Many students (and parents!) worry about private school admission essays because of the unknowns. Is the essay an unofficial test of a student’s writing ability? Is there a formula that successful applicants follow?
Application essays are meant to give schools insight into a student’s personality, interests, and thought process. Most of the application comprises biographical information, grades, test scores, and activities. The essay and interview provide two opportunities for the admissions office to get to know students beyond numbers and statistics, providing a human element to the application. Private schools are communities, and admissions officers try to picture how prospective students will fit their schools, so the essay should give a sense of the student beyond what’s already listed in the application.
Keeping this in mind, here are a few tips to help you approach the essay:
- Start early. The essays aren’t long, but it may take time to come up with an idea you feel good about. Give yourself that time instead of trying to think of a topic and write about it the week of your application deadline.
- Brainstorm. For every essay prompt, come up with two or three possible topics. Jot down notes on what you might write about. Discuss your ideas with a parent or teacher to work them out. Is there one idea you’re more excited about?
- Tell a story. As you begin to write your essay, keep in mind that your reader is someone who wants to know more about you. Your essay should have correct spelling and grammar, but your writing style does not have to be highly formal or academic — in fact, you can use dialogue and give personal examples.
- Be concrete. You’ll notice that the essay topics are pretty broad, such as “Describe an activity you care about.” Oftentimes, students respond by over-generalizing or making vague statements. Anyone can write, “I like to sing because it’s fun” or “I love basketball because I like being on a team.” Give details about your experience. Show why you care about an activity instead of simply saying that you do.
- Be authentic. Don’t try to guess what the admissions officer wants to hear and write to that. Admissions officers read hundreds of applications and can see through this. You want to put your best foot forward and stay positive in your application. At the same time, be yourself.
Finally, for parents — when working with your student on an admissions essay, remember that admissions officers understand grade level expectations. A private school admissions essay will differ from a college or graduate school essay, so it’s important to adjust your expectations accordingly. Help your student with brainstorming and copyediting and give them feedback on their drafts, but let them do all of the writing. Don’t lose the spark of your student’s voice and personality in an attempt to perfect the essay. Instead, encourage your student to clarify experiences and ideas so that schools can begin to recognize the unique child you already know so well.
Photo credit: trinhfelix via Creative Commons
Anindita Basu Sempere
Anindita is a writer and educator with a strong interest in technology. Prior to joining The Writing Faculty, she was the Director of Education at Inspirica, a founding faculty member at the Community Charter School of Cambridge, and a researcher at the MIT Media Lab.
We have read thousands of private school application essays. We've laughed, we've cried, we've slept through many☺
A good application essay should be concise, personal and memorable. The following tips will ensure that you will compose a great essay.
I have so much to say. I could actually write a book.
Please, write a book...then give it to the grandparents or save it for your memoir! The essay about your child, however, should not be longer than one page. The admissions staff reads hundreds of essays during the season. Admissions officers are interested and do want to learn more about your child, however, they want to learn more about your child in one page, not five or ten!
Keep It Personal
The essays that will stand out have the most personal and interesting anecdotes about your child and your family. The essays provide a unique opportunity to reflect on your child's special personality and how it will add to the school's unique environment.
Choose four or five adjectives that describe your child. Then write your essay and support the top two or three with succinct personal anecdotes. The anecdotes should reflect your child and family in a positive light. You can be funny, silly, quirky and honest. Just keep it real and your child's personality will shine through.
The essays should be well written and grammatically correct. You don't need to be a professional writer to reveal your fabulous child. Computers offer spelling and grammar checks. Use them! You want the admissions professionals to be touched and gratified that you took your time to present a well-written and thoughtful essay.
Do Not Highlight Your Child's Weaknesses
Weaknesses? What weaknesses? Well, yes, every child has a few. But the application essay is not the place to highlight temper tantrums, or how he hits his sibling, or every time he has told you, "You are the worst mommy ever!"
Your goal is to portray a REALISTIC and loving view of your child's personality. Admissions staff will meet your child and be able to see his or her attributes for themselves, so it's important to be honest and believable.
However, it is just as important not to hide things that a school needs to know. Most schools will offer a parent interview or a space on the application for additional information. This is the place or time to offer a fuller explanation of any physical limitations, a trauma in the child's life with which he/she is coping, or allergies, etc. These are not weaknesses, but rather critical information that will assist the admissions office and you in finding the proper fit for your family
Clarify Your Affinity for The School
Think seriously about why you have chosen to apply to a particular school. The admissions office is seeking a great fit between the school and your family. Become familiar with each school's educational philosophy.
Is their philosophy a good fit for your family? Does the school's mission statement reflect your family's values? Do you seek a single sex school? Why? Are sports your main focus or does academics rule?
Be honest with yourself and the admissions staff!
After thinking about what is most important to you in relation to what the school offers, be sure to prominently mention that in your essay. Be specific and credible about how these values are already incorporated into your daily life.
Additional Information, Please
If a school's application offers the opportunity to provide additional information, do not reiterate what you've already written. There are no brownie points for filling up the entire essay portion. Only provide additional information that will help the school better understand your family and child.
This is not the space, however, to divulge your family's deep dark secrets like the long lost uncle who was arrested last year or the voices you hear at night!
An application essay should be a snapshot of:
Your child's personality
The compatibility of your values with the school's values
Double check if you mention the schools name in your essay and be sure it's in the correct envelope correlating to that school.
Lastly, picture an overwhelmed admissions officer reading hundreds and hundreds of essays. Yours should be that outstanding essay that remains with the reader for some time!
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