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Everything Your Family Need to Know About Private School Admissions Essays

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Whether you’re a student or a parent, when starting the private school admissions process one thing is clear: you need to write some essays. The good news is that you’re already doing your research, or else you wouldn’t have come across this page! Virtual high five!

The writing components for any application are opportunities for you to distinguish yourself — or your child — from other applicants by introducing yourself to the admissions committee in a succinct and memorable way. While there is no one right way to frame your responses, there are some general guidelines you can follow to help you produce strong (and successful!) applications.

What should you expect?

Most private school applications include essay questions that are meant to gauge a student’s fit with the school. Admissions is hoping to understand an applicant’s goals and attributes from the perspective of both the student and their parent(s)/guardian(s). 

Students will likely encounter questions about their inspirations and motivations, like “Who do you admire and why?” They may also come across questions that ask about learning and knowledge, like “Of all of the things you are learning, what do you think will be the most useful when you are an adult?” It’s likely some of the prompts will require a fair amount of brainstorming, like, “If your family had its own flag, what would be on it? If you had your own personal flag, would it be different from your family’s flag? In what way?” Don’t let these questions intimidate you. Take some time to think things through; you will get you where you need to go!

Parents/guardians are often asked to reflect on their children’s core personality traits as well as their strengths and weaknesses. They may also be prompted to discuss their own vision for their children’s academic future. 

When should you begin?

The private school admissions timeline mirrors that of undergraduate college admissions, with hopefuls submitting applications in the fall and early winter for admission in the subsequent year. We recommend starting the process during the summer before you plan to apply; that way, you can do your due diligence by exploring school websites, calculating costs and other logistical concerns, taking campus tours, narrowing down your list of schools, and writing the essays.

How do you ensure you craft truly stellar essays?

The written components of the private school application are opportunities for students and their parents to provide admissions with a sense of who the applicant is, as both a person and a student. In order to ace the essays, you will need to answer the questions clearly and thoughtfully within the word limit provided. The best essays will reveal aspects of a student’s personality, interests, and motivations through specific examples and anecdotes. Don’t be afraid to get personal — it’s often the seemingly small details that make for a memorable essay.

Many private schools ask for both the applicant and the parent to submit responses to prompts. Of course, the admissions committee will not be expecting a pre-teen or teenager to write with the skill and precision of an adult. That doesn’t mean, however, that students shouldn’t take ample time to sit down to brainstorm, freewrite, organize, and edit. You want admissions to be confident that you will be able to succeed academically at their institution. 

Short responses and essays are also a great place to demonstrate your interest and familiarity with the environment you are hoping to enter. There are so many private schools out there — why is this one the best fit for you? Many schools have mission statements on their website that will provide information about their philosophy and curriculum in detail. How do your family values align with those of the institution? Does this school offer specialized programs that you (or your child) hopes to take advantage of? Being straightforward with your expectations, limitations, and intentions will showcase your sincerity and fit to best effect.

How do you avoid common mistakes?

Think about what other students/parents might be saying about themselves/their children — how can you present an application that differentiates you/your child? Students should keep this in mind when responding to prompts that, for example, ask about people who inspire or influence them. The Admissions Committee has read, and will continue to read, many essays about Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., Hilary Clinton, RBG and Harriet Tubman. If you have a specific and unique connection to one of these heroes, by all means, write about it. But don’ t be afraid to think outside the box and think about people who might reflect your personal interests and the qualities that make you distinct. Do you watch Rachel Maddow with your parents every night? Are you obsessed with the culinary talents of Bobby Flay? How can you present what you care about in ways that others will not? 

The same advice to think differently goes for parents trying to describe their children, as well. A key to this is using examples. How has your son/daughter shown determination and motivation? Be specific. Have they spent every weekend working on getting their black belt for the past four years? If your child is empathic, show the reader how this has manifested itself in unexpected friendships or other demonstrable ways. Adjectives are easy to throw around — provide more tangible proof that your child is what you know them to be. 

Another key error to avoid: let students be themselves. Parents have control over their own portions of the application, but they need to be mindful of giving their children space to do their own work. Of course, you may want to log your opinions with your child as the application comes together, but remember that admissions is looking for an authentic representation of who a student is, and what they are capable of when they express themselves.

Does all of that sound daunting?

We bet it does — but it’s totally doable, we promise! Of course, we at College Essay Advisors are always here to lend a helping hand. Our Advisors are experienced experts who have worked with families applying to private schools across the country. Don’t hesitate to get in touch to inquire about our availability or with any other questions that come up as you dive into this process.

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