College Application Essay Coaching

By Stephen Leon

The college admissions essay, or personal statement, is a story about yourself—not your life story, but a more focused story (in 650 words or less) that illuminates something special about you and adds depth to your application. I have many years of experience writing, editing, teaching, and generally helping people find the fascinating human stories that lie hidden until they are discovered and drawn out.

I can help you find your story, organize it, and develop a narrative arc to maximize the essay’s impact. After you have written a first draft, I will help you with revisions. And when you have completed a compelling final draft of your essay, I will edit it for grammar, punctuation, spelling, and overall clarity.

The Process:

  1. Finding Your Story

I begin with an open-ended interview to find out more about you and help you zero in on a focused approach to your essay. Even if you have a topic idea coming in, the interview might reveal things about you and your life that you hadn’t been thinking about. You may select a topic from the seven prompts on the Common Application, but choosing from those prompts is in no way mandatory. They are suggestions to get you started; the seventh prompt merely reminds you that you can ignore the first six and write about anything you want to. My interview should get you thinking beyond those prompts.

  1. Making an Outline, Writing a First Draft

If you find it helpful to block out the essay on paper before you write, I can advise and make suggestions. Then you sit down and write a draft without me looking over your shoulder; it is important that the essay is in your own words, tone, and style. I will help later with edits, but it should sound like you. If possible, avoid getting hung up on small mistakes, word choices, and things you think you might change later. Just write—and the more fearlessly you write, the better.

  1. Assessing the First Draft, Revising, Rewriting

After you have finished a first draft, and you have put it away overnight to clear your head, we will both read it over. Then we can talk about what we like and don’t like, what seems to work and what doesn’t. I offer guidance on revisions, and you get back to writing. This step may or may not have to be repeated.

  1. Preparing the Final Edited Essay

We’re almost there—you’ve written a great story about yourself, and I don’t need to coach you any more. Now I will read through the essay one more time and make (hopefully minor) copy edits. Again, the story should sound like you, so I won’t do much more than correct for grammar, punctuation, spelling, word choice, etc. At this point, you should have an essay that makes you come alive.

About Me:

I graduated from Princeton University (B.A., Economics), and Northwestern University (M.S., Journalism). I have written for numerous publications, and edited the Albany, N.Y., alternative weekly Metroland for 25 years. Currently I edit books, articles, web pages, and more; I coach and edit college admissions essays; I teach journalism; and I write entries for several blogs, including my own.

If you are interested in my coaching and editing services, contact me at