Cover image of The CAPE Crusade: Your Guide to a Great College Application Personal Essay

Make Your College Application Essay Stand Out

How to Write an Essay Admissions Officers Will Notice

Through his decades of experience as a high school teacher and published author across every genre, Billy Lombardo has seen, first-hand, the frustration students can face when crafting their College Application Personal Essay (CAPE). What do you write about? How do you start? What format should your essay take? How can you stand out in just 650 words?

In The C.A.P.E Crusade: Your Guide to a Great College Application Personal Essay, Lombardo synthesizes what he’s learned through working with students around the world to develop a process for helping college applicants master the college admissions essay.

Lombardo anticipates the missteps and mental blocks, weaving broad guidance with nitty-gritty tips to lead students on a path to the personal discovery necessary for great college essays.


Need College Essay Help? Join The C.A.P.E. Crusade!

In The C.A.P.E. Crusade: Your Guide to a Great College Application Personal Essay, author Billy Lombardo offers high school seniors a refreshing new take on the Common App Essay. Hailed by current admissions officers as “an invaluable asset in a student’s application process,” The C.A.P.E. Crusade provides a balance of broad guidance and fundamental craft tips to help young writers compose meaningful college admissions essays in response to what can feel like an impersonal process.

Whether you’ve got a support team of dozens behind you, or you’re going at it completely on your own, this book will guide you to a great common app essay. The C.A.P.E. Crusade anticipates the mental blocks, myths, misconceptions, and missteps that college essayists face, while covering myriad topics and questions not explored in other books on the college admissions essay:

  • Characteristics of great Common App essays
  • College essay prompts: What should you write your college essay about
  • Braiding together seemingly disconnected essay topics
  • What format should a college essay be in
  • How to start a college essay
  • How to end a college essay
  • Peer editing as a teaching tool
  • Closing the gap between oral and written expression
  • Common (and flawed) approaches to the college essay

Table of Contents

Chapter 1


  • All You Need to Know About the C.A.P.E.
  • Myths, Complaints, Challenges
  • The Three-Pronged Purpose of the C.A.P.E.
  • The C.A.P.E. Notebook
  • Characteristics of the Personal Essay
  • Essay Topics
  • The Common App Prompts

Chapter 2


  • Preparing for the C.A.P.E. Prompts
  • The C.A.P.E. Prompts
  • After the C.A.P.E. Prompts
  • The Trick of Memory
  • Memory Assignment
  • The Mentor Center
  • Sifting Through Your Stories
  • Montage Essay Assignment
  • Outlining: Pantsers and Plotters

Chapter 3

Discovery & Access

  • The Discovery Draft
  • The Access Intro: Finding Your Way In
  • A Word About Word Count
  • Ignoring Your Inner Editor
  • Getting Started on the Discovery Draft

Chapter 4

Putting Shape to Your C.A.P.E.

  • Revisiting the Discovery Draft
  • Two Common (and flawed) Approaches
  • Digging Deep
  • Re-Vision

Reviews & Testimonials

“BRILLIANT resource for any student prepping for the College Essay! — Billy Lombardo has done an excellent job defining the Common Application Personal Essay in his book The C.A.P. E. Crusade. He has outlined the contents in a thoughtful organized fashion providing students a great framework for tackling the essay. The pre-writing drills in chapter 2 really aim at getting students to self-reflect which helps them find a topic that resonates with their core beliefs. I cannot recommend this book enough for the student in your life preparing to put their stamp on the College Common Application.”

— Melanie, 5-Star Amazon Review, Aug, 8, 2022

“If you buy any book about the college process, buy this one — For students who have been so programmed to write in the rubric or in the AP Exam/CollegeBoard style, the C.A.P.E. is such a different type of writing that it’s tough for students to wrap their heads around. I read The C.A.P.E. Crusade… in one sitting this morning and it equipped me with all the language I need to walk students through this essay. The author, Billy Lombardo, takes a baffling topic—one that there is so much noise and mystery around—and breaks it down for students in a way that is manageable and achievable. At no point should a student feel overwhelmed, but even if they do they need to just keep reading, because a page or so later it will all make sense. I have been on some form of the proverbial admissions desk since 2004. Reading The C.A.P.E. Crusade this morning reframed my approach to working with students through the essay process.”

— Mary, College Admissions Advisor, Sept. 2, 2022

“A simple, smart guide to writing a strong college essay. Lombardo’s book takes the guessing and the pressure out of the process. I’m recommending this book to everyone I know with a college-bound kid. This book is the best (and least) money you’ll spend in the entire college admissions process. ”

— Readerly, 5-Star Amazon Review, Aug, 4, 2022

About the Author

Billy Lombardo

A revered high school English Literature and creative writing teacher for 25 years at The Latin School of Chicago, and for nine years at other Chicago-area high schools, Billy Lombardo has helped hundreds of students create successful College Application Personal Essays. Billy comes at this subject with decades of experience as a teacher, as a scholar deeply immersed in literature and creative writing, and as an author published in every genre from articles, reviews, interviews, and essays, to poetry, flash fiction, nonfiction, short stories, novels, and plays. He now runs his own writing and editing business called Writing Pros/e.