Write A Strong Essay To A Private School

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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