Frequently Asked Questions

How much weight do application essays have? In other words, are personal statements actually important, or are they essentially secondary factors without much influence on admissions decisions?

Picture yourself an admissions officer at a prestigious university. It’s mid-February, and for the last six weeks (since the Jan 1st application deadline passed), you have been entombed with work. Each day, with the help of a venti Caffe Americano, you review upwards of 200 students, all of whom—let’s be honest—blend into one another with stellar grades, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and test scores. You would never admit this fact to anyone, but if you see yet another straight-A student with a 34 on the ACT, two years of varsity swimming, and a history of volunteering at Fading Horizons nursing home, you may just lose it. The work you do is important, and you take your responsibility as a shaper of the future of the college seriously, but come on! How many times do you have to read an essay in which a student simply recites his or her achievements in a blatant attempt to persuade you he or she is intelligent and well-rounded?

At The Playbook, we spend a lot of time doing research, which in our field means speaking with actual admissions officers and application readers about the applications that really seize their attention. Increasingly, admissions officers cite the essay as the number one way that students can distinguish themselves from other applicants. Here’s a quote from Martha C. Merrill, a Harvard graduate and former Dean of Admissions: “The truth is that while no essay will make an unqualified student acceptable, a good essay can help a qualified applicant stand out from the competition. A good essay just might be what turns a ‘maybe’ into a ‘yes.'”

Why do students need this course? Don’t high school English classes, especially AP English, cover what students need to know?

High school English classes teach students so many valuable skills, from how to analyze novels and other forms of literature to how to construct a cohesive five-paragraph essay. However, crafting a distinctive personal statement is not the same as writing a five-paragraph essay for school. The personal statement is unlike any other form of writing students have studied or prepared for school, even texts encountered in Honors or A.P. English. Composing a memorable essay combines elements of persuasive and creative writing with autobiography, since students are, in effect, telling a story with the intent of persuading the admissions committee that they merit admission to the university. We teach students how to discover the story that will most resonate with application readers, and then we lead them through a proven, step-by-step framework for writing a personal statement that will give them a competitive edge.

Will students complete their personal statement during the Boot Camp?

Many students do. We give students all of the tools they need to complete not just the first draft, but the final draft of their application essays. Some students build their personal statement during the course; others wait until the Boot Camp has ended to begin writing. Because the entire course is recorded, students can access the content whenever they would like, even after the Boot Camp is over.

Do we need to pair this course with one-on-one coaching, or will the sessions be enough to complete the personal statement and supplemental essays?

Approximately half of our participants do seek one-on-one coaching, but there is no need or expectation to do so. Our course provides students with all the information and strategies they need to find the story that’s right for them and bring it to life. That said, many students do take advantage of one-on-one essay coaching. If you are interested in exploring private essay coaching, either as a supplement or alternative to our Essay Boot Camp, please email us at, and we’ll be glad to schedule a free consultation.

Since the students are all learning the same writing techniques, isn’t there a danger that their essays will wind up feeling similar?

Our goal is actually quite the opposite: to help students find their unique voice and story. The narrative techniques we teach apply to (and should be used by) all students—techniques like building tension, using vivid, evocative language, and connecting with readers on an emotional level. However, the personal statements that students produce after our Boot Camp are by no means interchangeable. Quite the opposite. They’re as different from one another as the students themselves.

What are the qualifications of the instructor?

The individuals who lead our Boot Camp each have well over a decade of experience helping students hone their application essays. In fact, we share many of the essays former students have written—both the success stories and the disappointments. We don’t bore students with long lectures on the elements of fiction. Rather, we collaborate with students in lively discussions, believing that students learn best when they are fully engaged in a process. All of our Boot Camp instructors have sterling academic credentials and a deep reservoir of experience mentoring students through the college admissions process. But more importantly, all are dedicated educators whose enthusiasm and commitment to students is evident from the first moment of the course.