Workshops – Fall 2019

Workshops take place Sunday afternoons with two format choices. The first workshop is live at the Los Alamitos Community Center (1-2 p.m.) and the second workshop is online (4-5 p.m.)

How to Pick a Topic – August 25

This free workshop is for high school seniors and transfer students applying to the University of California this fall. The UC application includes a choice of eight Personal Insight Questions. Applicants must select four and write a 350-word response for each. In this workshop, students will preview the questions, develop connections to their own experiences, and discuss sample topic ideas.

UC Personal Insight Question– Series

The series will feature eight separate workshops, each on a specific PIQ topic. To participate, students must register and submit a rough draft in advance. The instructor will discuss the basic elements of personal narrative writing, using a small selection of submitted drafts as examples. Students will learn how to analyze the question, critique their own work, and use personal examples to further develop their story. The fee is $25 per student, per workshop.

• September 8 – Leadership
• September 15 – Creativity
• September 22 – Talent
• September 29 – Educational Barrier/Unique Opportunity
• October 6 – Significant Challenge
• October 13 – Favorite Academic Subject
• October 20 – Community Service
• October 27 – What Makes You a Strong UC Candidate

How to Register

For the Los Alamitos Community Center (10911 Oak Street), register through your local Parks & Recreation Department (Los Alamitos, Seal Beach, Cypress, or Long Beach). Sorry, no walk-ins and no refunds for no-shows or same-day cancellations. For online, contact the instructor.

Finally! More Choices!

College isn’t for everyone. It’s true. So, why do so many high school students think it’s the only path? Because business leaders, school counselors, and parents keep telling them it is.

Guess what? The conversation is about to change. Get ready for a lot of talk about the trades. It’s about time!

When my kids were young, I was so excited to learn that the local high school had a woodshop. But, by the time they got to high school, it had been converted into a computer lab. Of course! Given the emphasis on technology and the need to train students for careers in science, technology, and math, it was inevitable.

But now, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Stories about a shortage of workers in the trades are starting to emerge, along with changes in education policy designed to help. Here’s one from NPR.

Anyone interested in the topic will certainly enjoy this Roadtrip Nation episode, where students travel the U.S. interviewing welders, chefs, designers, animal behavior specialists, make-up artists, and–yes!–woodworkers!

Parents, please share with your kids. Especially those who might be facing endless hours of tutors, test-prep, and study just to get the numbers needed for college admission.

If their heart isn’t really in it, maybe they can find a different path to success and happiness.

Guided Autobiography Workshops

In addition to helping students with personal statements for college applications, I recently became a certified Guided Autobiography (GAB) instructor. This means that I help adults of all ages write about their life in a way that is meaningful, inspiring, and fun.

Each GAB workshop features a new theme and a variety of writing prompts to spark the imagination and make writing easy. You will write one to two pages, read your story to the group, and listen as others read. Discussion focuses on ideas and discoveries, not on writing style or quality. Beginners welcome! Bring pen/paper or laptop.   

Workshops meets at the Community Center,  10911 Oak Street, Los Alamitos

Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to noon

January 10, February 6, March 6, April 3, May 1 ($32 per session)

Register by calling Los Alamitos Recreation & Community Services  at 562-430-1073  

Email me to be added to the mailing list for news on upcoming workshops, private GAB sessions, GAB give-aways and (for those who like to read memoirs but don’t want to write one!) my new Mommy & Memoir book club.


Class of 2018 – Results!

“Hey There! It’s your essay coach. I wanted to say hello and wish you luck as you embark on your freshman year! Which school did you end up choosing?”

I hit send and wait. As my phone starts to ping—all smiley faces and exclamation points—I sit back with a big smile on my own face. Another application season has come and gone. Another crop of wonderful students is off to make their college dreams come true.

This season, I worked with transfer students from OCC and the University of Vermont, as well as high school seniors from Edison, Los Alamitos, Marina, Millikan, Palos Verdes, Poly, Whitney, and Wilson. It was an especially difficult season for students applying to the UCs, which reported a record number of applicants from in state, out of state, and beyond. Qualified students (who clearly fit the academic profile and who were easily admitted to other schools with similar academic profiles) weren’t getting into the UCs. Not just my students, everyone’s students. This left a lot of seniors in our area disappointed, a lot of their parents frustrated, and a lot of their counselors confused. After some failed appeals and some serious soul searching, all of my students ended up choosing a school they believe is a perfect fit for them. I am pleased to report: everyone is happy.

Since prospective clients sometimes want to know, here’s a recap of where this year’s group is going. But, as I always explain to new clients, the credit goes to my students, not to me. They did the hard work to earn the acceptances. They made the most of their high school years. They had remarkable stories to tell. All I did was listen.

Schools in California: San Diego State (two), SLO (two), UC Davis (two), UCLA (two), UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, USF, USC (three!)

Schools Outside California: Cornell, Emerson, Harvard, Loyola University Chicago, TCU, U Minnesota, U Oregon, U Washington (three!)

Bon Voyage!

An Admissions Officer’s Take on Activities

Staying up to date on the latest trends in college admissions is an important part of my job. Through conferences, industry groups, and news feeds, I constantly gain new insights from experts in the field, including admissions officers and college counselors across the country.

The Inside Scoop on Activities

A recent favorite comes from Tulane University.   This Will Look Great on my Application, Right? by Jeff Schiffman, Director of Admissions at Tulane, is a breath of fresh air!  I refer to this article often when speaking with student groups and parents because his wonderful advice applies to students everywhere, not just those applying to Tulane.

Mr. Schiffman reminds us that he is not looking for well-rounded students. He is looking to build a well-rounded class of students. Bottom line, admissions officers don’t want a laundry list of activities, and it’s okay to be doing an activity “just because.”

A Great Read for Students…and their Parents!

If you are a parent, this article will ease your mind about the college admissions process.  If you are a student, this article will help you make thoughtful choices regarding extra curriculars and your high school experience in general.

I guarantee you’ll be breathing a sigh of relief when you are done reading.  Enjoy!


Bonus! Free Resume Review

Want to get your essays done in a month?  Here’s a great incentive.

There are three basic steps to completing an essay.  Step one, plan the essay.  Step two, draft the essay.  Step three, revise the essay.  Pretty simple, right?  There’s just one problem.  Time.

This month, lots of students are working with me to plan their essays.   We talk about their interests, we go over the prompts, we come up with great topic ideas.  They go home super excited and ready to write.  Then, guess what happens?  They get busy.

Family vacations.  Fun with friends.  Summer jobs.

As a way to encourage students to get their essays done, I am offering a special incentive: a free resume review for any student who completes all three steps of the essay writing process with me in four weeks or less.

Why a resume review?  Because this ONE document actually serves THREE very important purposes.  Students need a resume to get jobs, get into colleges, and get scholarships.

Sadly, students don’t receive much training when it comes to crafting resumes.  They don’t know how to organize their information, how to write about their experience, or how to properly format.

A resume is much more than a checklist of activities and achievements.  It’s an opportunity to tell your story.  That story can help you land an internship, get you into the college of your dreams, and get you money to pay for it.  Let me help you get it right!

Teen Writers – Get Your Essay Published!

Here is a great college resume building opportunity for high school sophomores or juniors.  One of my favorite nonprofits, 826LA, is looking for teen writers (ages 14 to 18) to submit essays on social media.  Students are asked to write from personal experience and share what they learned.

Selected entries will be published (yes! you will be a published author!) in a book that will help educate middle schoolers about life online.  Seriously, this is a genius idea.  I would expect nothing less from the creative minds of an organization dedicated to supporting and inspiring young writers.

Even if your submission is not selected, the essay prompts are great practice for your future college application essays.  Take a look at the submission guidelines here.  And good luck!

Common Application

“Alison worked with my son to edit his main Common App essay, as well as supplemental essays specific to a school.  She was very thorough in her evaluation and suggestions for how he could improve and adjust what he had written.  I highly recommend Alison for any writing assistance your student may have.”

2016 Yelp Review from parent of Common App applicant

What is the Common App?

The Common Application is used by over 700 private colleges.  It offers five essay prompt questions.  Students select one and write a single 650-word essay on that topic.  This essay is submitted with the application to every private college on the student’s list.

Many schools require their own supplemental essays in addition to the Common App essay.  Lengths for these range from 150 to 350 to 650 word responses on a variety of topics relating to the student’s interests and reasons for applying.

The Common App is available August 1st and deadlines for college can range from December through February.



UC Personal Insight Questions


“And you think to yourself, ‘this will never get done!’ But with the coaching and editing from Alison, it does!  She is able to magically pull the ideas while creating excitement with the kids to get them motivated to write and complete their essays.  Best college prep money spent.  Thank you, Alison, for ‘getting this done!'”

2017 Yelp Review from parent of UC applicant

The University of California no longer requires an essay. Instead, there are 8 personal insight questions.  Students select four and write a short response (max 350 words) for each.

While these responses may not look like an essay, they serve the exact same purpose.  Admissions officers use them to learn who you are, how you think, and what matters to you.

Because students generally have very little experience writing about themselves in this way, an essay coach provides the structure and support they need to write with ease and confidence.

The filing period for all UC applications is November 1 to 30.


Private Tutoring

Need help crafting a personal story for the UC Personal Insight Questions or a private college Common Application essay?  It’s as easy as one, two, three!

If you haven’t started yet, go to step one.  If you already have a draft, go to step two.  If you don’t know where to begin, let’s talk.

Step One: Planning Meeting

For students who need ideas and inspiration.  Find out what admissions officers are looking for, discover which UC question or Common App prompt best fits your background, and learn how to turn your personal experience into great stories!

Step Two: Initial Draft Review

For students who completed a draft at school or on their own (rate reduced for students who worked with me to complete step one above).  Email me your draft and get detailed feedback in just a few days.

Step Three: Follow-Up Draft Review

For students who worked with me to complete step two above.  Email me your revised draft for feedback on your progress.  The process is the same as above and may be repeated as many times as needed.