The College Admission Essentials
Treasure Trove of Resources

I. How to Discover and Connect With What You Care About (in 20 Minutes)


Essence Objects Exercise: video of me leading this exercise from my kitchen

Values Exercise: video of this exercise from the same kitchen

Ethan’s Top Secret Stash of Really Great Reads

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II. Essentials Before You Apply (9th-11th grade)


High School Essentials

Epic Spreadsheet of Every TEDTalk Ever Given

21 books that showed up on college reading lists across the U.S.

A database with tons of volunteer opportunities in your area

A Two-Minute Guided Meditation to Make Your Summer More Fun and Productive

Podcast with Jill Tipograph: How to Plan a Fulfilling and Productive Summer

Peace Corps’ list of top volunteer-producing schools

List of schools that send the most students on to earn doctorate degrees

Ranking of schools based on the number of graduates who go onto to earn venture capital funding

How to Make the Most of a College Fair Experience

Major/Career Exploration:

5 Reasons Why It Doesn't Matter What You Major In

  • Do What You Are - This book uses the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help you understand how you relate to the world and suggests potential career paths based on your personality type. It focuses less on your skills and values, but is one of my favorite resources to begin understanding your personality type.

  • YouScience - An online assessment that uses a combination of personality, interest, and aptitude testing to provide an overall report that provides a list of careers that match your results.

  • StrengthsFinder - One of the most popular resources in both book and assessment format. Helps you discover your top five strengths, understand how to develop them, and live your best life.

  • The Birkman Method - A comprehensive and empirically tested online assessment that analyzes what they call your personality needs and expectations, in addition to providing an assessment of your occupational interests and behaviors.

  • The Enneagram - A typology of nine interrelated personality types that can aid in self-awareness, self-understanding and self-development. 


Standardized Testing Essentials

III. College List, Financial Aid, and Demonstrated Interest Essentials


How to Create a College List


Part 1: How to Create a Balanced College List

How to Create a Great College List

NACAC State of College Admissions Report

A list of resources from Steven Antonoff:

Corsava Cards (also an app) from Anne Wager: Discover what is important to you in a college--things you may never have considered yet are key to your success and get a ranked ordered list based on your preferences. Create a free account at If your counselor is using Corsava, they’ll send you an invitation to create an account. The original playing cards are also available in hard copy form.

True Colors Survey:

Do What You Are


Authentic Happiness” Questionnaire

Part 2: Research Schools (Based on Your Interests and Preferences) and Create Your Preliminary List

The College Finder: an amazing book of college lists based on different categories--a must-have resource for developing a college list This is the online, searchable version of The College Finder 

Big List of Fly-in Programs

Mark Moody’s Quick and Dirty College List Builder

College List and Essay Tracker - Sample Downloadable Spreadsheet

Why You Shouldn’t Base Your College List on Rankings:

The Common Data Set

Part 3: How to Figure Out Which Schools You Can Afford

GoingMerry Scholarship Finder


Find Your College’s Net Price Calculator

Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (US Version)

Which Schools Are the Most Generous With Financial Aid? (International Version)

NASSGAP Annual Survey for State Aid Programs - Tuition exchange agreements between states

Sample Counselor Questionnaire

Questions to Ask on a College Visit

A List of College Lists You Can Search For on CollegeXpress:

International Students Applying for Financial Aid

Should You Apply Early Decision or Regular Decision? (And the Chart That Can Help You Decide)

uLead Network for Undocumented/DACA Families


Should You Apply Early or Not


Demonstrated Interest


Podcast #108 w/Monica James: Demonstrated Interest: How to Build Authentic Relationships with Colleges (and Why It's a Good Idea)

For the entire 2017 NACAC state of college admission report, click here

In short, demonstrated interest can play a big part in increasing your chance of admission. Want more proof? Here’s a 50-page report that concludes that, for the colleges mentioned in the study (those that track demonstrated interest), “off-site contacts [such as sending an email to a rep or requesting info from the school] increase the probability of admission by 10-13 percentage points,” while making both an on-site contact (like taking a campus tour) and ALSO making on off-site contact “increases the probability of admission by 21-24 percentage points.” Source. (Heads-up: There’s a lot of math in that report.)

And get this: according to a 2012 NACAC report, between 2004 and 2011, the percentage of colleges that rated demonstrated interest as being “considerably important” rose from 7% to 23% (see page 23 of the report), although since then it has stayed right around the 20% mark.

Click here for the presentation given at a conference in 2015 by a few college admission counselors who track demonstrated interest--if you’re really into this stuff, it’s totally worth it, as it shows screenshots from the computers of actual reps showing the details. 

A great demonstrated interest article by Lisa Rubin-Johnson.

IV. The Application Itself


Adrian’s Brainstorming Exercises and Final Application


Application Pre-Work & Essay Brainstorming Exercises


College Essay Guy Brainstorming Pre-Work: Here’s the actual pre-work doc that I share with students and have them complete before I meet with them one-on-one. Here are video versions of the following: 

Essence Objects Exercise: Create a menu of topics for your application and essays in about 12 minutes.

Values Exercise: Find out what matters to you in about four minutes.

Feelings and Needs Exercise: The Feelings and Needs Exercise is the most effective exercise I’ve ever seen for helping students process a challenge they’ve experienced. It can help you create your personal statement outline in 20 minutes.(Note: This was adapted from an exercise created by Nonviolent Communication expert LaShelle Lowe-Chardé.)

Everything I Want Colleges to Know About Me

21 Details


How to Up-Level Your Activities List in 30 Minutes


the Additional Info Section


You can also use the Additional Information section to explain significant health issues, grades that may raise red flags, reasons for changing schools or to (selectively) expand on significant activities. Note the word “selectively,” as you do not have to use this section at all and it’s generally best not to repeat information you’ve described elsewhere in your application.

How to Write the Common App “Additional Information” Section: A Brief Guide

(Example) How to Selectively Expand on an Activity the Additional Info Section - You can selectively expand on certain activities in your Additional Info section.

Back to Table of Contents

V. The Personal Statement

VI. The Supplemental Essays


College List & Essay Tracker


The Super Essay


The "Why us" Essay


Don’t talk about the school’s size, location, weather, or faculty-to-student ratio on the “Why us” essay. Why? Because that’s what most students write about. Instead, think of the “Why us” essay as a third date and your date has just asked you why you like them. You can’t simply say “because you’re hot” or “you are highly regarded by my parents and one of my aunts.” Name a range of very specific programs/classes/activities/opportunities unique to the school and then connect each one back to you. 

A Basic Downloadable “Why us” Essay Chart 

Article: Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings

Why This College Essay Guide + Examples


The "Extracurricular" Essay


The Short Answers


If asked to describe yourself in 3-5 words, avoid the Top 50 adjectives. Why? They don't tell us much. Examples include: adventurous, friendly, outgoing, compassionate, passionate, empathetic, passionate (yes, repeating for effect here).

More short answer examples (with notes on why they’re great)

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VII. Other Parts of the Application Process


How to Get Great Teacher Recommendations


Interview Essentials


The Resume

VIII. How to Make Sure Your College Application Is Doing Its Job


 The Values Scan

IX. Additional Considerations


Arts Application Essentials


College Athletic Recruiting Essentials


Applying to Universities Outside the US


International Students


EducationUSA is part of the US government with advising centers around the world who can offer you guidance and connect you with visiting universities. To find your nearest center, click here.

International ACAC Test Optional List here

Sample school documents from the US-UK Fulbright Commission

List of credential evaluators


Homeschooling Students


Example Homeschool Student Transcript

Homeschool Course Description Examples

Podcast Episode 212: Advice for Homeschooling Students


Students of Color


First-Generation and Low-Income Students


The Being Not Rich Guide + podcast episode 210 with Lauren Schandevel

My podcast with Sara Goldrick-Rab, author of Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid, and the Betrayal of the American Dream (also a link to the Temple University Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice

Strive for College

I’m First - - The I’m First! Guide to College - Use the code COLLEGEESSAYGUY at checkout for 30% off your guide! 

The Matchlighters Program:free one-on-one help for low-income students on their college essays and college list

My How to Sign Up for Free Mentorship with Strive for College via the Common App

5 Reasons Why High School Students Should Join Strive for College


Undocumented Students


LGBTQ+ Students


Self-Directed Students


Blake Boles’s Tips on Emailing to Request a Letter of Recommendation or Connecting With an Interesting Stranger

More Tips on Writing a Great Mission Statement

How to Develop a Self-Directed Project Based on Your Values

Image-based one-sheet example

Text-based one-sheet example.

Two-Sheet Example

Sample One Week Plan [Template]

Tips for Learning What Type of Leader You Are (from Lauren Calahan):

I find that the 8 habits of highly effective leaders, as defined by Stephen Covey, offer a simple and intriguing menu to focus you on organizing, supporting and developing both YOU as a leader AND the people in your growing leadership team. 

Even if you never become an entrepreneur, these habits will help you reach your potential throughout your life time.

  1. Be Proactive

  2. Begin with the end in mind

  3. Put first things first

  4. Think Win/ Win

  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

  6. Synergize

  7. Sharpen the Saw

  8. Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

If you are curious about what kind of leader you are, you might enjoy reading more about these habits here and thinking about which ones you want to make sure you find in your team members.  

If you want to learn more about yourself as a leader, Lauren loves to spend time with students like you to discover your strengths and weaknesses as they relate to supporting you to reach your goals. She makes it fun.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

A Checklist for Conversations With Potential Partners (and What to Do When Someone Says “No”)

AFTER you have done your research, here is a quick cheat sheet you might use to engage people to join your vision for change:

  1. Use your TMI to make an energetic, inspirational case for the current reality and how this person’s involvement will be fun for both of you.

  2. Choose people you know share your vision.

  3. Choose people you know complement your weaknesses and share a similar level of excellence in work ethics.

  4. Be humble enough to explain why this person is important to you and your shared vision.

  5. Respect and learn from their questions as the questions will teach you about the way this person sees the world and how they will interact with you in the future.

  6. Remembering that this is your dream, not theirs, expect push back. As Covey reminds you, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” then you will be able to respect their dream as much as you are asking them to respect yours’.

  7. Prepare yourself with some of the following tools to answer the often asked question: “What do you need from me?”

  • Your projected time line

  • Time / hours needed / week

  • Frequency of in person or virtual meetings

  • Networking needs

  • Fundraising needs

  • Marketing needs

  • Etc..


Students with Learning Differences


Standardized testing resources and information for students with learning differences

The K&W Guide to Colleges for Students with Learning Differences 14th ED, is the premier resource guide with information about college admission, services, programs, accommodations at colleges in the United States.

Choices, a postsecondary planning night for college bound students with learning differences.  

National Center for Learning Disabilities, where you can learn the laws and policies in the US

CHADD provides information for adults and families dealing with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

A list of colleges’ and universities’ obligations to provide access to students with disabilities in all institutional programs and activities

A resource outlining the obligations colleges and universities must meet in all institutional programs and activities to provide access to students with disabilities. 


Transfer Students




Women's Colleges


Women’s College Coalition - Read more about the 37 women’s colleges in the United States

Campus Pride has a list of women’s colleges that admit trans students

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X. After You Apply

XI. After You're Accepted


Financial Aid Awards + Financial Aid Award Appeal Letter


A downloadable copy of Amanda Miller’s Simple Award Letter Analyzer - a site that “decodes” your award letter into three categories: grants/scholarships, work study, and loans

The link to find out more about your state’s financial aid programs 


What to Do If You're Not Accepted

Y. Appendix and Additional Resources


College Planning Timeline

Additional Resources for Students, Counselors, and Teachers

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These resources were gathered and are maintained by College Essay Guy as a compendium to the book College Admissions Essentials.

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