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  • Writer's pictureNancy Fries

FAQ: 2018 Edition

Updated: Sep 2, 2018

What exactly do you do with students?

I help students develop essays that shed light on their personal qualities and values, and how they will contribute to the college community. We accomplish this through a private brainstorming session where I get to know the student and zero in on what makes them unique. With my guidance, students avoid overused topics and instead craft interesting essays that give admission officers a better sense of who they are.

Do you write essays for your students?

No. Students work on their essays on their own time. I do not sit with students while they write, nor do I write for them. Students share their essay drafts with me via Google Docs and I provide feedback on content, sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, etc. The student can opt to take my suggestions or not. Ultimately, I ensure that the essay retains the student’s own voice.

How do you charge? I offer packages ranging from a single essay to pretty much all of the essays a student would need. For my rate sheet, please contact me.

Are you a college counselor?

I have an Independent Educational Consultant certificate from UCI Extension, and I am well-versed in the college admission process. However, I have opted not to set up my business for full-service college counseling so that I can focus on my strength—helping students find their voice in their essays. Students who work with me are responsible for knowing their own deadlines, completing their own applications, and otherwise managing their own process beyond the essays.

Do you offer any services besides essay review?

Yes. I offer assistance with the following, for an additional fee:

  • Developing the college list. Recommended for students who want to look beyond the usual schools to which students in our area apply. I have visited about 50 colleges to date and am knowledgeable about the broad range of colleges in the U.S. as well as how to predict the likelihood of admission.

  • Identifying colleges likely to award merit aid. This is a tough one for many students, as it means applying to colleges where you are in the top of the applicant pool. Many students do not want to apply to or attend such colleges, preferring to aim for reach schools. But oftentimes students may find that the cost of attending an out-of-state public or private college can be LESS than the in-state cost of the University of California.

  • Completing the activities section of the application. Many students, after years of engaging in interesting activities, do not adequately describe them on their application. I help students to succinctly yet vividly describe their activities. (Included in one of my packages and available as an a la carte service.)

  • Writing letters following deferral or waitlisting. I will help ensure you present your best case for admission while sticking to what the admission committee cares to hear. I have helped students achieve admission following deferral from Duke and Michigan, and denial from USC. (Note: I do not routinely recommend appealing final admission decisions.)

  • Parental support at no charge! I am always open to your phone calls and emails and can often provide the advice you need.

How soon do I need to sign up with you?

I keep an interest list of students for each grade level, the youngest being freshmen. However, I do not begin working with students until after junior year. Students truly are not ready for the self-reflection needed to write a stellar essay before then, and their time is better spent focusing on junior year grades, testing, and extracurricular activities. My client load is typically full with rising seniors by mid-July. As those students complete the bulk of their essays, I usually begin taking a few new students again later in the fall.

How many essays do students need to write?

It depends on the number and nature of colleges to which they are applying. More selective colleges typically require more essays. Most students need to write the following essays:

  • Common Application Essay More than 800 schools accept the Common Application (Common App). Noteworthy exceptions are the University of California and many other state flagship universities. Many, but not all, member colleges require the main Common App essay. Common App provides seven essay prompts, from which the student selects one and writes an essay of up to 650 words. For more information, go to

  • Common Application Supplements The more selective colleges often require that students write one more more supplemental essays. These essays are usually around 100-300 words. Prompts tend to be along the lines of “Why do you want to come to our college,” “How will you enhance the diversity on our campus,” or “Expand on one of your extracurricular activities,” but they can also be rather obscure, like University of Chicago’s “What is square one, and can you actually go back to it?”

  • University of California Personal Insight Questions For the UCs, students choose any four of eight questions to answer in 350 words or less. The approach to these questions is distinctly different from the Common App main and supplemental essays. I have attended two UC counselor workshops and understand what UC admission officers aim to learn about students with these questions.

  • Other College Essays Many of my students apply to colleges like University of Washington and University of Texas, which use different online applications with different essay prompts.

We have a college counselor. Should we work with you, too?

Respectfully, I suggest that you give your counselor the opportunity to work with your student first. Essay review is typically included in the spectrum of services your counselor provides. Your family’s relationship with your counselor is important in this busy and stressful process, and you should trust that your counselor is providing the support and feedback your student needs. Furthermore, it can be confusing and conflicting for students to receive feedback from two different advisors.

Will my child’s information be confidential?

As a parent, I understand the highly personal nature of the college application process, and I hold student information in the strictest of confidence. I do not need to know students’ grades and test scores unless I am building your college list. I do not share any details about your student—including the college list, essay topics, or admission results—with other students, parents, or members of the community. I may occasionally seek advice from the college counseling community, via Facebook groups and listservs to which I belong. Even then, no distinguishing details will be shared.

Tell us about your own kids.

So glad you asked! I have two sons. My older son graduated in 2018 with a degree in physics from Reed College, a small liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. He now works outside Portland as a researcher for a scientific firm. It was during his college process that I became interested in this field. He was looking outside the mainstream for the right fit, and I found it fascinating to learn about all the options available to students beyond the predictable. My younger son is a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He was recruited to play lacrosse for the Bantams and despite thinking he wanted a larger university, discovered the college to be a great academic, athletic, and personal fit. My kids could not be more different from one another. That is part of what appeals to me about this work: every student I encounter is unique, and therefore their college processes and essays are unique. I still feel that I can tell you something special about every student who has worked with me, dating back to 2013.

What else do you do?

I also work as a freelance writer. Please visit the writing section of my website for more information.

What else should we know?

I simply love working with teenagers and find it absolutely fascinating to sit with them and learn what makes them tick. Most teens haven’t had an adult—besides their parents—show that level of interest in them. When parents do it, they find it intrusive; when I do it, they find it flattering. I consider it a true privilege to work with students through this process.


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