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Aug. 19, 2019

CPC Episode #16 - Stop College Admissions Officers Dead In Their Tracks With This Tabloid Trick

We're dissecting Tabloid Magazines and the powerful writing lessons they give such as: What are the 4 U's, and why using them will make your college essay irresistible to read Why writing out tabloids will make your college essay magnetic Build this...

We're dissecting Tabloid Magazines and the powerful writing lessons they give such as:

  • What are the 4 U's, and why using them will make your college essay irresistible to read
  • Why writing out tabloids will make your college essay magnetic
  • Build this personal "library" of headlines to improve your college essay title skill
  • What this 1928 book reveals about the most important part of your college essay
  • How hacking the lizard brain glues college admissions officers to your college essay

Thanks for checking out Episode 16 of the College Prep Confidential podcast. Today, we're channeling Tabloid Magazines and the secret behind selling books and publishing products. This secret reveals the title behind today’s episode: Stop College Admissions Officers Dead In Their Tracks With This Tabloid Trick

If you do any sort of writing in your life, you should stop what you're doing and read a book called "First Hundred Million" by E. Haldeman Julius. Julius was a mail order, direct marketing book seller who sold hundreds of millions of books. They called these the Little Blue Books.

The fascinating part of this book comes from the testing Julius and his company did. 

Here's an illuminating statistic: How to Break Bad Habits sold 29,000 copies as opposed to How to Form Good Habits which sold only 20,000.

And another: Care of Skin and Hair sold 52,000, yet How to Take Care of Your Mouth and Teeth only 8,000.

What about Gautier's Fleece of Gold... When the title was changed to The Quest for a Blonde Mistress, sales jumped from 6,000 to 50,000! When the title of Oscar Wilde's Pen, Pencil and Poison was changed to The Story of a Notorious Criminal, sales more than tripled!

Think about the implications of this... same book content, same author, same color, same everything, the only change in the title resulted in thousand of sales difference!

Ask any book writer, copywriter, or advertiser, and they'll tell you, the headline, or title of any published work, is responsible for 80% of the readership and response. Because if they don't read past the headline, they don't buy. And they're gone forever.

The purpose of the headline:

The headline has one purpose...to stoke the reader's curiosity or desire to want to read the first sentence. Does it tap the right emotion to drag the reader into reading the first sentence? That is the only purpose of the headline. And if you start holding headlines to this one requirement, you'll transform your headline writing.

I attended a seminar in Orlando, Florida on headline writing, and I heard a great quote about headlines: "Seduce the Heart, Convince the Brain"

Ask yourself this: if I was the reader, would I want to read this? The 2 primary draws from a headline come from curiosity or a direct benefit to the reader. Remember, you aren't writing for you. You're writing for the reader.

When writing, remember, the most important station to tune into is W.I.I.F.M. - which stands for, What's In It For Me? Give the reader something worth reading. and it all starts with the headline. The headline should communicate the WIIFM - either through curiosity or benefits

Let's look at some headline tips and formulas

Mark Ford, multi-milionaire consultant and entrepreneur and author, came up with the 4 U's for a headline. The 4 U's are

  1. Urgent
  2. Unique
  3. Useful
  4. Ultra-specific

for a college essay, you don't need #1 as urgency is built in for a college representative to read your essay. But let's talk about the other 3 U's:


Is your title a cliche? Is it boring? Or is it something they've never seen and heard about before? Bill Bonner, the head of Agora, a billion dollar research firm, with some of the best writers on the planet, talks about the categorical imperative. This is the brain's way of classifying and organizing incoming information. If the brain recognizes a headline or a theme, it says, "Oh, I've seen or read this before. I know where this is going." And then they'll click away, never to return.

But if your headline stokes curiosity, a benefit, or presents information in a new way, the reader will be pulled in to read it.


Will the reader get something out of your essay by reading it? A lesson, a new outlook on life, a new emotion? Offer a benefit, solve a problem, make it useful


Remove platitudes and generalities. The more specific, the more engaging and believable.

If you're writing about a dog, let the reader know their name, their breed, or some specific detail.

If times or dates are involved, tell them when

For places, tell them where. Not just United States. Rather, I took a trip down to Miami, Florida to a restaurant called the Clevlander.

Names, dates, times, places, people, get specific. What do you believe more in the following 2 statements:

  • About 60% of people
  • 59.45% of adults aged 35-50

The first headline says "about" which is an estimate, and the word "people".  The reader asks, what people? And for estimates, remember, estimates have bias, and leave room for interpretation.

The second headline rounds to the nearest hundredth decimal place, and gives a specific age group of people.

How To Get Better At Headlines

Once you learn about headlines, start writing out the best headlines you've read. Anytime you see an article, blog post, or something which grabs your attention, add it to your notes. I keep what's called a swipe file. It's a growing list of great headlines in a Google Doc. As I find more great headlines, I add them to this swipe file. 

Next, ever week, I handwrite out, with a pencil and paper, the new headlines. What this does is etch the headline skill into my brain by handwriting, not typing, but handwriting it out. The science behind this is called Haptics. I covered this in 1-2 of our prior episodes. As you handwrite out more great headlines, the skill gets etched into your brain. Like a custom engraving on a trophy. 

Study What Works

To get Headline inspiration, study what works. Step 1 is embrace the tabloids such as:

National Enquirer - Tabloids you ask? Yes, because the Enquirer writers are Some of the highest paid writers in the world. While people say they'd NEEEEEEVER read a tabloid magazine, we know they're liars, since National Enquirer flies off the shelves. And it's because of the headlines. As people slide into the checkout line at the grocery store, the titles and hooks have to be good enough to get people to pull out their wallet and add it to their order. And oh, do they ever.

Another site is Buzzfeed, who makes some of the best clickbait articles around.

Cosmopolitan is another

Readers Digest. I recommend subscribing and studying their headlines

Also check out BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo is a software which helps you analyze content trends. You can filter by topic, and BuzzSumo shows you the articles with the highest engagement. Again, we're working off of 80/20. 80% of the effectiveness of an article/essay comes from the headline. Does the headline draw you in and make you want to know more?

Now let's talk about the psychology behind great headlines and college essays...

Emotional Appeal

To do this, we appeal to the lizard brain. Also called our reptilian brain. There are five core factors that drive the reptilian brain: pain, fear, emotion, ego, and contrast. For college essays, let's review the 5 core drivers of the lizard brain:

  1. Pain. Any story about moving away from pain or how you overcame a painful moment is catnip for college recruiters
  2. Fear: Everybody loves a story about overcoming your fears, or how you helped somebody conquer their fears. It's rooted deep within our lizard brain, from the early times as a human when we fought for survival
  3. Emotion: There's an old saying, people buy on emotion, and justify it later with logic. And with colleges, they're "buying" you as a student. So find ways to stoke reader emotion in your college essay. Moving from sadness to happiness. Move from failure to triumph. Move from lost to found. Emotion grips the reader and gets them invested in your story
  4. Ego: People love to have their egos stroked and massaged. And if you tell a story which helps college recruiters see their own ego being boosted, all the better. People project themselves into good stories, so building up an ego transfers to the college recruiter reading the essay
  5. Contrast: The lizard brain has to make quick decisions. And one of the things it checks for is familiarity. Our brain, as I said before, classifies things. And if it's never seen or heard something before, it hits the brakes, and immediately sends it up to the more rational part of the brain to investigate. and this is powerful, because contrast stokes curiosity, which makes it impossible to ignore your headline and not read your college essay.

Sitting Down To Write Your College Essay Headline

Now that you have the structure and psychology behind powerful headlines, it's time to start writing. Create at least 10 headlines/titles for your college essay. As you write out more headlines, you start to read them. And for every 10, 1-2 will reach out and grab you. I encourage you to show a few of your friends and family the titles. Don't tell or show them anything else. Just show them a list of titles and watch their reaction. 

When you hit a winner, people usually say "Wow", or "Tell Me More"

I know we've covered a lot in this episode about college essays and capturing attention. And writing takes work. So if you want additional help with writing your college essay, my company has a service. It's a complete college prep package, including college essay consulting. You'll start with a free session worth $250. For our podcast listeners, it's free. And during this free session, my team will walk you through college prep tips and tricks. 

I'm doing this because the value offered to you for free in the college prep session is so powerful, you may consider moving forward with a college prep package. And if you purchase this package, you get a college essay review, absolutely free.

But first, I've reserved a free, college prep strategy session worth $250. Spots are limited, so when you hear this episode, book your spot afterwards. Because these spots fill up fast. To claim your free strategy session, call 800-234-2933, that's 800-234-2933 and give my assistant  your contact information. And we'll get you set up with the free strategy session. Or you can go to cpcshow.com. that's cpcshow.com. And let's get you started on writing a powerful college essay.