girls can't play baseball."
Audrey struggled for a couple of weeks to find her topic. Sometimes the little things you do can reveal the most about who you are. Andrea started in the early summer, and spent countless hours over five months perfecting this essay.

I hit a boy with a bat in the second grade after he said “short girls can’t play baseball.” I saw red, and as my mom says, “When Audrey is seeing red, let her be.” Overcome with emotion and not thinking about consequences, I was too young to find a constructive way to deal with things that upset me. It would not be until my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s five years ago that I found a balance.

Alzheimer’s ran in the family, and knowing that it may only be a matter of years deeply rattled my mom. She read that jigsaw puzzles could delay the presence of the disease, so we began to puzzle together.

She puzzled because she had to. I puzzled because I wanted to.

For every puzzle, there is a strategy. First, find the edge pieces. This gives it a structure, a way to begin, a way to work from the outside in. From there, find a dominant color scheme or a section that appears easiest to tackle. Pull out all the pieces that fit this microcosm and complete a puzzle within the puzzle. Continue doing this—section by section—until you see a completed picture tied together by all the challenges you just tackled. Then, start over.

Within a year of casual puzzling, puzzles took on a new meaning. I went from doing them for fun to using them to reset. I saw red less and less.

My biggest puzzle, one that took over two years to tackle, is that of my sexuality. For the year before I came out to my parents, I was jumpy, testy. Obviously not at peace, I needed something to do to keep from bursting, so I did jigsaw puzzles once, twice, three times; I finished a puzzle, gave it a look, then ripped it apart to start over. I did it faster each time. Unaware of it then, every time I finished a puzzle, I got closer to putting together the pieces of how to deal with the component of myself that did not seem to fit—the gay part.

Life is full of situations that require some movement of the pieces to achieve something workable. Every day in Calculus, I stare at the page until I can find some way to begin the problem. I will try anything until I find the right edge pieces to work towards to the answers. In soccer, I play in the center of the field and my job is to be the brain. I see the second pass before the first is made and find a way to manipulate the players and the ball to get the outcome we want. My job is mentally exhausting, but every game it’s a new puzzle—and that’s why it’s fun.

I’m tiny, I’m gay, Calculus drives me insane, but puzzles reset me. They alleviate stress and bring understanding of my world and the world around me. Audrey is doing her puzzles, let her be.

With a cup and a spoon you can do it all.
The topic doesn’t matter. What you do with it, does. This is a simple story that captures the writer’s personality, intellect and voice. It’s a thoughtful meditation on values, culture, learning and community written as simply as can be. It was one of only three essays read to the 650 students at Middlebury College’s freshmen orientation—that’s 0.5% of essays at a highly selective college.   


With a cup and a spoon you can do it all.

I was rafting on Idaho’s Snake River with my Boy Scout troop. I packed lightly. There was a saying I had on trips like this: the more experience I have, the less stuff I need. I would find a way to make do with what I had or didn’t have.

I thought that I had enough experience to pare my mess kit down to two items: a big plastic mug, and a cheap plastic spoon.

I didn’t bring a spoon.

I tried to bargain my way into a spoon, but it was futile. No one wants to give up their spoon. When you’re a hungry teenager a spoon is the most valuable thing you’ve got.

Boy Scouts is about learning through struggle. If you don’t have something, you suffer the consequences. You won’t forget it the next time.

I therefore did the only thing I could: I made a spoon out of duct tape. It was a terrible spoon, but it got food into my mouth all week. It was dirty and floppy, and crumbs would stick to the spots where the adhesive side of the tape was still showing. I was really proud of it.

Each time I used the spoon it got dirtier and dirtier. It couldn’t really be cleaned. It was so lacking in structure that it was more effective to drag food up the side of the mug than to use the bowl part of the spoon. Everyone was jealous. Not that I had to eat with the spoon, but just the idea of it.

In a way we were both jealous. I wanted their spoons and they wanted mine. Of course they only wanted the good parts. No one wants to sacrifice their reliable spoon, but everyone wants to be that guy who made his out of duct tape. Everyone could see the silver outside, only I could see the food particles still stuck in the crevices from breakfast.

The next summer my pursuit of adventure would take me to Chajul, Guatemala, where I would be far removed from my trivial spoon issues of the year before.

The first night at dinner my host family and I had stew as we crowded around a table clearly built for kindergarteners.

There weren’t enough spoons.

We were hungry and needed food. Everything that I knew told me that the spoons should be even more valuable here. But we didn’t argue over them, we just took turns. Was it unsanitary? Maybe, but it was life.

Whenever I look back at these two situations, I find myself considering the same question: which way was right? And to be honest, I still don’t have an answer. I never forgot my spoon again. But I don’t think that’s the point.

In scouts I was left to my own means, to make do and learn. In Guatemala they would never imagine this.

They just shared their spoons.

I could hear the melodious tune in the background as I saw them trudging in single-file.
How to capture a love of adventure, the vibrant mind of being an avid reader, a risk-taker, and a planner? It's not easy! The stories for this writer came fairly quickly, but finding the flow took time. And refining her 1800-word draft down to 647 words without losing any of her meaning and message was just another challenge she nailed beautifully.

I could hear the melodious tune in the background as I saw them trudging in single-file. With overstuffed packs and walking sticks in hand they climbed up the mountain. They were small in stature with big hairy feet; they were in fact hobbits.

I’m going on an adventure!

This past summer my friends and I got this crazy idea to go backpacking in the middle of nowhere for a few days. Of the four of us, I was the only one who had backpacked before and that had been four years ago.

I did my best to prepare. I went to an REI class and scoured YouTube. With our limited resources I ransacked Target and Amazon. I started this process three months prior to the trip which was about two and a half months before my friends did. Needless to say that week leading up to the trip was hectic. I didn’t really mind though, I was used to it. The spontaneity of my friends is probably what I love most about them.

I’m going on an adventure!

The scene kept replaying in my mind as we hiked up the mountain. The flowers danced in the wind and the trees waved, wishing us good luck. I imagined the mountain wasn’t just any mountain, but the Lonely Mountain and somewhere deep within its core lay The Great and Terrible Smaug atop unimaginable riches. I was Bilbo Baggins going on an adventure.

I have always loved books, so full of adventure and mystery. I can be anything I want to be. I can be a courageous hero battling a fierce dragon or a wizard attending a magical school. All my life I’ve read other people’s adventures and now finally I was going on one of my own!

I’m going on an adventure!

“Any moment,” I thought, “I’m going to collapse.” I was physically and mentally exhausted. “I can’t go on,” I thought. “No more! No more!” my legs screamed at me. Three hours of hiking uphill under the blistering sun had utterly drained me. I wanted to turn back; this wasn't what I signed up for.

I was at my breaking point.

“Guys I need to stop,” I said. Too tired to respond they just nodded.  We all flopped onto the ground trying to muster the energy to keep moving. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to be at home, in my bed, cuddled up with a book.

Staring at my friends, my mind flashed back to the previous night. Our bellies rumbling, we spent a half hour desperately trying to turn on the stove (ravioli never tasted so good). That night the four of us crammed into one of the two-person tents and stayed up talking about nothing and everything: school, human nature, our love lives, good and evil. I remembered the first day, we sang at the top of our lungs the entire drive to the trailhead, excited to be going on our adventure.

I stood up.


This was our adventure. Every adventure has its highs and lows. What hero hasn’t experienced some sort of trial? This was our adventure, our time to make memories. When we look back we will remember how we kept going; we didn’t give up.

With renewed purpose I trudged forward. Each step one step closer to a great memory.

After another two hours of pure determination we reached the top, and my God what a view.

I whispered, “Holy cow…”

We stood atop a cliff overshadowing a deep valley. In the valley lay a iridescent lake cut in half by a spit of land.

It was breathtakingly beautiful, and it was ours.

Having memories like this is what motivates me to go out of my comfort zone and do extraordinary things. I want to look back on my life and be able to say, “What a great adventure!”

Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel saved my life.
This young man used Essay Mentors’ process to write a fantastic essay. He was accepted to Williams College, Boston College, Tufts University and Wheaton College. He was born in Kenya, and moved to Boston when he was in the 8th grade.

Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel saved my life.

Just like the renaissance paintings, I create art in order to communicate something. I recently sketched a piece portraying a woman in the constant struggle between good and bad. I wanted to make an image that would show us the relationship between our Id, ego, and super ego, a theory I learned in psychology class. I created shadowy devilish figures to portray the Id, a woman to portray the Ego, and angelic figures to represent the super ego. My favorite subject in art is the human condition- motherly instinct, a child’s innocence, human wickedness, a convict’s redemption, religion and many other human characteristics are found in my art.

In the whole process of creating a piece of art, I enjoy sketching the most. I enjoy it because it is raw, it is simple but it is the foundation of the whole piece. I always ponder, “The body has to be perfect, the mouth has to be perfect, the eyes, ears, chin, hair, neck, pose, background… it all has to be perfect”.

Goose bumps form on my arms and my pupils dilate when a good idea presents itself.

My ears lose their function as I drift into happiness.

My mouth frowns when I see a flaw.

My mind melts into conversations between selves. Self-one thinks “The hair needs more substance.” Self-two thinks “the nose is not symmetrical.” Self-ten thinks “I should stop thinking to myself.”

The conversation goes on until I can no longer see a flaw. I always strive for perfection, even when I am not drawing. Just like Michelangelo, I want to create perfection.

When I was twelve years old my father died; five months later my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to escape the sadness and boredom through art, but I was not inspired.

Then an idea struck me: the computer can give me the inspiration I needed. I rushed to the computer and googled “renaissance paintings”. I found one particular image that would change my life. The Sistine Chapel appeared on the screen for the first time. I saw the center piece; it depicted Adam stretching his finger trying to touch God.

I cannot describe the feelings that overcame me when I saw it, but I can tell you for sure, I felt exhilarated. I looked at Adam; he looked humble, kind, and innocent. I looked at God; he looked wise, magnificent, and all powerful. I felt vitalized when I saw Adam reaching for God. I wanted to be as worthy as Adam. I wanted to live fully, I wanted to learn from Michelangelo and be the best I can be.

I am now a muralist. I have been given the opportunity to influence people’s days and even their emotions. I work with a team of other students. Beyond making friends and having a good time the works that we produce together comes from the soul. Creating a mural is a team effort. Many organizations give us a chance to bring beauty to this world. The most memorable establishment I worked for was an elderly home; one woman told us “We want Elvis!” Staying true to their requests I created a scene of the 1960’s musical culture. I always feel gratified when their faces shine in amazement. I feel a connection with them when I help them immortalize a personal image on the wall.

My middle name is “Kamunge”- it means light bearer in my native tongue. Through my art and actions, I wish to bring light to those who are trapped in dark times.

We also share this material with parents of the students we mentor

Our Approach

What We Mean by Mentoring

A mentor does three things: comes alongside the hero, helps them get unstuck, brings a magical gift or a special tool.  -Nancy Duarte

We relate to our students as capable young adults embarking on a new kind of writing and self-discovery adventure. We’re here as their supporters, champions, and guides. We give them new writing and thinking tools and engage in meaningful conversations that expand their thinking and reassure them when they’re stressed.

But, sometimes they do their best to prove that they’re still teenagers as well. We keep on relating to them as capable young adults, and help them bridge whatever gaps they’re facing.

We do all we can to give students a sense of complete ownership of this project. We pay close attention to their progress and make sure that they keep on track. We don’t give them homework or assignments, but support them in choosing and committing to what they’ll accomplish between our meetings.


Clarity, Process, and Structure

We designed our approach through years of mentoring hundreds of high school students individually, and working with schools and nonprofits to support thousands more. In addition to helping students write great essays, our intention is to take out as much stress as possible for teens and parents, and to make this a powerful learning experience.

There are three fundamental elements to our approach:

Students need clarity about what effective essays look like, our process, actions they need to take, deadlines, and even the next time we’re meeting. With every interaction, we make sure that they are clear about where they are, where they’re going, and what they need to do next.

Few schools teach the kind of writing that leads to essays that colleges are looking for. Our Write Like the Pros process is designed to break apart the activities of writing that make intuitive sense and lead to surprising leaps in their ability to write and communicate. To learn about the process, watch the video in the Student Foundation Material section.

Even the best writers and most organized students are unfamiliar with how long writing a great college essay takes or the work they’ll need to do to get the job done. We give them the structure and support to keep on track and keep to deadlines as they move through the process.

How Parents Can Be Most Supportive

We know that some parents are extremely hands off, and others like to get very involved with their teen’s activities and projects. We have found that when parents get too involved in the college essay process, their teenagers have a more difficult and stressful experience. 

We are relating to your teen as a capable young adult; this is a fundamental design to our approach. Kids write the best college essays they possibly can with us, and yours will as well.

Scheduling and Logistics
We’ll make sure that your teenager always has a session on the calendar. If we need to, we’ll even do some training in how to use a calendar, how to communicate schedule changes, and so on. Unless there’s an unusual circumstance, we don’t interact with parents about scheduling or logistics.

Required Essays and Deadlines
Some students have only have one or two essays to write, some have dozens. We help them develop a plan for what to write for each essay, and the order in which they write them.

We base the writing schedule on the application deadlines. If you want the essays done significantly early, please talk with the mentor immediately to see if it’s realistic. Be warned: This almost never works. Teenagers focus on what’s in front of them, and if they don’t think a deadline is real, then it isn’t.

Parents sometimes like to manage their teen’s work and schedule. This almost always duplicates work we’re doing and stresses students. If you have a concern about the schedule or progress, please contact your mentor.

Helping with the Essay
College admissions officers can smell adult thinking and writing a mile away. Please do not tell your teen what to write or how to write it. We cannot stress this enough. Most likely, the mentor will ask, who wrote this?  or whose idea was this? If it’s not the student’s, the mentor will have the student take it out or put it in their own words.

Your teen may ask for your support or input. We encourage that. But please keep in mind that you’re there as a sounding board, not as a co-creator.

There are three key points in the process where we encourage students to get outside feedback. We do not require it.

There is a feedback forms for each stage of the process. These forms are carefully designed to collect meaningful information the student can use. Please do not give feedback without using the form.

We also strongly encourage you to spend time to read the College Essay Basics and some sample essays further down this page. It’s hard to give useful feedback if you don’t know what effective college essays look like.

We sometimes get worried about a student’s lack of progress or communication, challenges with the work, or well-being. Ninety-five percent of the time we’re able to resolve this directly with the student. We know how to support teens in this unique project.

If we have a concern that we can’t resolve, we will contact you right away.

If you have any concerns about your teen’s progress, content, or attitude, please contact your mentor immediately. Part of our role is to minimize stress for teens and friction in families.

Your child is getting ready to head off into the world, and we know that it can be a challenging time for parents and teenagers. But we can’t stress enough that the less you’re involved, the better this process will work and the easier it will be for everyone.

We’re right here, watching your young adult every step of the way. It’s ok. We’ve got it handled.