The college admission process can be a demanding time for high school seniors. As many of them begin that process this fall, two Arizona State University alumni are hoping to transform their anxiety into a joyful journey of self-discovery.
“It’s as much of a passion as it is a business,” said Zoe Isaac, 25, co-owner of Calliope Creations, a business dedicated solely to helping seniors nationwide craft and perfect college essays.
Isaac graduated from ASU in 2019 with a degree in political science from the School of Politics and Global Studies, a unit in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and is a former grant writer and communications expert.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, in between her nine-to-five job, family and friends asked her for tips and tricks on effectively writing college essays.
Isaac said she reached out to Kevin Sheh, her former high school English teacher, for some tips on mentoring students on college essays; she had intended on merely tutoring a few students. But both quickly decided to launch a business together.
“Because of COVID, we were both working from home,” said Sheh, who graduated from ASU with a journalism degree in 1993 and has been teaching English and creative writing at Desert Mountain High School for 17 years.
During the call, Sheh shared tips and tricks to help guide Isaac. But they also discussed the importance of effective writing and storytelling and the potential challenge this is for students.
The months of working in isolation provided the pair the time to develop their unique curriculum designed to help seniors through the college admissions process — which they said can be among the most stressful experiences in students’ lives.
“Writing 500 words about yourself is tough at that age. It’s tough for any age to put yourself on paper,” Isaac said. “Most people talk about that experience being stressful and challenging.”
Enter Calliope Creations, named for the Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry.
During individualized coaching sessions, Isaac and Sheh provide insights and feedback on applications, scholarships or any supplemental essays, and offer guidance on organization skills to help students meet application deadlines.
Calliope Creations also hosts two-day essay seminars, with up to 12 students, where participants go from brainstorming a topic to receiving one-on-one edits and feedback to a full working draft of a Common App or personal essay.
“Students have told us they have been taught to start with the prompt. Our approach is different — we start with the self, the student,” Isaac said. “That leads to essays that are authentic.
“In reality, the message is simple: Be authentic. Tell your story that’s most important to you. Don’t worry if other people have the same topic.”
“Over the years, students would come to me and tell me they are hiring these essay factories for crazy amounts of money and they tell all these false things about what colleges look for in essays,” Sheh said.
Instead, Isaac said students leave Calliope with “writing skills, techniques and confidence that will serve you for any of the essays you write after.”
Sheh said these techniques have been used by former clients far beyond the college essay — a “twofold service” that benefits former clients in college, in the workplace and beyond.
“We’re in the business of college essays, but Zoe always says we’re also in the business of empowerment,” Sheh said. “And there is nothing more empowering and joyful than knowing yourself.”
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