We know what to expect.
Most competitive private and independent schools ask applicants to pen a brief essay as part of their admissions application to provide administrators with a better understanding of each student’s background, personality, and/or writing skills.
The prompts tend to be broad in nature so as to give students as much leeway as possible to write about a meaningful experience, event, or aspect of their identity. Your goal in writing this essay is to humanize your application by revealing information about yourself that administrators might not glean from your application or interview.
We know this assignment can be incredibly daunting, especially since it’s such an integral part of the application, which is why we created this guide to get you started on the right foot.
When you sit down to write your candidate statement, you will likely have a few ideas right away. Whether you deem them to be strong or not, write them down. In fact, write everything down that comes to mind. Think about a story that makes you proud to tell or an event that changed your perspective. Then ask yourself: how does this tale demonstrate some of my unique traits and/or strengths? The perfect essay topic showcases your personality, passions, and/or ambitions without trying to do too much at once. If this seems too harrowing, work backward. What do you want admissions to know about you? Once you have your answer, identify a story from your life that illustrates those traits and fits the prompt at hand. Don’t worry too much about the quality of your writing—that’s what editing is for!
Admissions officers are going to be reading a ton of these essays, so you want to make sure yours stands out. The best way to do that is to be specific. Infusing your essay with as many personal details and anecdotes as possible will help to differentiate your submission. For example, which of these sentences is more interesting to you? (1) In my spare time, I like to bake and play video games. (2) Once the macaroons are in the oven and the timer is set, I race to the Xbox to join my friends in a dire quest to save the world from alien invasion.
In the first sentence, we understand that you enjoy certain activities. In the second, we’re immersed in your story with details that provide context and help us visualize your experience. Many students have a tendency to skew generic in the telling of their personal stories, but what makes an essay memorable is often the sum of the little things—names, smells, emotions, and colors. If you can paint a clear picture for your reader by providing details, you are much more likely to plant an image that will grow in their memories.
Once you have all of your ideas down on the page, you’ll want to double check the word limit and proceed with edits accordingly. As an applicant, you want your essay to shine a bright light in the face of that oft-bored reader. You can do this by writing smooth transitions between paragraphs and honing in on the message you want to convey. If a sentence isn’t propelling your story forward, scrap it. Remember that admissions officers are not expecting you to submit an essay ready for publication in a trendy literary magazine; they know you’re still working on your writing skills. They are, however, hoping to learn more about you in your own words, preferably in an entertaining and memorable way.