The Uncommon Essay
Hillside's Essay-Coaching Program
for the College Applicant
Every stand-out essay develops from acts of imagination, honesty, precision, and revision — and from a specific writing process that inspires and aligns these acts.
The Uncommon Essay is a uniquely designed private course in college-application essay-writing developed from years of studying individual students’ obstacles, progress, and successes.
She got her early-decision acceptance today. She is thrilled — as are we! I think her essay was such an important part of her application, and you were so instrumental in helping her find and tell her story. I remember how excited she was after she came home from the first meeting — that NEVER happens when we’re talking about writing assignments. It was amazing. We can't thank you enough for all of your help.
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.
We can't thank you enough for helping to unlock what's inside him and tell some of his "true story" for his college applications. Your con-versations with him are the ones that really got him feeling good and inspired about showing himself.
New York, NY
Here's how it works ...
TWO CENTS FROM 'RENTS
All Uncommon coaching begins with Discovery steps to identify promising personal writing material. Discovery launches at sign-up, when Hillside provides parents — who are of course a rich source for the details and the contexts of a student's life experiences — with a set of specific, reflective online questions. Through study of the "Two Cents" responses alone and, subsequently, alongside the student's Ten Sentences submission (see below), the Hillside coach notes potentially distinct topics and perspectives to pursue.
DISCOVERY Step 2:
THE TEN SENTENCES EXERCISE
In accordance with the coaching schedule established at sign-up, Hillside reaches out to the student with online access to the Ten Sentences Exercise, an instructive, motivating, low-stress method for collecting experiences and easing confrontation with the common emotional predicament of "What can I possibly write about?" While prompting the student's memory, the Exercise provides important lessons in writing concretely and specifically. Hillside also provides the student with a set of "best practices" for progress through the process ahead.
THE TEN SENTENCES EXCHANGE
From side-by-side study of a parent's Two Cents and the student's Ten Sentences, the Hillside coach designs an inquisitive online Exchange with the student about promising material, uncovering details and reflections that set the stage for further exploration in person in Session One. (The completed Ten Sentences Exchange remains available online and becomes a valuable resource after a student has completed his or her main application essay and is turning to college-specific supplement essays.)
4 PRIVATE & PREPPED COACHING SESSIONS
Four private, one-hour meetings guide a student from exploratory conversation to paragraph-by-paragraph draft design and ultimately through intensive draft-review sessions. Fine attention to the student's words, both spoken and written, not only supports the writing but builds a relationship that inspires the student's confidence and energetic ownership of the project. Each session is preceded by an hour of review of student progress in order to customize the coaching to the student's needs.
SESSION ONE RECAP
Promptly following Session One, the Hillside coach prepares and sends a distilled review of the session in order to capture the progress achieved through conversation. This recap, delivered in writing or by audio file, highlights important emergent details, provides preliminary reflections on how the essay might be structured based on the discovered material, and reiterates the writing plan for the next step. Students frequently respond with appreciation for the chance to reconnect with the direction and motivation achieved in the launch session. Hillside shares the recap with parents in order to encourage fruitful discussion on the home front.
ONLINE SUPPORT BETWEEN SESSIONS
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.
At the close of the fourth coaching session, the student sets a deadline for delivering to his or her coach one more revision, which the coach responds to with online feedback. In addition to attending to the degree of authentic reflection in the essay, the feedback usually focuses on the finer points — clarity, coherence, conciseness. All students benefit from editorial assistance with the sentence-level problem-solving that is required to meet the essay word-limit.
PREP FOR THE MOST COMMON SUPPLEMENT PROMPT
Most students must turn their attention to college-specific supplement essays after completing the Common App essay. Hillside therefore provides all Uncommon clients 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. (To learn about supplement essay-coaching sessions, click here. )
Before my first session, I didn’t think I had a story worth telling, but you found that story, and I envisioned my essay before I ever put any words on paper. I thought myself a strong writer before I met you, yet I never could have realized how much you could help me bring to life all that I hoped to say.
Hillside uses a completely individualized approach, encouraging the student to find a topic that has personal meaning. This made the writing less onerous because the topic was always authentic and relevant to who my daughter is as a young person and as a college applicant.
I got in! I literally stared at the screen for a minute before I believed it was real. Thank you so much for all of your help, support, and encouragement. It meant a lot to know 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.