Ann Arbor mom creates free quizzes to help students with college application essays

Posted at 4:40 PM, Sep 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-15 18:34:55-04

Debbie Merion is passionate about kids and education. She runs a company called Essay Coaching, where she meets one-on-one with students helping them learn how to craft a great college application essay. She also holds seminars in communities around Southeast Michigan. Now, she' s created two free quizzes for students everywhere to help determine if their topic idea is a good one, and how strong your essay is once it's completed.

You can check out the quizzes on theEssay Coaching website.

Debbie has also written a book called Solving the College Admissions Puzzle.

An excerpt is below:

How Do I Pick the Best Topic for My Essay?

“There are terrible essays on wonderful topics and wonderful essays on very ordinary topics. The topic itself does not make the essay.”

–Margit Dahl, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions at Yale, in College Essays that Made a Difference by the Princeton Review, 2012

To pick the best topic for you, write about what you care about and what you have done about it.

Write about what you feel passionate about—something positive. If you feel great about what you’re writing about, that will transfer to your voice. The reader will feel your enthusiasm through the page. Also, people are usually knowledgeable about what they love—this might be one of the things you said you could talk about for an hour.

Obviously there are limits here. It will be difficult to write a winning essay about how much you love to party or watch “Sex and the City” reruns. And you may feel very passionate about your grandmother who passed away, but can you write about her in a story that will be enjoyable to read, not sad and depressing, and show something about you? Your passion can be a person, a place, an activity, a book, an idea.

You might want to bounce your ideas off of someone else. This person can ask: Why do you love this? What have you done about it? Have your experiences with this person or thing changed you? Is this a unique idea? Is there an interesting story or anecdote that you can tell that can make this idea the basis of a unique essay?

Suppose you want to write about hockey because you’re passionate about it and you spend a lot of time with it. But, you think, “All my friends love hockey too, so how unique is that?” You’re right and you’re wrong. Sports essays are common. But if you’re committed to it, and can’t think of an alternative, make your sports essay your own. Make your essay bigger than the ball skills, the score of the game, the winning and the losing. Talk about why you chose that sport, what it meant to you, how it changed you. Provide details to the college admissions officer who is reading the essay. Tell a story about you that no one else can tell.

Again, there are limits here. How offbeat is OK?

If you’re uncomfortable with an idea for any reason, or an adult is, accept the evaluation and pick another topic.

Some of my favorite essays are about:

  • Interesting clubs or groups a student is in, especially if he or she started it
  • A description of something you’ve tried—For example: a science fair experiment, a new class, learning a new language by using a phone app, raising money for others
  • A family routine
  • Teaching others or learning from friends and family members
  • How a student changed his school habits

Here are some popular categories for essays:

A Moral Dilemma

A Significant Experience

About Academics

Activity and Sports Essays

Coming to America

Counseling and Community Service



Offbeat Essays

Personal Growth

Plants and Animals

Politics and Religion

Realization Essays

Relationships and Family


Taking a Year Off

The Arts

        Why I love First Choice U

        Work Experience, including Camp