What happens when you combine the existing free college writing support offered by chapters in the 826 Network with Reach Higher’s expertise in creating a college-going movement? You get The Great College Essay Project, an effort launched this fall to ensure every student, regardless of their zip code or the amount of cash in their parent’s bank account, has access to a trusted adult who can provide essay help.

Over the course of the project, 1,555 students had access to individualized essay coaching and feedback through 25 dedicated workshops at 826’s nine chapters and several additional cities nationwide including Dallas, Philadelphia, and Kansas City, Missouri. Staffed by over 700 volunteers, the workshops supported high school juniors and seniors writing their paths to higher education.

“Supporting high school students with their college essays gives students an opportunity to compete for admission at highly selective colleges and more importantly, it builds self-confidence and a sense of value in our historically underserved students,” says Patience Lehrman, executive director of the Center for Professional Development in Career and Technical Education at Temple University, host site of the college essay workshop in Philadelphia.

The project saw a wide range of college essay support, with some sites continuing their highly successful college essay programming (such as 826LA’s 10th Annual Great L.A. Personal Statement Weekend), as others offered college essay programming for the first time (such as 826 MSP’s personal statement workshop and Kansas City’s Write Your Way In). 

Surveys reflected that students’ confidence in their essay topic and structure increased by 48%. One student wrote that their favorite part of the event was “having the opportunity to have someone help me and hearing my story and making me feel confident about my story and essay.” Many students reported that they left the event feeling like they knew more about what a successful college essay looks like.

Of the students surveyed, 93% agreed or strongly agreed that taking part in the college essay event helped them improve their essays. Check out some of the student feedback from the personal statement workshops:

  • “Now I know how to grab the reader’s attention and have to write a unique story.” (826 MSP)
  • “I like being able to get help from people who don’t know you yet want the best for you.” (Kansas City, Missouri)
  • “I liked that each student was provided with one on one mentorship. Personally, my tutor took time to get to know me and understand my ‘story’ before diving into the essay part and I felt that was an essential key to this process.” (826NYC)
  • “I liked being able to receive feedback immediately and apply them on the spot.” (Dallas)

“Over the last 17 years, we’ve seen how a caring adult sitting side-by-side with a young writer and providing individualized feedback to their college essay can be transformative,” says Doug Keller, network growth director for 826 National. “In partnering with Reach Higher, we’re able to bring our effective approach to new communities, helping students across the country write their way into college.”

With 826 chapters offering more workshops in spring 2020, the Great College Essay Project will be expanding into more locations and ensuring more of this nation’s students can write their way into higher education. 


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