Love Your Essay


I Can Help As Your Writing Coach!


No one needs to tell you the importance of the college application essay. Put simply, it will influence the decision between “yes” or “no.”

Facing this task, any student might feel apprehensive. And when you consider that the act of writing is challenging under any circumstances, the “personal narrative” essay can be downright paralyzing.

How do you even begin?

I can help.

As your writing coach, I can make your essay assignment less daunting, and the process more enjoyable. Beginning with an online meeting, or in person if you are local, we will brainstorm possible topics, outline a rough draft, and go through the revision process using Google Docs until you’ve achieved a clear, effective, well-written essay.

College admission officers understand that you can’t be measured solely by the sum of your GPA results and standardized test scores. They already have that data. By reading your application essay, they are seeking a glimpse into the real you. They want to read your story, get a sense of the kind of person you are.

As a father and professional writer, it would be a pleasure to work with you as your writing coach. I can’t write your college application essay for you –- it’s your story, your life –- but I can help you zero in on the right topic (and avoid the wrong one), offer tips for narrative-style writing, edit your essay throughout the revision process, and enable you to create a final, polished product that makes readers smile. 

Most of all, I want you to be proud of your final essay — I want you to love it — and to feel that it authentically reflects your thoughts, values, and experiences. This is your moment to shine.


JAMES PRELLER lives in Delmar, NY, and is the father of three children (ages 21, and 23, and 29), who have been accepted into Geneseo, George Washington, Berklee College of Music, and Brown. He has worked as a professional writer since 1986, and has published more than 80 books for young people, from picture books to young adult novels. He’s the author of the “Jigsaw Jones” and “Scary Tales” series, as well as Bystander,The Courage Test, Blood Mountain, All Welcome Here, Exit 13 (coming soon!), and more. You may email him at Or call, or text 518-428-0590.



The total fee is $300. I charge a $75 consultation fee up front, at the time of our first meeting. If you decide to continue on with me, that $75 will be absorbed in the $300 fee (meaning you’ll only owe $225 upon completion). I live in Delmar, NY, but can work with students anywhere in the USA. Please contact me at Thanks!





The techniques and strategies for writing a strong college admissions essay share traits that are characteristic of good writing in general.


1) Try to begin with a mini-story: select a specific moment in your life.

2) Set the scene, using the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, why.

3) One excellent strategy is to clearly show how you faced a problem or conflict -– an accident, a challenge, a failure, a crisis, an obstacle, a major life change –- and then discuss how you handled that problem.

4) Be conscious, as the essay develops, of which personal trait you are striving to highlight: your independence, determination, resourcefulness, creativity, leadership, courage, idealism, playfulness, perfectionism, confidence, tolerance, compassion, etc. (This ties into how you handled the problem, what you learned from the experience, and possibly even what you hope to study in college.)

5) Use clear, direct, natural language.

6) Write the essay that only you can write (this ties into specific memories, moments in your life).

7) Be specific, use concrete details.

8) Don’t try too hard to impress; don’t list your accomplishments; know that your flaws and insecurities will add likeability to your story.

9) Avoid excessive adverbs and adjectives: don’t gild the lily.

10) When drafting, start long, write freely, get ideas down on the page; you can always cut later (length should never exceed 650 words).

11) Yes, absolutely include dialogue if appropriate; feel free to use all the tools available to a novelist.

12) Humor is always good, but not necessary, don’t force it.

13) Write in the first person.

14) Stick with the past tense.

15) Open up, express your inner thoughts and feelings, allow your vulnerability to come through.

16) At the conclusion, close the circle: tell the reader what you’ve learned, i.e., the reason for sharing your story in the first place.

17) Imagine a reader after he finished your essay: What did s/he learn about you? Does s/he like you?

18) And remember, there are no iron-clad rules for good writing -– but there are many useful guidelines. Break them at your own risk!




17 TERRIFIC QUOTES FROM THE BOOK, On Writing the College Application Essay, by Harry Bauld


“The essay, unlike other parts of your application, is in your complete control and an opportunity to show admissions officers who you are.”


“[Your Essay is] unlike anything you’ve ever done and for an audience that you can’t (and may never) see.”


”Your first job –- not to put the admissions officer to sleep with your essay.”


“There are no good or bad topics, just good or bad essays.”


“Don’t focus on what are ‘they’ looking for? Instead focus on – what do you have to say? That’s what they want to hear.”


“Write something only you can write. Your essay should have a style as distinctive as your speaking voice. The problem with most essays is that they could have been written by anyone.”


“A college essay is an informal, or familiar piece. Don’t think of the college essay as school-related writing. It’s not a history or English paper, loosen up. Write in a natural tone and style –- a kind of inspired conversation.”


“Use stories and pieces of stories (anecdotes) to bring your work to life. An incident, a bit of conversation, a few vivid characters can make the difference between a lifeless piece and one that sings.”


Your memories are the foundation of what only you can write. Memories are your story. Think of early childhood memories and ask: how does this memory reflect who I am now?”


“The shape of an essay emerges through your writing, often after the first draft.”


“Don’t use ‘in conclusion’ or ‘finally’ or ‘in summation.’”


“Beginning and ending speak to each other.”


“What kind of tone should you use in your college essay? Whatever suits you. The mood grows out of the subject and the writer’s authentic feeling about it. Use a natural voice.”


“Inflated language does not make you smarter, it makes you sound pretentious.”


“Good writing knows the names of things.”


“Less is more, simplify your sentences.”


“Admissions people often disagree in their evaluation of essays. Different readers, even in the same admissions office, look for different things. How can you please them? You can’t. Say what you have to say.”




The truth is, I love the personal narrative essay — everyone, even adults, should write one every five years. It’s just a good, positive way to reflect on your life. 
Under normal circumstances, I strongly prefer to begin at the beginning, getting together for a meeting at a coffee shop or library. If distance or virus is an issue, however, we can connect via FaceTime, Zoom, or some other means. We’ll talk about the essay in general, get comfortable with each other, discuss ideas, select a topic, and try to form a rough outline, or even, if we’re lucky, come up with an opening sentence. To me, those are important steps. Some students (and many parents!) have misguided ideas about what the essay should be. However, you may be farther along in the process — with a clear idea of what you’d like to write about — and that can be great, too. If you are happy with your topic, and already have a rough draft, the easiest way to begin would be to share it on Google Docs. At that point, we could decide whether we wish to proceed together or not.
I realize the essay can begin to feel like a chore, another thing you have to do, but I find that it’s valuable to reflect on your life, to tell a story that reveals your character, your values, your inspirations. All the stuff that can’t be expressed by test scores and grades. Here, you are in complete control.
Essays are usually better about small things than big ones. Specific moments rather than, say, big generalities. I’ve worked with students who wrote about their favorite song, love of the water, sibling relationship, working as a cashier at a grocery store, finding his voice as a musician, being a twin, taking a risk, wanting a career in the military, and so on. I think in some ways my recent favorite was the song, because it was light & happy and perfectly reflected the upbeat personality of the student.
Think of it this way: an essay can do 3 things in 650 words: 1) show that you are a likeable person; 2) show that you can write — and think; 3) show some kind of growth and self-awareness. It is show AND tell. An essay, not a short story. For example: You can write a beautiful scene about doing yoga on Sunday mornings. And that’s lovely. But the question that has to be answered by every writer is: So what? Why are you telling me this story? Often writers are initially stumped by that question. The writers might sense it’s important to them, but they aren’t sure why. This is where we have to dig deeper, think harder.
Importantly, I’ll help you stay on track, moving forward. We want this thing to be good and, yes, for you to be able to put it behind you. Done! So in this way it helps parents, too.
After we agree on a topic and an approach, you write a first draft. I’ll send that back with comments,  suggestions. I usually start big picture (macro) before line editing (micro). Then a second draft. We might do another round of that or move to a more refined “polish.”. It’s important that this is your essay, your thoughts, your voice. You have to be happy with it. Essentially: two-three revisions usually gets us there. A lot depends on the work you put into it. However, this shouldn’t be a task that kills anyone. We want to get it done. Right?
My goal is for you to write an essay that you love. An essay that makes you proud, that shows you in a positive light.
All good things!
James Preller