FAQs

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Isn't this too early to write a college essay?

 Yes and no. I think I spend half the day teaching kids how to approach writing--what good writing accomplishes, what advice from your teachers you should IGNORE, how to organize ideas, what story will reveal who you really are. You're not going to become a different person in the next few months. HOWEVER, if you do a "pre-season" CEBC workshop now, you get a free private online editing session with me in the fall,  just to be sure you don't want to change anything. If you have a new angle, or a new topic, I'll help. But you will already KNOW how to write a good college essay, so our revisions will be easy. I think having plenty of time to think and no school pressures, or sports pressure, or summer job pressures, makes this a good time to work. 

How important is the college essay?

The college essay is the only part of the application you have total control over. You can’t change your grades or your test scores or your extracurricular activities, but you can represent yourself well in the essay. Colleges are more competitive than they have ever been, and the essay is the only chance you have to represent yourself as an individual.


A good college essay not only reveals something about your value system and your personality, but it shows how your brain works in a way that no other data in the admissions packet can capture. Through a college essay, you can represent yourself as a human being to the admissions counselors who are judging you. It’s like your best self, standing there; it’s the real you, not the SAT scores. Words can do a lot more than number can to convey who you are, and if you deny yourself that opportunity, you’re nuts.


Most students fall into the middle of the applicant pool at the schools they apply to. You have to ask yourself, what’s the hook? What will make them choose you? They are looking for the extracurricular energy that you will bring to their campus, the vision, insight and passion that will make their school a vital place, as well as the talent and intelligence you will bring to your coursework. How can your grade point average and your SAT scores possibly show that? Only the college essay can really feel like you, can give them a slice of what you’re like.


A few years ago, the big schools just made decisions based on numbers. But now, according to admissions counselors, even the big public universities are moving in the direction of the whole-person review. Essays count. Standardized tests have been driven down somewhat in the process. Many schools have chosen not to accept standardized test scores. In some ways, the essay is your last chance. Don’t let it slip through your fingers.

Can a bad writer write a good essay?

I like to think there’s no such thing as a bad writer. There are people who have been told they are bad writers, and many of them believe it. Some of them don’t trust that they have anything important or interesting to say. Some of them haven’t mastered the structural model of school essays. Some people have internal editors that make them choke when they see a blank page, because they are so used to reading negative comments written in red ink by their teachers that they are afraid to speak on the page. Some students don’t know that you need to give lots of specific details and put the reader right there in your skin. Some just need spell-check. These are all fixable problems. The tasks we get graded on in school are somewhat different than the tasks real writers face. If a reader is moved by your essay, and feels like he or she knows what sort of a person you are after reading it, you are a good writer.

Can a good essay compensate for bad grades?

It's possible. Your own perception of your growth is important. If your performance steadily improved, a college essay might be able to explain why. If there’s a reason why you didn’t do well in school, the college essay can communicate that. I’ve had students write about overcoming a learning disability in their college essay. Perhaps the most dramatic case I have to illustrate the power of a college essay is a bright, funny student who earned Cs and Ds in his courses, and was advised by his counselor to go to a community college. He told me that his dad, who had become a quadriplegic several years ago after a boating accident, was a brilliant information technology specialist. He had taught his son to be his hands, and since sixth grade, he had been building computers and doing consulting. He found school boring. His essay got him into New Jersey Institute of Technology with no problem. Last year, I worked with a very bright and creative young man whose grades were to exceptional. He didn't care about his grades. He cared about learning to express himself accurately. He wrote about reading, writing, and music, what he called his tools. He had been working passionately alone, with no mentors, creating ambitious art6s projects.  'i'm not sure where my dreams will take me, " he said in his conclusion, "but an unfulfilled life is my greatest fear." He got into every single school he applied to, surprising his guidance counsellor. 

How much time does it really take to write an essay?

Every person is different, but in my experience, the time difference really represents the amount of procrastination each person allows themselves before actually putting the words on the paper. Procrastination and anxiety represent 90 percent of the time spent on college essays. The actual writing is nothing compared to that. People walk around for weeks saying they’re thinking abut their college essay, but then they write it one night. The Boot Camp just removes all of your procrastination excuses, and gives you easy tasks to do, one at a time, Then unexpectedly, you get interested in telling a particular story. And before you know it, there’s a page of text you like on your screen. Writing the essay is NOT the hard part. That's carpentry. Thinking of a topic that excites you, that feels deeply correct, is the hard part 

What happens if I have no idea for an essay topic?

That’s impossible. You have lived for 17 or 18 years. Each day, some things happen to you that you could probably write a good essay about. You just don’t see it. It’s our job to help you see it.

Will Dr. Wilk personally read every word of my essay before I’m ready to sent it out?

Yes. 

If I get stuck, will Dr. Wilk write my essay for me?

No. 

What does "guaranteed" mean? How can you guarantee a college essay?

 There is of course no way to guarantee that the essay will get you into your schools, but if you are not happy with your essay, if you are not PROUD of your essay--if you feel that your essay does not reflect he real YOU, we will refund your workshop fee. What we want is not a passable essay. We want an essay you are proud of, one only you could write. We want you to be flooded with relief, and we want your mom to cry with happiness when she reads it. Well, that doesn't always happen--but still. You get the idea. 

I just can't do a full day. Can we split the workshop in half?

That's possible with virtual workshops. The morning, which is loose brainstorming and chunks of instruction, feels very different form the afternoon, which is organizing, drafting, revising, editing, and proofreading. It's okay do a three or four char session one day, and the next day come back and actually write the essay. Some people LIKE having a chance to re-read and think about their rough writing, roll other possible ideas through their head,  and share their work with family members or close friends. 

What should I bring when I come to Boot Camp?

JUST BRING YOUR LAPTOP. If you don't have one, let us know and Dr. Wilk will bring an extra one for you to borrow. A rested, relaxed body and an open mind would help. A sense of optimism works well. A sense of humor would be appreciated. That’s all we need. And you should definitely eat breakfast.