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Phillips Exeter Academy 2022-23 Applicant Essay Guide

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Phillips Exeter Academy, located in Exeter, New Hampshire, is a highly selective, coeducational independent school for boarding and day students in grades 9-12.

In order to apply, prospective students are asked to pen two essays between 200 and 500 words each. Let’s dig in.

Instructions: Please respond to two essay questions keeping each response between 200 and 500 words. Remember, there are no wrong answers!

If you could spend the day with anyone, living or in the past, who would you choose and why? How would you spend your time together?

You’ve probably considered a version of this question before: Who would you invite to an imaginary dinner party? If you could summon anyone from the grave, who would it be? A question like this one is probing for evidence of your interests and passions. Who do you admire? What are your aspirations? What drives your curiosity? When you come upon a prompt that directly or indirectly asks you to demonstrate your academic or cultural knowledge, the key is to be confident and genuine. Don’t second guess your own interests or strain to write about a topic simply because you think it will impress admissions—spoiler alert: they’ll be able to tell. It will be easier to write about someone you are genuinely interested in, and the results will be more personal and memorable!

Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and jot down every person who comes to mind: Serena Williams, Louis Armstrong, Frida Kahlo, your great-great grandpa, Marie Antoinette, Malala Yousafzai… Once you have a solid list, you’ll be in a better position to hone in the right person. Who do you think you know the most about? Which person would give you a chance to reveal something new to admissions about yourself? What would you hope to absorb or learn from your time spent together? We at CEA love prompts like these because they help admissions get to know you better and invite you to let your imagination run wild in the process.

Stepping out of your comfort zone, while challenging, can be rewarding. Write about a time you took a risk and how it impacted you. 

Selective learning institutions looove to hear about times when students have stepped outside of their comfort zones and taken risks! After all, growth is usually spurred by discomfort; so, rise to the challenge and give admissions something of substance to chew on. When have you leaned into discomfort? Maybe you had to plan an event for your club at school and found yourself facing obstacles you had never encountered before. (How many seats will we need? Where will students hang their coats? How much food should we order? What kind of food should we order?!) How did you rise to the occasion? Perhaps you auditioned for the school play despite your fear of public speaking. How did it feel to face your fears? Were you cast in a role? Did you opt to get involved in the crew? Be sure to focus on what aspects of your experience pushed you to learn, act, or relate to others in a new way.

Every day humans make thousands of decisions, some small and some that may change the course of their lives. What is the best decision you have ever made and how has it impacted you?

Admissions wants to see some thoughtful reflection from their applicants, and this prompt is a perfect opportunity to serve that up on a silver platter. Maybe you want to write about your decision to step away from extracurricular activities to play a more active role in the lives of your younger siblings after a family emergency. Perhaps you made a decision to attend a wilderness retreat to test yourself and learn self-reliance and survival skills. Your decision could also be something smaller, like the choice to reduce your carbon footprint by eating a primarily plant-based diet or opening your heart to the street cat who wandered into your yard one day and claimed you as her human. Your goal here is to show admissions that you are the writer of your own destiny and can appreciate the unexpected outcomes of choices you make. 

Words are important, powerful and often times transformative. Write about a quote or saying that has influenced you. 

This prompt is for the writers, philosophers, artists, and dreamers amongst you. We recommend getting started by setting a timer for five minutes and writing down every quote (even if paraphrased—though you’ll look it up later for accuracy) you can think of. No idea is too silly; trust your gut! Recall song lyrics that have stuck with you, your favorite The Lord of the Rings passages, the little sayings your great aunt Betsy used to repeat over and over. Whose words have touched you? Although you’ll be using someone else’s words as a jumping off point, this is still an opportunity for you to reveal something new about who you are, what you value, or where you come from. Most of the words at your disposal will be allocated to making the connection between the quote and your own life, why it’s meaningful to you, and how it has influenced the way you see yourself and/or interact with the world around you. Should you choose to respond to this prompt, your goal should be to tell admissions a story that helps them to better understand who you are and what you’re passionate about.

If you had the opportunity to create a high school class, how would you title your class? What topic would it cover, and what skills would you be looking to develop over the course?

Attention, fellow nerds: this prompt is for you! Admissions wants to better understand what piques your interest and how you enjoy exploring your intellectual curiosities. Take a few minutes to think about subjects, topics, or fields that excite you. What kinds of skills would you like to develop? Maybe you’ve always been fascinated by artificial intelligence and would love to take a programming course to learn more about the inner workings of robotics. Perhaps you’d love to take a media literacy class with a focus on teen representation in films and TV. Would you like to develop your vocabulary for critiquing and engaging with modern media? Whatever direction you choose to go, make sure you’re revealing new information about yourself that you haven’t already addressed in your previous essays—and don’t hesitate to get creative with your class title! 🙂 

As always, we’re wishing you the best of luck!

We have more applicant essay guides for selective private schools on our blog!
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