Young woman perusing aisles of books to read

All the things you didn’t read…but need to

Make time to read these!

I love when sites I respect go ahead and compile their best-of essays! Why? Because writers need to read.  And there is so much good stuff out there, it’s easy to miss.

Check out the links in this post to bump up your personal essay range, and to see what 2017 dished up that’s good to read.

And if you’re applying to one of these schools whose application deadlines are still looming, maybe one of the essays will inspire a new approach to your supplement.


Mostly, it’s just important to read your face off. Because the work is so good. And so, naturally, you can write your head off.

If an idea or thought stream comes to you while reading– put that essay down and write, write, write. 

Some Go-To Essays to read for 2017

  • The “most moving” (does anyone not want to be moved?) essays of 2017 according to Bustle can be found here.
  • Longreads, a great place to learn. Each essay tells you (approximately)  how long you’ll need to spend reading, and you won’t be sad– can be found here.
  • This one, “Mothering Class” is from Salon’s best, which can be found here.
  • Collections you might want to pick up, especially if you’re not even sure you like to read essays– can be found here. (But be awesome and order from local bookseller!)

Enjoy, and remember, if holiday season plans aren’t leaving you enough time to read, no one can stop you from locking yourself in the bathroom, can they?

We’ll be reading right with you.


If you have something to say about one of these essays, why not throw your comments on our FB page? Because the point of good writing is to stir us, move us, make us think, feel– and connect.

Want a prompt customized for you from one of these essays? Request that right here. Use the code  IREADITNOWHAT in the body of your message to have a free Essay Intensive prompt sent to you– but be sure to specify which essay you read!

And, of course, pass on links to your favorite essays to everyone you know. It’s the best present you can give someone to share art you love.

Or so we think, for obvious reasons.


Consider your sports more deeply

Can’t I write about sports?

No, You can’t write about (just) sports

Here’s why– if you write about sports, the likelihood of your essay being cliched, or, worse, of you not realizing it’s cliched– is mighty strong.

But also, Yes, you can.

If you can make a surprising connection while writing about sports, you’re golden. Admissions officers will remember you for (most of) the rest of their lives.

Example of brilliant sports essay

(Hint– it’s not about Sports!)

Here’s an incredible essay by Natalie Diaz, an amazing poet and thinker and former b-ball champ:

She is not writing about basketball– she is writing about basketball, and.

Basketball and _______: 

  • violence against Native peoples
  • how Brown bodies are subjugated
  • growing up poor
  • the visceral nature of writing as a body used to being in motion.
  • escape
  • cultural navigation

Get it?

Sports, And What? 

If you are hell-bent on writing about sports, I suggest making your list of and‘s.

Consider: Why are you writing about this sport, really? What other story about your life is it helping you tell?

Avoid these cliched approaches to sports essays

I could recite the following essays in my sleep, because I’ve read them too many times. So have you.

No surprises here. Please don’t write these overdone, canned essays– even if you really mean them.

(And I really believe you mean them)

  • “And then I heard my ligament pop and knew my life would never be the same.”
  • “I learned that life is like a game and you need to be a team-player!”
  • “We turned in around in the last quarter, and that taught me I could overcome anything!”

(Because, actually, that’s a premature conclusion! MAYBE you can overcome anything; or maybe you just overcame this.)

I believe in being a realist with teenagers.

When you step beyond the cliches and the lessons you could have read somewhere else, you learn something more true, and more valuable, about your life and yourself.


Get your game-writing on

Here’s steps to stronger, more physical writing about sports. 

Do push-ups or squats– move your blood and feel your body.  Work it hard.

Sit down with your favorite writing tools and music, if you like.

Come up with a list of at least three AND’s.  Jot them on the top of the page.




For each “SPORT and”–elaborate; write for at least 5 minutes without stopping or judging, allowing your mind to make connections you might not have seen before, consciously.


Likely, one of these will prove a better and more effective sports essay.

Review- or send us— the results.

Remember your real win

If you get into your schools of choice with this sports essay, great. Amazing. Applause.

Maybe, like Diaz’s, your essay’s originality and downright athleticism will be so loved by audiences it will be anthologized and read for decades (mention us if that happens, we love you!),

No matter what– you will have the real gold, the real win: increased self-knowledge, insight and depth as a person.


For almost all advice I’ve ever given, some student has written a brilliant counterexample.

Curious about writer and former sports giant Natalie Diaz?

Yay, I’ve done my work!

“I’m willing to go to any part of my history and mythology to find those emotions,” says Diaz. 


“Writing doesn’t ever fully satisfy me, and that’s why I do it.”


Want even more? Us too.

Listen carefully to Diaz, you’ll learn so much (it’s long but no longer than a sports game. Slow time.)

Two women in conversation

10 Senior-Year Conversation starters NOT about College applications!

Please Don’t Make this conversation about College Apps!

To make friendly conversation, it’s tempting to ask seniors in high school how the college application process is going, or where they are applying.  They MAY be tempted to strangle you, but they’ll probably act decently about it and politely recite their list.  Maybe even tell you it’s going OK.

What they really want to do is go to the closest room and scream so loudly that the Common App site crashes (or so they tell me, but it’s kinda obvious if you just look closely at their faces).

Think about it this way: if you were applying for a high stakes job that took many hundreds of hours and every time you saw anyone THAT WAS ALL THEY WANTED TO TALK ABOUT WITH YOU IN ALL CAPS.

Arg. Ick.

PSA, Care Elsewhere!

This post is a PSA from someone in the industry, moi (I SEE YOU, TEENS!): if you are hanging out with high school seniors these days and strike up conversation TRY REALLY HARD NOT TO ASK THEM ABOUT COLLEGE/COLLEGE PROCESS. Like, AT ALL.

I know you really care, but unless you’re their guidance counselor, care about something else.  Really, you will get so many cool points for not making the conversation about C-O-L-L-E-G-E.  They need the mental break.  They need to know they are interesting and valuable and very awesome BEYOND this demanding process.

At this point in the fall, COLLEGE CRAP (that’s how they are thinking of it) is all anyone asks about (Not you? Cool, you should run a tutorial for other adults!).  It gets Teen-TEDIOUS.

Branch out the conversation

Rule of thumb: No college crap.

While you are at it, avoid school generally.

Ask them, like, what they had for lunch, or to tell you about something weird they noticed on the street.

Here are 10 suggestions to start up a real conversation with a teen in the middle of college applications.

  1. What’s the last thing that really got you mad?
  2. What’s the last thing that made you feel completely relaxed?
  3. What makes you want to get up and do something? i.e. What are you passionate about?
  4. If there were no hidden costs and no judgments, what do you most want to learn about OUTSIDE SCHOOL?
  5. Who is your crush these days, c’mon, you can tell me, no really, you can…(You have to know if this question is in your purview, m’kay?)- a better approach: if you’ve got a crush, when is the last time you saw the person? How did it go?
  6. Describe an awkward situation you wish you could do over– how would things play out?
  7. Tell me about the last movie you saw and why you loved it.
  8. If your life could be like any movie, which would you pick and why?
  9. Wanna go do something non-academic?
  10. Do you have any writing you would read to me? I’d love to just listen.

Did the Conversation Turn to college app stress anyway?

We want to help teens with that, and panicking teens are our specialty.  Y’all can do it– you can turn that stress into super-prose.

In Essay Intensive individual sessions, we’ll talk around the essays to get at the best topics and structure, so get ready for good conversation. Sliding scale rates so don’t be shy.

More Conversation Starters from Friends

Look, this lady on HuffPo, mom of 4 and a Happiness Coach (!!) has more ideas for you!