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5.4 Outlines for Full- and Multi-Day Workshops


I most often receive requests for 1-hr, 2-hr and 3-hr workshops, so I’ve elected to focus on those in this guide. But day-long and multi-day workshops are a great way to move students through the process, and get this: I’ve already provided you all the resources you’ll need. The challenge is how to map out the exercises.

Below you’ll find actual schedules I’ve used with different school groups, plus a few suggestions for what's worked.

The advice I shared in Lesson 5.2 applies here: set the schedule, but be ready to change based on the needs of the group.

Outlines for a Full 1-Day Workshop

Option A (4-Hour Workshop) and Option B (6-Hour Workshop)

  • You’ll notice I’ve included a 4-hr version (no lunch) and a 6-hr version (with lunch). Either way, I’ve found it’s difficult for the majority of students to complete a first draft within the workshop if they are walking in without a topic in mind. Some students come in knowing what they want to write about and, if they elect to use the final hour to write and not work with a partner, a draft is possible.
  • But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend rushing to get a draft done during the workshop. I have witnessed other workshops that were all about getting a draft done, but often the drafts written had to be scrapped as students didn’t spend enough time marinating on their topic and structure. Also, I prefer to teach students how to use tools that they’ll be able to use after the workshop, beyond the college essay. It takes longer, but I believe is more useful long-term.
  • FYI: “How to Make Your Essay, Like, Deep” is another name for the Feelings and Needs Exercise and the numbered “lessons” on the outline correspond to modules in my "How to Write a Personal Statement" course.

Option C (Includes UC school questions)

  • You’ll notice this version includes not only brainstorming for the Common App personal statement, but also the UC Personal Insight Questions.

  • You’ll also notice that for this school, I included licenses for my “How to Write a Personal Statement" course for all the students in my fee and their homework was to work through the course and to complete a draft by the first day of school.

Outline for a 2-Day Workshop

Option A

  • You’ll notice in this outline (and in others) I spread out the warm-up exercises throughout the days and use them as “centering exercises” that serve to bring students' attention back to our work together after a break or after lunch. These have a cumulative effect, and they tend to get better at them (and enjoy them more) the more they do them. Day 1 is sometimes awkward at first, Day 2 gets better and Days 3 and 4 are easy and fun.

Outlines for a 3-Day Workshop

Option A (Half-day version, two groups)

  • You’ll see in this version that I met with one group of students in the morning (9am-12pm) and another group in the afternoon (1-4pm). While I prefer to have 4-6 hrs with students (if possible), this format actually worked well, as many students had summer activities that would have otherwise conflicted with either a morning or afternoon session.

Option B (full-day version, one group)

  • You’ll notice I scheduled “How to Make Your Essay, Like, Deep” (the Feelings and Needs Exercise) before lunch so they’d have some time to process. I then returned to the “How to Write Each of the Four Types of Essays” lesson from my course after lunch so I could make sure every student would have a chance to outline at least one essay (but likely two) before the end of the day.
  • Day 3 in workshops tend to be one-on-one intensive and even the “Advanced Techniques” lesson mentioned in Option A above is a placeholder that I will sometimes skip if students say they’d prefer to have more one-on-one writing and feedback time. Often, by this point in a multi-day workshop, students just need time to write. Some want lots of check-ins with me or one of the essay coaches while others want very few and enjoy just having the quiet time to write.
  • I’ll often encourage students doing three-day workshops to bring in headphones, as some prefer to listen to music while they write. It also helps drown out noise, especially if we’re all working together in one room.

Outline for a 4-Day Workshop

Option A

  • This is actually my favorite format. With four days, most students can complete not only their personal statements but ALSO their Activities Lists and Additional Info sections, so they can walk out of the workshop with a completed Common App.
  • PLUS they get a chance to share their essays with one another on the final day.
  • You’ll notice that the bulk of Days 3 and 4 are spent writing and doing one-on-one sessions.
  • In the 4-day version I’ll often lead a Myers-Briggs workshop, as I mentioned earlier, to mix things up a bit and energize the students (i.e. get them thinking about something else other than the story they’ve been working on for 2-3 days straight).
  • You’ll notice the title “Boot Camp” is on this outline. There's nothing to that; it was just the counselor’s preference.

6-8 Week Curriculum for Advisory, English or College Prep Classes

Some counselors have elected to have students write their personal statements in their Advisory, English or college prep classes, and meet over several weeks or months. For those schools, counselors have purchased a set of licenses for their students and have used the How to Write a Personal Statement course, watching one lesson per week. Some elect to use a flipped classroom model in which students watch the lesson for homework and do the writing and one-on-one work in class. That looks like this:


Lesson 1 – How to Find your Essay Topic and Structure
In the first half of this session, I’ll lead you through the two best brainstorming exercises ever, then introduce you to two possible structures: narrative and montage. In the second half, we’ll analyze two example essays and develop a deeper understanding of how story structure works.

Lesson 2 – How to Write Each of the 4 Essay Types
Here's a step-by-step process for writing each of the four types. By the end of this lesson you should be ready to jump into a draft.

Lesson 2.2: Analysis of Four Amazing Essays
Not ready to start writing yet? Get an inside look at four personal statements written by some of my star students. And there's one for each essay type: A, B, C, and D.

Lesson 3 – The Great College Essay Test
Here I outline the four qualities of a great personal statement. Already written a draft? See how it measures up. No draft yet? This will show you what to aim for as you map out your essay.

Lesson 4 – How to Guide the First Lesson (For Counselors and Students Working in Pairs)
In this session you'll learn techniques for connecting quickly and deeply with the person you’re working with on the essay, how to create a safe space, and how to provide feedback that is kind, useful and actionable.

Lesson 5 – How to Revise Your Essay in 5 Steps
This short exercise will teach you how to know if an essay is working or not and, if it’s not working, why not. And check it out: this exercise will help you with any essay you write from now on.

Lesson 6 – Bringing Your Essay to Life
The key question for this session is: Am I telling my deepest story? We’ll discuss how to tell whether the answer is yes or no. If yes, we’ll discuss techniques to bring the story to life with vivid details. If no, we’ll discuss when (and how) to cut losses and begin again.

Lesson 7 – Ethan Workshops Essays
Watch me as I work step-by-step with a half-dozen students, providing feedback on actual student drafts live. Many students find this to be one of the most useful lessons in the course, as they get to see the tools and techniques in action.

Lesson 8 – Advanced Screenwriting Secrets & Three of My Favorite Essays Ever
Seven techniques that can be used to improve most any essay, illustrated through three of my very favorites.  

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If you're interested in buying a bulk set of licenses for your students, please email info@collegeessayguy.com with the subject "Bulk order for personal statement course."

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A Quick Word on Flyers to Promote Your Workshop
If your workshop is not required for students, I recommend using flyers to promote it. They’re easy to email to students and easy to photocopy and post around the school. Plus, once the flyer is made, the workshop becomes more real--it’s when I know the event is actually going to happen.

Here are sample template flyers I use to promote a...

1-day workshop

2-day workshop

3-day workshop

4-Day workshop

Simple, but they work.

FYI: I leave the boxes on the flyer blank so counselors can handwrite their info inside and make copies to post around the school.

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