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Our Approach

Time-tested methods:

Time-tested methods:

Our Uncommon Essay Approach is a step-by-step process that teaches students to brainstorm, freewrite, sculpt and polish their final drafts to a high shine. We know it works because we have been using it for over a decade. Also, these people say it does!

Continuous Support:

Continuous Support:

We work to accommodate busy schedules, providing ongoing support for both students and parents to help them better navigate the essay writing process and maintain their sanity.

Strategic Personalization:

Strategic Personalization:

A stellar essay begins with a strong topic that speaks to who an applicant is at his or her core. We work with students to unearth their best stories and put fresh spins on classic subjects. We refuse to let you hand in a bland essay.

Deadline Setting and Mediation:

Deadline Setting and Mediation:

When you are juggling a full academic schedule along with a mountain of application essays, time management is key. We serve as the liaisons between student and parent and are the evil deadline setters and expert nags. You will still love us in the end.

Active Stress Management:

Active Stress Management:

We help students proactively combat writer’s block and manage admissions-related stress. Sometimes this involves writing exercises. More often it involves ice cream.

Lifelong Skill Building:

Lifelong Skill Building:

Students who work with CEA exit the advising process with sharper writing, research and organizational skills, which will come in handy on campus and beyond. We will prepare you for challenging coursework whether you like it or not.

High Ethical Standards:

High Ethical Standards:

We advise, students write. Though our process is thorough and intensive, students are responsible for getting the words on the page. When filling out their applications, all students know their work is their own.



This process can be time-consuming and challenging, so we have to make it fun – both for you and for us. We will make jokes. We might send you videos of cats jumping into boxes. We will probably Skype you while eating ice cream at some point.

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Meet the Founder

Stacey Brook

Founder and Chief Advisor

Stacey Brook is an accomplished writer and admissions expert who has spent almost two decades helping students conceptualize, edit and refine their college essays. During her college years, Stacey discovered she had both a knack for consistently reinventing the creative personal statement and a perverse love of bridging the gap between stressed-out teenagers and their parents. She received her first exposure to the admissions process in the Dean’s Host program at Boston University’s College of Communication, serving for two years as the program’s coordinator. She was also the ’04 commencement speaker for the College, winning a coveted scholarship from Burson-Marsteller Public Relations.

Stacey has since spoken at schools around the world on the subject of the college essay and has advised thousands of students on their admissions essays. She is a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC) and is on the faculty at nytEducation: The School of The New York Times, teaching students to wrangle their school-specific supplemental essays. Her writing has been published in numerous publications including The New Yorker, Money Magazine and USA Today and she pens a regular admissions column for The Huffington Post. Stacey also honed her branding skills, personal and otherwise, as copywriter for world-renowned ad agency, Cline Davis & Mann. She lives in New York, NY where she spends most of her spare time eating her way through the city like it’s her (second) job.

Stacey’s favorite children’s book is Strega Nona, which taught her at an early age that pasta is magic, and her favorite YA book is King Dork, which prepared her for a life of music fandom and proud nerddom.

Meet the Team

Rebecca Myers

Senior Managing Advisor

Rebecca Myers is a poet and creative nonfiction writer who thinks it doesn’t get more exciting than the essay: immediate, personal, variable, challenging. Rebecca graduated with Honors from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in English and Creative Writing, then earned a Masters in English from The University of Georgia. She went on to study with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds and receive her MFA in poetry from New York University. She has taught composition, literature, and creative writing courses at both large universities and small liberal arts colleges, and is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at Wells College in upstate NY.

Her published personal essays have covered subjects as diverse as that summer she spent working food service at Disney World (purple polyester is about as breathable as you’d imagine) to her toddler’s refusal to sleep (he’s fond of waking her up by banging two puzzle pieces against her face like a defibrillator). Most recently, her poetry and creative nonfiction have been published in Creative NonfictionBest New Poets 2015, The Rumpus, The American Literary Review, Gulf Coast, and featured as part of an NPR Radiolab segment on the periodic table.

Becca’s favorite children’s book is Goodnight Gorilla which in retrospect, might be why her son refused to sleep for three years, and her favorite YA book is The House on Mango Street, whose moving vignettes were an early introduction to the space between poetry and prose.

Kat Stubing

Director of Marketing and Operations

Kat Stubing is a writer and communications specialist who has worked for grassroots and nonprofit organizations, theaters, newspapers, magazines, and digital publications reaching audiences all over the world. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a BA in Media and Communication Studies, where she received an Award for Academic Excellence from the College of Arts and Humanities. As an undergraduate, Kat studied Journalism for a semester in Leicester, England, where she discovered her passion for narrative writing and travelling. Kat has explored the streets of Cardiff and Chirk in Wales, Rome and Mirabella Eclano in Italy, and Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand. She believes travelling is the key to self-discovery and a broader mindset.

Her poetry has been published in Beyond Words Literary Magazine, Allegory Ridge, Hare’s Paw, The Closed Eye Open, and Wingless Dreamer.

Kat’s favorite children’s book was Coraline, since she, too, was a curious child with an affinity for the mysterious and spooky. Her favorite YA book was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, which underscored the power of open hearts and minds.

Carolyn Balbo

Client Relations Specialist

Carolyn Balbo is a client relations specialist who has worked with clients for over 30 years. Carolyn has vast experience working with people as a group sales associate, retail sales assistant, parent liaison/association officer, executive function coach, occupational therapist, and college admissions specialist. Carolyn is passionate about helping families navigate the college essay and admissions process, and enjoys speaking with parents as they assist in their child’s journey.  As a graduate from Franklin & Marshall College, Carolyn majored in History. She continued her education at Columbia University with a Master of Science degree in Occupational Therapy, earning an academic award for Excellence in Pediatrics.  As an occupational therapist, Carolyn worked in a school setting with children with Autism. Carolyn is a proud mom of two children in their twenties. 

Carolyn has guided many high school students through the undergraduate college process, including her own children. She understands firsthand the stress that high school students and their families face as they start the college application process. Carolyn is an avid spectator of competitive swimming and loves to travel. You will likely find her driving numerous hours on a weekend to watch a swim meet! Carolyn currently lives in Virginia, but is originally from the New York Metropolitan Area. Carolyn would describe herself as fun and energetic while maintaining a calm demeanor when working with others. She loves a funny story, a good laugh, taking long walks while listening to books on tape, and spending time at the beach.

Carolyn’s favorite children’s book is Ookpik The Arctic Owl, which taught her at an early age the love of travel, and her favorite YA book series is Harry Potter, which prepared her for life’s adventures and finding “All is well” in the end.

Rachael Fendrich

Senior Managing Advisor and Editor

Rachael Fendrich is a communications specialist and has worked as a copyeditor for over 10 years. She earned her BA in English with a minor in Philosophy from Cal Poly University, San Luis Obispo. While studying there, she realized her passion for literature and the power of the argumentative essay. She went on to earn her MA in English at Cal Poly, teaching Rhetoric and Composition during her studies and continuing as a lecturer after graduating.

As an editor, she loves the structural world of grammar and linguistics, but also has an eye for rhetoric and how word choice and tone affect the reader. Rachael spent two years writing and editing textbooks for children with learning disabilities at Lindamood Bell’s Gander Publishing. Her experience there taught her that language is not merely text on a page; language can create images in the reader’s mind that persuade them to believe a story’s purpose or argument—this is especially true in the college entrance essay.

Rachael’s favorite children’s book is Miss Nelson is Missing! It taught her to appreciate teachers and all their talents. And her favorite YA book is Abel’s Island; the titular character’s adaptability and inner life helped her escape into a world of imagination (also she had a pet rat, so that makes sense).

Josh Hawkins

Senior Editor

Josh Hawkins has nearly 20 years of academic, professional, and freelance experience as an editor-from college essays to college textbooks and everything in between-with a special place in his heart for making complicated or convoluted material consistent and easier for everyone to read and understand. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Georgia with a BA in Journalism and worked for a time as a freelance writer and magazine editor before embarking on a career in book publishing. During extended stints in the editorial departments at McGraw­Hill and Oxford University Press, Josh acquired new titles and developed projects in the areas of communication, journalism, film, and television. Since 2010, he has worked full time as a medical editor and group supervisor in the world of pharmaceutical advertising; he has been the Lead Editor at CEA since 2013.

Josh’s favorite children’s book is The Big Tidy-Up by Norah Smaridge, which led to a lifelong love of cleanliness and funky ’70s design, and his favorite YA book is Husky by Justin Sayre, which reminded him what it felt like to grow up feeling “different.”

Caryn Schwartz


Caryn Schwartz has been an editor—of school assignments, newspaper articles, college applications and more—for eight years. She earned her BA from Vassar College in English and Chinese, and then promptly took off to join the college consulting industry in Shanghai. She has worked with high school, undergraduate and MBA applicants. After five years in China, which included stints editing for the People’s Daily and Penguin’s North Asia office, she has made her way to NYC to work in book publishing. These days she reminisces fondly about Chinese breakfast foods and tries to read everything.

Caryn’s favorite children’s book is Half Magic by Edward Eager because she’s never met a “magic gone sideways” tale she didn’t love. Her favorite YA book is E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, which she proudly discovered BEFORE it blew up on TikTok.

Melanie Ashkar

Advisor and Editor

Melanie Ashkar is a freelance editor and opera singer from the Washington, DC area who received her BA in music and linguistics from the University of Virginia (Phi Beta Kappa). A lifelong lover of words, Melanie is a creative writer whose curiosity about language led her to earn a Master of Science degree in linguistics from Georgetown University, specializing in syntax. She went on to complete a Master of Music degree in vocal performance from Mannes College, The New School for Music, and continues to sing professionally.

A natural explorer, Melanie has lived across the U.S. from New York City, NY to Salt Lake City, UT, and has visited 38 states and four continents. Her keen editorial eye emerged as early as her elementary school years, when she began editing newspapers, essays, resumes, and more. She has worked for five years as an academic editor, and is passionate about helping writers find the best words to convey their ideas while maintaining their unique voice and style.

Melanie’s favorite children’s book is Little House on the Prairie, which awoke her adventurous spirit, and her favorite YA book is The Golden Compass, one of many fantasy novels that has sparked her imagination.

Michael Ventura

Lead Designer

Michael Ventura is a freelance designer, animator, and illustrator with a love of all things creative. He graduated with Honors from Northampton Community College with a degree in New Media Design, and graduated Cum Laude from Lesley University with a degree in Animation and Motion Media. He has six years of freelance experience working on websites, promotional materials, short films, and mini-series. Michael likes to bring his creativity and love of design to the CEA team, and his work can be seen around this website; as well as in our college essay writing tip videos and our College Essay Academy YouTube series!

Michael’s favorite children’s book is Stellaluna, which taught him that it’s okay to be different (and that bats are super cool); and his favorite YA book is The Hobbit, or There and Back Again which sparked his imagination and his love for fantasy and adventure.