Greetings and compliments! We’re glad you’re here. 

In 2015, a student I’d never met before wrote me an email that read:

"I come from a single parent household, my father does not support us in any way at all and my mother has just recently been let go of due to financial struggles, but I would like to ask for your help. Please light a little match to guide me through this."

And, just like that, the Matchlighters Scholarship was born. 

The Matchlighters Scholarship connects generous and experienced college counselors with low-income, high-achieving students from around the world to deliver college admissions help to those who need it most.

The scholarship comprises two hours of college list development and four hours of one-on-one essay help from experienced counselors — at no cost.

It’s awarded to high-achieving, low-income students who have solid grades, but just need a little extra help. 


I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU to you, Ethan, and Nicolas for creating such a wonderful scholarship program. Without Matchlighter and my amazing counselor, I would have never been able to complete and compose such great essays that help me get admitted to Harvard, UPenn, Duke, JHU, Rice, and UCLA! I still cannot believe what happened this past month and all of that incredible news would not have been a reality without the CEG’s Matchlighter program. I want to personally thank You for putting the effort in organizing this program and help me match up with my counselor.
— Khoa Doan, Matchlighters Scholar
Sandy Clingman is the best counselor in the world. She was super patient as well as extremely quick and helpful with her essay coaching. She always went the extra mile when helping me. If this program runs on counselors with a heart as big as Sandy’s, this program will continue seeing success for many years to come. I would not be in the position I am today without you guys.
— Peter, Matchlighters Scholar

For Students

Students qualify if:

  1. You're trying to get into college or grad school. You're a second-semester junior in high school, a senior in high school, a transfer student, a gap-year student, or even a part-time student working a job to support your family. You can be a domestic applicant, undocumented, refugee or international student (with sufficient English fluency); perhaps you’d like to apply to art schools, or represent your future campus as a student-athlete — no matter your story, we’ve got a counselor for you.

  2. You've earned a 3.0 unweighted GPA (or international equivalent). You’ll submit your high school transcripts as part of the application.

  3. Your family income qualifies you for one of the following: free/reduced-price lunch, SAT/ACT fee waivers, enrollment in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families. Check this income table to find out if you qualify!

  4. You have scored at least a 95 on the TOEFL (iBT), a 243 (CBT), or 590 (PBT); or minimum International English Language Testing System (IELTS) academic exam scores of 6.5 overall and 6.0 in all subsections. Alternatively, if the majority of your high school academic classes are taught in English, you don’t have to submit TOEFL scores.

If you’ve got questions, first check out our FAQs below — if you can’t find your question answered there, send our Matchlighters director an email at

Here are some schools where Matchlighters will be enrolling as freshmen this fall:

  • Agnes Scott College

  • Barnard College

  • Boston University

  • Carnegie Mellon University

  • Collin County Community College

  • Columbia University

  • Cornell University

  • CSU - Los Angeles

  • Davidson College (2)

  • Drexel University (2)

  • Gap Year

  • Georgia Tech

  • Harvard University (2)

  • Kenyon College

  • Los Angeles Pierce College (USC Trojan Transfer Plan)

  • Los Angeles Southwest College

  • Loyola University Chicago

  • Macalaster College

  • Middlebury

  • MIT (2)

  • Mount Holyoke

  • NYU (3)

  • NYU - Abu Dhabi

  • Stanford (2)

  • UC Berkeley (3)

  • UC Davis

  • UC Irvine

  • UC Merced

  • UC San Diego

  • UC Santa Cruz

  • University of Chicago

  • University of Florida

  • University of Georgia

  • University of Michigan (2)

  • UT Austin

  • University of Wisconsin - Madison

  • Vanderbilt (2)

  • Williams College

  • Yale

Learning about the College Essay Guy and Matchlighters scholarship was life-changing for me. Slowly my confusion and anxiety about the application process disappeared - the kind support of your team allowed me to enjoy it and to learn from this process more than I could ever dream of. Mark, my counselor, has been the kindest and the most supportive person. He helped me on the weekends, holidays and even couple of hours before the deadlines - I can not imagine a more helpful, caring and devoted counselor. His feedback was always informative and useful. Any resources on the website were always available to me - everyone on the team ready to give every advice they have and ready to help at any time. I can not imagine having gone so far in the process if it wasn’t for your amazing team. I am so thankful!
— Anastasiia Antiukhina, Matchlighters Scholar

For Counselors and Teachers

ARE YOU interested in volunteering to help HIGH-ACHIEVING, LOW-INCOME students write great college essays and/or develop an awesome and balanced college list?

We could use your experience and generous heart.

Are you a high school counselor who works with low-income or free and reduced lunch students? Share this page with them!

Do you have a student who could use some extra support?

What if you could give all your juniors access to our essay writing courses?

Apply above!

Want to help spread the word about the Matchlighters Scholarship at your work or school?

Download a flyer here.


  • Work with at least one student for at least the four to six hours, at least four of which will be spent on essay revision and at least two of which will be spent on college list development, unless a different agreement is made in writing with the Program Director. (Note: If you’d prefer to help only on college essays or college lists, let us know!)

  • Respond within two business days to emails from the Program Director to work with a student and requests for feedback from Scholars, unless written prior notice of unavailability is given to the Program Director or Scholar.

  • Make a reasonable effort to reach out to students. Our goal is for this program to be student-driven and that they take ownership over it. With that in mind, we prefer to make the first contact and we also know that some gentle nudging and a quick email check-in from a counselor every two weeks or so can be helpful and motivational, especially as the senior year course load kicks in.

Why the above? We think these guidelines are important and the minimum commitment needed for Matchlighters Scholars to have a solid experience.  Responding to emails promptly will allow us to connect students with other counselors if you're too busy, and responding to emails from students will allow you to schedule sessions more effectively.

While we understand that life gets busy, we'd prefer that counselors only commit to work with students if they can agree to be available for the full 4-6 hours. 

Are you an IEC with a strong Desire to give?
Take on our advanced volunteer opportunities:

Tier 1: take on helping a student one-on-one

  • Offer one of our hundreds of low-income, high-achieving students 6 free hours of college list development and essay coaching. Apply above!

Tier 2: offer a local low-income school a free workshop

  • Work with College Essay Guy to discover a local school that you could help, and offer a free essay writing workshop.
    Never held an essay writing workshop? College Essay Guy will give you all the tools you need.

Tier 3: hold a free multi-day workshop and create a community partnership with your school

  • Continue your work in the community by expanding your workshop offer and creating a partnership with your school. Find out how to give all of the College Essay Guy online courses to the juniors at your school for free.

I remember signing up for Matchlighers thinking it was my last call for hope because I was so desperately seeking assistance with not only my college essay, but with the application process in general. Being both first-generation AND low-income, I found it quite difficult to navigate the college admissions process because at home, no one had experience regarding this topic and at my small public high school, the resources were limited. Once I found out I was accepted, I was immediately set up with my two counselors whom I can never repay for the help they provided. My essay counselor had so much patience with me and didn’t at all mind the fact that I was changing my essay topic every other day. He worked with what I gave him and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone; overall, I couldn’t be happier with my essay. My college list developer was so incredibly kind and insightful, and best of all, she was willing to work around my schedule and set up appointments with me when I was available. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to be a Matchlighters scholar. Thanks again :)
— Angela, Matchlighters Scholar

Frequently Asked Questions

About the scholarship:

Why did College Essay Guy start this program?  

Because Ethan believes in equal opportunity and access. In 2015, a student he'd never met before wrote him an email that read: "I come from a single parent household, my father does not support us in any way at all and my mother has just recently been let go of due to financial struggles, but I would like to ask for your help. Please light a little match to guide me through this." And, just like that, the Matchlighters Scholarship was born. 

Who conducts the four hours of one-on-one essay help and two hours of college list development?

A volunteer group of like-minded essay coaches and expert counselors.

How many students do you match each year?

In the 2018 application cycle, we matched more than 200 scholars to counselors. We hope to match 250-300 in 2019!

Do you offer financial aid assistance? I.e. FAFSA submission and scholarship searching?

The answer to this question will depend on your counselor — so ask him or her! When counselors sign up, they sign up to help you with 6 hours of college list development and essay work; we don’t ask or expect them to offer any financial aid counseling, but they likely have experience in this!

About the process (for students):

How do I know if I qualify?  

Check out this table. You qualify if your income level is equal to or less than the number in the row for your household size. Or, if you’re a domestic applicant, your family income qualifies you for one of the following: free/reduced-price lunch, SAT/ACT fee waivers, enrollment in a federal, state, or local program that aids students from low-income families, etc.

What does the application require?

It’s a two-step process. First, you simply need to complete this application form — plan to spend 30 minutes or so doing it. Also, make sure you have access to your high school transcripts as well as a document that proves your financial need. If you meet the financial and academic requirements, you’re accepted! For the second part of the application, you’ll receive an email with instructions for completing your essay brainstorming exercises. Once you’ve done that, email your brainstorming exercises. That's it! Usually within one week of completing the application, you will be paired with a professional counselor with whom you’ll meet via Skype/FaceTime/Zoom and email for a total of six hours, at a pace that works for you both.

Do I need to fill out the entire application? I just need essay feedback.  

Yes! The application process allows your counselor(s) to get to know you, your dreams, test scores and preferences — all of which help them ask better questions and provide better essay feedback.

How do we meet with our counselors?

Our counselors (just like our scholars) live and work in all corners of the globe. Mostly you’ll meet via a digital platform, like Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime. If you work better via phone, you can set up phone calls, or simply email and text. Choose a method or combination of methods that work for you both! If you happen to live near each other, you can also meet in person for coffee and conversation.

Will my counselor reach out to me first?

After we connect you and your counselor in an email, you should reach out directly to your counselor. Take the plunge! And commit to keeping in touch regularly with your counselor — they’ll doing the same for you (and we love them for it!).

What other resources will be available to me as a scholar?

You’ll receive access to any and all of Ethan’s essay-related courses* — for free! All you need to do is review the courses, pick out the ones you’d like, and send an email to either or asking for access. Voila!

*We’re unable to grant access to College Essay Essentials, Ethan’s book, as we don’t yet have it in PDF form. If you’re willing to invest a little, you can find the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for a cool $10.

About the process (for counselors):

What qualifications do you require of your volunteers?

We take newcomers with college counseling certificates or seasoned veterans! We do ask that you commit to responding to your student’s emails within 48 hours, that you meet your student “face-to-face” via Skype/FaceTime/Zoom (or whatever platform works for you) and that you can feasibly offer your student at least six hours of assistance.

If it’s too busy of a season for you, let us know and we can contact you next year. We fall in love with these scholars (you will, too!) and we want to make sure they receive the assistance they’ve earned.

Do I have to have a specific area of counseling expertise to volunteer?

Nope! However, in your interest form we’ll ask you if you have any experience with any of the following groups:

  • International students

  • Undocumented/DACA students

  • Student-athletes

  • Student-artists

  • Transfer students

  • Students with disabilities

  • LGBTQ+ students

  • Gap-year students

  • General graduate school applicants

  • MBA program applicants

  • Medical school applicants

  • Law school applicants

  • Community college applicants

  • Military/armed forces applicants

  • Trade school applicants

In the past, we’ve had a particular need for counselors with experience in the international application process — and, more specifically, with experience helping low-income international students.  

How long after I submit my interest form will I be paired with a student?

This depends on how quickly students finish their applications. During the especially hectic application months, you may hear back within a week. In slower months, you may not hear from us until a new group of students applies, perhaps a month or two after you submit your initial interest form. But don’t worry! We will always email you before connecting you to a student; if your situation has changed and you can no longer volunteer, you can let her know and she’ll remove your name from the list.

What resources will be available to me?

  1. You’ll have access to any and all of Ethan's free resources!

  2. A Corsava account (also for free!). You’ll be able to explore students’ preferences, create reports, and keep track of what fits. Don’t know about Corsava? Check out Ethan’s podcast episode in which he interviews the lovely creator, Anne Wager.

  3. Detailed how-tos about the college list development process, as well as the essay revision process — in case you’d like a schedule to follow. Also, if you apply as a counselor with international application experience, we can share with you a handy document of tips and tricks to get you started.

*We’re unable to grant access to College Essay Essentials, Ethan’s book, as we don’t yet have it in PDF form. If you’re willing to invest a little, you can find the book from Amazon or Barnes & Noble for a cool $10.

What program/platform should I use?

Any you’d like! CollegePlannerPro, Guided Path, Naviance, Trello, Google Drive — whatever works for you and your scholar. We understand that each counselor has her own style, tools, and method.

Other questions? We have more information specifically for counselors that you’ll receive along with your application. If you have any further questions, email us at

What are the Tier systems, and how do they work?

We want you to grow with College Essay Guy, so we're offering to help you take your volunteering to the next level with our Tier system.

Tier 1: Commit to working with a matchlighters student for 6 hours of college application assistance.

Tier 2: College Essay Guy will help you find a low income school in your area. We will provide you with all the tools you need to hold an essay writing workshop.

Tier 3: work with your school to hold a multi-day workshop and get their students to College Essay Guy’s entire suite of video courses.

What does "college essay help" and "college list development" involve?

Read about the details of what we ask of our counselors here:


Keep reading to learn all of the ins and outs of being a Matchlighters counselor.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, 
but a fire to be kindled.
                                 - Plutarch

Have a question, comment, or idea? Email us at