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!
Follow Jennifer Brozost and Vimmi Shroff, on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@peasnyc
There was an interview article entitled Early Decision in Inside Higher Education which examined the issue of having a tutor or other professional help write your child's college admissions essay. It got me thinking about the type of parent who feels he or she must always 'improve' their child's work. Up to and including things like admissions essays which are supposed to be their children's own work.
Well, the article to which I referred above was focused on college admissions essays. Might not the same practice take place in private secondary schools? I suppose it is possible but probably unlikely. I remember when I was interviewing students for R-E-S-P-E-C-T Academy in Nassau, Bahamas. Part of the interview process included having the applicant sit at another table while her parents and I chatted. The applicant was given a sheet of paper and a pen and asked to write a paragraph or two about some simple topic. "My favorite meal" or something like that. There was absolutely no way the parents could interfere with their child's writing. She had to do it all by herself.
Think of the admissions essay as a snapshot
Why is writing your own admissions essay so important? Because the admissions staff wants to know what your child thinks, what her opinions are and how she arrives at those conclusions. An essay synthesizes so many things which your child has learned over the years. An essay provides a window into your child's thinking and experiences.
Worried that your child's essay won't be as good as other candidates for admission? Whether the essay is good or bad is not the issue. That's not the point of the essay. Think of the essay as a snapshot of your child at that specific point in time. Essays are also just one part of the picture which the admissions office is building of your child. Test scores, transcripts and the interview round out that picture. It is the composite or complete profile which the admissions staff need to see and understand.
Essays are only one part of the admissions process
That's the way most private school admissions offices work. They will meet you when you come for the formal school visit. Then without fuss or fanfare your child is asked to sit at a desk and write a few words about something she knows about. It doesn't take long. And there's absolutely no doubt about who wrote the essay.
The point of the admissions essay is to try to see your child as she really is. A spelling mistake or a lapse in syntax hardly matter. What is much more important is how she expresses herself.
That brings me back to the question in the title of this article. Should you get help to write your child's admissions essay? Somewhere in most private school applications is something called The Candidate's Statement. This is written at home. No admissions staffer is watching. It's just your daughter. And you. So, do you read it after she has finished writing her essay or short answers to the questions the school has asked? In my opinion, absolutely not. Those should be her own answers expressed in her own words. Not yours. Not edited by you. Let her answer the questions in her own words.
Are you worried that a poorly written essay will jeopardize her chances of admission? Assuming that her academic transcripts and teacher recommendations tell a very different story, a so-so essay shouldn't matter that much. However, if her academic performance and teacher recommendations indicate serious academic deficiencies, that's another story. Essentially the admissions staff are concerned about two things: can your child do the academic work and will she fit in?
Another point to consider with respect to helping your child write her admissions essay is that having her do this task on her own equips her for similar tasks in the years ahead. This is the first of many essays which she will have to write on applications for schools, college and eventually employment. You will not be allowed to hover in the room some human resources professional has assigned her so that she can write answers to questions employers always ask. "What was your most significant achievement in....?" "Who have you looked up to as role models?" "Why do you want to join our team?"
Knowing the questions she will have to answer, wouldn't it be prudent to prep her so that at least she's pretty much on topic. After all who's to know? Trust me, the savvy, professional admissions staffers will spot the difference between the answers on her Candidates' Statement and the short essay she will have to write in their presence. It just doesn't make sense to interfere with the process. Your child will do just fine.
On the other hand, things like admissions essays and candidate's statements offer teaching moments, don't they? She is going to have to learn to express herself and communicate her message constantly as an adult, right? So why not start at an early age and help her articulate those ideas. Help her understand concepts. Show her how to connect the dots in order to make sense out of facts and events.
Please understand that you should allow her to express her ideas and opinions freely. You may not agree with her. But teaching is also about dialog. Explaining other points of view in a non-confrontational manner is part of what we parents do all the time. Unless you are training her to be a despot, it is important for her to be able to see somebody else's point of view. As with most things in parenting you will need guhe amounts of patience.
Teach her that her point of view is just that: her point of view. It may or may not be the 'right' point of view. Or the popular point of view. If you have shown her how to frame a good argument so that her point of view is sound, then you have done your job.
You know your child better than anybody
You know your child. Her strengths and her weaknesses. And you love her. Against that backdrop it is important to recognize when your child's academic skill sets need improvement or remediation. Sometimes it helps to have a trusted advisor review progress reports and help you plan a course of action. You may have rationalized why your child isn't doing as well as she could. A trusted advisor will see things as they are and offer your advice and encouragement. It is always a good idea to fix things before they blossom into a serious deficiency.
Should you get help with your child's admission essay? Not for the essay per se. But enriching your child's experiences, opening new worlds and exposing her to new and perhaps different ideas is going to have a beneficial effect on her admissions essay and just about everything else she does. That's a good thing.
Guide. Direct. Offer advice. We parents always have to be reference points. We must always be ready to share our own personal experiences honestly. We understand the pitfalls when it comes to applying for just about anything. We understand what works and what does not. Discuss. Suggest. Offer help. But as with most things in your child's progress towards adulthood, let her learn to do things by herself.
Think of your child's admissions essay as one more rite of passage. You have been molding and shaping her since she was born. The thought processes and writing skills which she will use while composing her essay were formed many years ago. That's the main reason why you need to step back and watch her manage for herself. Relax. she will do just fine.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl