Families often tell me how stressful the application essay is—how does a student write the perfect essay? You don’t! The goal is not perfection. As the Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at St. Luke’s School, I have read more essays than I can count. Essays by nine-year-olds, essays by sixteen-year-olds and everything in between.
Do you know which essays impress me the most? The ones where I get to know the writer.
You can read a million posts about writing a strong admission essay but I wanted to boil down all the good advice out there into four simple but essential points:
4 Essentials for the Best Admissions Essays
1. Write the essay yourself: You are unique and the stories you have to tell are one of a kind. I want to hear them. Use your senses. Give me details. Describe the way you felt, and what the events in your story mean to you. It’s usually pretty evident when someone other than you did the writing (and that’s not the impression you want to make!). Use your voice. Be funny, be serious, be you.
2. Write about what matters to you: Think of the moments that stand out to you in your life. That’s what I want to read about. Even a very young child can describe the moments that matter. This could be an achievement, a failure, a family tradition or an encounter that changed your path or your thinking. Different schools will offer different essay prompts but regardless, the reader will want to know that the example give has real meaning to the writer. Don’t try and guess what the admission team wants you to say—write from the heart.
3. Perfection Won’t Fly: Reading an essay that is all about how wonderful, accomplished and flawless the writer is can be a turnoff. Don’t shy away from sharing something you are proud of, but remember to share the full story including how you worked through conflicts or obstacles and who helped you out along the way. Did you feel gratitude? Relief? Create a real picture, not a perfect picture.
4. Show you care: While I’ve made clear that perfection is not the goal, you do want to demonstrate that you took the essay seriously. Once you’ve written it, read it. Read it aloud to catch errors. Edit your work and make sure you correct the grammar. Think about letting a teacher read the final product, and listen to the feedback. The “cleaner” your essay is, the easier it is for me to read. Small errors are big distractions – and so fixable. You want to be proud of the finished product.
If you embrace these four tips, you are well on your way to an essay any admission team will appreciate. I hope you found this helpful. You can also read my Private School: 5 Interview Tips and download the Interview Checklist below.
St. Luke's School Admissions Team: Mary Kate DeRienzo, Ginny Bachman, Michael Rupp, and Blake Bueckman.
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