"We can't thank you enough for helping him to unlock what's inside him and tell some of his 'true story.' You can’t know how helpful and motivating you were in all of this. Your conversations with him are the ones that really got him feeling inspired about showing himself."

— New York, NY


"You showed a special ability to draw a story from her that provided an authentic window into her life and personhood. It was clear to us that she was never overwhelmed. She made steady progress in completing the essay and, more important, in knowing herself."

— Auburndale, MA


How Does the Course Work?

The Uncommon Essay begins with exploratory steps
to discover and open promisingly distinct experiences and perspectives.

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The Uncommon Essay Course Sessions - 2019.png


"I got in! I literally stared at the screen for a minute before I believed it was real. It meant so much that you believed in me and in what I had to say. I will always laugh at that pessimistic kid who walked into your seminar last summer and said he did not have anything to write about."

— Lexington, MA


"The coaching couldn’t have been better. Once I got everything out on the table, you helped me see what would work best. You let me talk. You gave me space. The questions you asked were just enough of a push to look further than I could have on my own. And once I had said it, I was able to see it."

— Pasedena, CA


Course Details:


•Best Practices for Students and for Parents: Achieving the authentic and compelling college-application essay about which the student feels proud ownership is a matter of process — of paying attention to specific steps and productive practices. From our reflection on past clients’ efforts and successes, we share with each Uncommon Essay student a set of "best practices" — and a separate set for parents!

•The Session One Recap: Delivered in writing or by audio file following Session One, the Recap reinforces important emergent details, provides preliminary reflections on how the essay might be structured based on the discovered material, and reiterates the writing assignment for the next step. Hillside shares the Recap with parents in order to encourage fruitful discussion on the home front.

•Interim Support: Each coaching session closes with an assigned goal, a defined next step, but support between sessions remains available to the student. If a student seeks interim reminders or guidance, Hillside responds — usually within 48 hours — on a shared online document or through e-mailed audio coaching notes and keeps the student moving forward.

•Making the Most of Session Time: The Coach prepares for each one-on-one meeting by closely reviewing the student’s submitted progress in order to design the session and customize the guidance to the student's needs. 

Working Out Loud: One of the most directly instructive instruments a writer has is his or her own ears. In every coaching session focused on revision, the student reads drafting out loud to the Hillside coach, inevitably revealing starting points for improving the writing on the page.

•The Final Feedback: At the close of the fourth coaching session, the student sets a deadline for delivering to the coach one more revision, to which the coach responds with online feedback. In addition to attending to the degree of authentic reflection in the essay, the feedback usually focuses on finer points — clarity, coherence, conciseness. All students benefit from lessons about the sentence-level problem-solving required to meet the essay word limit. 

•Planning Ahead: Most students must turn their attention to college-specific supplement essays after completing the Common App essay. The completed Ten Sentences Exchange remains available online and becomes a valuable resource when turning to supplement essays. Hillside also provides all Uncommon Essay students a guide for addressing the most common supplement-essay prompt: Why are you applying here? Students learn how to prepare themselves to build the authentic and credible bridge from their past experiences and discoveries about themselves to opportunities at specific colleges. (Click here to learn about Hillside’s Supplements Launch. )



"She got her early-decision acceptance today. She is thrilled — as are we! I remember how excited she was after she came home from the first meeting. That never happens with writing assignments. It was amazing. We can't thank you enough for all of your help."

— Cambridge, MA


"You have fantastic instincts about and empathy for students. I so applaud your sensitivity and keen skill at directing the writing and at drawing my son out to a place of believing in himself. You were a terrific guide — kind and gracious and supportive and instructive. "

— Newton, MA



Uncommon Essay Sign-up & Scheduling

Each student's Uncommon Essay course is built around the required scheduling of four one-hour sessions. The buttons below lead to coach calendars and to helpful scheduling guidelines.