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How to Write a Private High School Application Essay Worth Reading

By Allison Clark
|
Private Schools

Oct31

34

high school application essay image 1If you want to write a high school application essay that is worth reading; one that your audience will remember:

Forget everything you’ve ever learned about writing an essay.

Okay, I may be being a bit melodramatic. You still need appropriate grammar, syntax, spelling, and formatting.

But as for the generic boring cluster that begins with “In this essay I am going to be discussing ___ by looking at x,y, and z,” throw that out the window because it’s nothing but a one way ticket to Snoozeville not only for you but for anyone tasked with reading it.

Remember Your Private High School Application Essay Audience

The biggest mistake students make when writing an essay is that they forget who their audience is. Your audience, be it a teacher, an administrator, or an admissions committee, has likely read hundreds if not thousands of student’s admissions essays.

This means that you are going to have to do more than throw in a few SAT words to impress them. The key to writing an essay worth reading is writing an essay that has not been written before. It needs to be your own story, not the story you think they want to hear.

high school application essay image 2

One of my favorite things about writing is that there is no right or wrong answer. An essay isn’t a scantron that you have to correctly bubble in or risk some computer incorrectly grading you.  You can’t just play eenie miney moe and hope for the best. Writing is personal. It’s written by one individual and read by another.

But all too often students, especially in the application process , forget this. They write the essay they think that the admission committee wants to read when in reality it’s an essay that the committee has probably already read a million times.

The Importance of the Essay Topic

What is the root of this cause? The topic.

If your topic is flawed, cliché, generic, or boring, it doesn’t matter how well crafted your essay is it will be forgotten. When approaching your admission essay, think of it this way: when the admission committee begins reading your essay they’ll view you as just a number, but when they finish it you want them to view you as an individual student.

So, how do we accomplish this?

It’s simple: don’t write the essay you think an admissions committee wants to read, write one that YOU would want to read. If your own essay bores you, it’s highly likely that it will bore everyone else.

Let’s say that your topic is to discuss an extracurricular activity that has played a large impact on your life. A lot of times students are tempted to write what they think the admission committee want to hear.

“I love to volunteer because it has taught me to be appreciative of what I have,”

Or “I love National Honors Society because it allows me to combine my love of academics with my love of service.”

While both of these are wonderful extracurricular activities, unless you are truly passionate about either and have specific details to intertwine into your narrative, it’s going to come off dry and predictable.

What Your Topic Should Be Instead

When describing their ideal student, one of the top words used by the Director of Admissions at some of DC’s top private schools is “passionate.”

Admissions Committees are not looking for a cookie-cutter student; rather they are looking for a student who genuinely loves something and will share that love with other students.

So if you love to spend your weekends driving four-wheelers or riding horses or making short films on iMovie, write about that because I can assure you that your natural enthusiasm will read a whole lot better than the stale and generic “I love to volunteer” response – unless that is actually what you spend your weekends doing.

The Essay’s Opening Paragraph

Don’t believe me?

Consider these two opening paragraphs. You tell me which one you want to keep reading?

1. “’Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ These famous words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, one of the best politicians of all life. John F. Kennedy led America and has become my role model. He encouraged me to get into politics which is why I joined student government. When asked what extracurricular activity has had the largest impact on me as a person, I immediately thought of student government. In this essay I will discuss how student government has impacted me as a person by growing my leadership skills, developing my social connections, and making me take academics more seriously.”

2. “I don’t ride for blue ribbons or Olympic gold, although I respect and admire those chosen few who do. I don’t ride for the workout, although my trembling muscles at the end of a good lesson indicate otherwise. I don’t ride because I have anything to prove, although I’ve proven a lot to myself along the way. I ride for the feeling of two individual beings becoming one, so perfectly matched that it’s impossible to tell where rider ends and horse begins. I ride to feel the staccato beat of hooves against dirt echoed in the rhythm of my own heart. I ride because it isn’t easy to navigate a creature with a mind of its own around a course of solid obstacles, but in that perfect moment when horse and rider work as one, it can be the easiest thing in the world. I ride for an affectionate nose nudging my shoulder as I turn to leave, searching for a treat or a pat or murmured words of praise. I ride for myself, but for my horse as well, my partner and my equal.”

Next Steps: Your Perfect Admissions Essay

Okay now you have the framework.

First, remember that you’re writing to a private school admissions audience that has probably seen every high school application essay in the book. So don’t write the one you think they want to read… write the one that you care most about.

Then, choose the essay topic that resonates most with you as a student. That enthusiasm will shine through in your writing, and hopefully “wow” the reader enough to convince them they have to have you at their school.

Good luck! And let us know what you think in the comments below.

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(34) comments


John Kim

December 30, 2015

Thank you!!!


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    Ann Dolin

    October 31, 2017

    You’re welcome John!


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Thomas Connor

December 14, 2016

Great advice. Thank you!


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    Ann Dolin

    October 31, 2017

    Our pleasure Thomas! Glad you found it helpful.


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Daniela Rodriguez

November 4, 2017

Not helpful. Doesn’t explain the key components of a good essay, only gave examples of a good introduction and who is reading your essay.


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    Ann Dolin

    November 5, 2017

    Hi Daniela – thanks for your feedback!

    Just to clarify: our intention with the post was to provide some high-level guidelines, that paired with standard best practices for essay writing would help to produce an admissions essay that stands out from the crowd in a way that most students’ essays don’t. And the introduction example was more-so to illustrate those points rather than instruction on how to write the introduction itself.

    That being said, we’d be happy to consider expanding the post to include some more tactical elements like you’re referring to, or at least provide our favorite references for high quality essay writing. Do you have any specific recommendations?

    Thanks again!


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Randolph Smith

November 5, 2017

Yeah, It needs to take about how to write the actually essay itself.


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    Ann Dolin

    November 5, 2017

    Hi Randolph – thanks for the feedback. Piggy-backing off of my response to Daniela above, do you have any specific recommendations for additions to the post you’d like to see?


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    Quincy

    November 18, 2017

    TAKE?


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shyanne whyte

November 7, 2017

just to clarify, an application essay doesn’t have to be written about one specific thing? anything out of the norm?


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    Ann Dolin

    November 11, 2017

    Correct! As long as your essay still follows general best practices for a high school essay, the more interesting or unique the topic the better.


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potato

November 7, 2017

Hi! So I’m applying to Cardinal Spellman and they want to know why I want to go to the school. One of the things that I am most interested in is Drama and Art, and also creative writing. Have any ideas about how to start the essay?


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    Ann Dolin

    November 11, 2017

    Is there anything you’ve experienced or accomplished in Drama or Art that you could talk about? Are there any books or plays or movies that are particularly inspiring for you and have changed your life in some way? The best place to start is with your own experience, so see if you can brainstorm some ideas around those.

    Hope that helps!


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Ron

November 12, 2017

Hi, I was wondering how i should start my essay. I am applying in engineering.


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Quincy

November 18, 2017

What format do you suggest we use


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Brooke

November 19, 2017

Do you think a good topic would be suicide and mental health or is that too much?


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    Joe

    December 11, 2017

    Yeah, choose something more… happy. Suicide sounds way too deep


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Jaiden Brown

November 27, 2017

What should I do if they were to say “if one of your friends asked you why you wanted to go to this school a what would you say” please help me.


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Amy

December 5, 2017

Thanks for the advice!
One question: are you allowed to write your essay in a letter format? I would want to write my essay starting with
“Dear Future Self,”
is that okay?


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    Joe

    December 11, 2017

    It’s an entrance essay, not a letter to yourself. If, you want to write a letter to yourself, don’t make it your entrance essay.


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Catherine

December 20, 2017

how many words should each answer for a question be including the writing sample/essay?


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chloe

December 28, 2017

What should the end of an essay be about?


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Mya

December 29, 2017

Hi there, I am applying for an environmental program. They give us prompts for each mini essay, so I don’t know how to make mine stand out! I feel like I’m repeating myself! Thanks


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Gio

December 29, 2017

Hi, my name is Gio and I am applying for High Tech High and they want to know why I want to join. I’m really interested into arts and crafts. Just do it in my own yime, but I’m really good. And I need help writing the 5 paragraph essay. Any help/tips??


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Gio

December 30, 2017

Hi I’m applying for High Tech High and they want to know why I want tonjoin, and I need a lot of help. I love arts (drawing) and crafts (origami). Any help????


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An Anonymous person

January 9, 2018

Hi, i’m writing for the Knox Scholarship, any tips?


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weihua

January 9, 2018

Thank you for the very helpful article. I forwarded it to my daughter who is struggling with her applicant statement.


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Joshua

January 10, 2018

i am confused on which of the two sample is better. They both look too wordy and the second one seems to be braggy.


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Student

January 24, 2018

Hello, I am applying for the Scholars Academy, known as the most rigorous school in the district, and the first question asks why I think I am a good fit for the school. I do not want to give a common, generic response. How do I make my answer stand out?


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Aarav Rekhi

February 21, 2018

How would it impact the essay if we put in what we’re interested in and how the particular school we’re applying to can help us in achieving it?


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Maddy Anna

February 24, 2018

I’m applying for a scholarship at a private school. (1) would this advice apply to this situation? (2) I’m only allowed to write a 300-word essay about myself, how can I make sure to get all the information they need about me but also seem original and stand out in such a short essay?

I would really like a reply but I know that this was posted a while ago. so, i don’t think it’s going to happen… ;-;

thanks to anyone who does happen to reply!!


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Amber

July 3, 2018

Hi!

I am applying to Immaculate Heart Academy. I am very interested in their law clubs and the softball team. How do I start my essay?


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    Ann Dolin

    July 3, 2018

    Hi Amber, Good luck with your application to Immaculate Heart! The best advice we can give is to write about what you are passionate about. Whether it be softball, law club, or something else entirely, write with passion and give the admissions committee insight into you as a person.


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Adam Sewsankar

July 13, 2018

Very Helpful. Keep it up! Thanks.


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Journalism Education Association

  • About
    • Mission Statement
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    • Statements
    • Bylaws
    • Articles of Incorporation
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SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest


Topic for spring 2019

To be determined

Deadline

Postmark/upload deadline: Feb. 22, 2019, 11:59 p.m. Central time/9:59 p.m. Pacific time.

Essays will be accepted beginning Nov. 2, 2018.

About the award

The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Journalism Education Association want to increase high school students’ knowledge and understanding of the importance of independent media to our lives. National winners of this essay contest receive scholarship awards.

Who is eligible?

All students enrolled in grades 9-12 in U.S. public, private and home schools within the United States. Students must submit original work.

Format?

The essay should be 300-500 words. Entries may be typed or handwritten but must be double-spaced.

Entering

Entries may be submitted online as a PDF using this form , or mailed to JEA headquarters using this form .

Each submission to the High School Essay Contest must be accompanied by a $5 entry fee. Entrants submitting online must use a credit card, and entrants submitting by mail may pay by check or credit card and should indicate the preferred payment option on the entry form. Checks should be made out to the Journalism Education Association. Entries submitted without the required entry fee will be disqualified.

Send mailed entries to:

Journalism Education Association
ATTN: SPJ/JEA High School Essay Contest
105 Kedzie Hall
828 Mid-Campus Dr. S
Manhattan, KS 66506

 

Award recognition

First Place: $1,000 scholarship
Second Place: $500 scholarship
Third Place: $300 scholarship

Scholarships are funded by the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Winners will be notified via email, and the names of winners will be announced in April. Winning essays also will be posted on jea.org and spj.org.

Official rules

Section I – General Rules

1. Contestants must enter through JEA headquarters.
2. Contestants must compose an original essay with limited guidance from others.
3. The Journalism Education Association and Society of Professional Journalists will have the right to edit, publish or otherwise duplicate any essay entered into the contest without payment to the author.
4. Due to the volume of entries received, only national winners will be contacted with the results.
5. The entry fee for this contest is $5 per essay.

Section II – Qualifications for Contestants

1. The contest is open to all students in grades 9-12 in public, private and home schools within the United States.
2. Contestants may submit only one essay entry during any given contest year.
3. No individual having previously won a national SPJ Essay Scholarship will be eligible to compete at any level of the competition again.

Section III – Contest Rules

1. Participants must write on the official topic.
2. Each entry must include the Contest Entry Title Page (entry form) or submit a cover page containing the same information found on the Entry Form.
3. Essays may be typewritten or legibly handwritten but must be double-spaced.
4. Essays must contain at least 300 words but no more than 500 words. Every word of the essay is counted. This does not include the title, bibliography or footnotes.
5. Any quotations or copyrighted material used in the essay must be identified properly. Failure to identify non-original material will result in disqualification.
6. Essays must be written in English.
7. Mailed entries must be stapled together in the upper left-hand corner.
8. Any protest in the conduct of the contest must be made immediately. The JEA executive director will decide all protests in conformity with the contest rules. The decision of the executive director is final, and no higher appeals will be recognized.

Section IV – Judging and Timing

1. Judging will be completed by a panel of qualified judges.
2. Judges will not discuss or compare essays being judged until all essays have been judged.
3. Only judges can assign a penalty or award points.

Section V – Scoring of Contest

Scoring procedures at all levels of the contest will be identical.
1. Material Organization (Logical interpretation of the subject, adherence to topic): 40 points
2. Vocabulary and Style (Phrasing and continuity): 30 points
3. Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling: 20 points
4. Neatness: 5 points
5. Adherence to contest rules (prepared in the proper format): 5 points

Recipients

2018

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Alexandria Kim, Marlborough School – Los Angeles, California
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Madeleine Bernardeau, Hunter College High School – New York, New York
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Emili Kovell, East Brunswick High School – East Brunswick, New Jersey

2017

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Lauryn Wu, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winners (tie): Aliza Diepenbrock, Spring Street International School, Friday Harbor, Washington; Carolyn Harper, Bob Jones High School, Madison, Alabama
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Eileen Yang, Peddie School, Hightstown, New Jersey

2016

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Simon Levien, Sparta High School, Sparta, New Jersey
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: David Oks, The Masters School, Dobbs Ferry, New York
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Christine Condon, Dulaney High School, Timonium, Maryland

2015

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Matthew Zipf, Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, Maryland.  Read essay [PDF]
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Philip Kim, Paramus High School, Paramus, New Jersey.  Read essay [PDF]
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Sania Chandrani, Parkview High School, Liburn, Georgia.  Read essay [PDF]

2014

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Tianyu Lin of Milton Academy in Milton, Mass.  Read essay [PDF]
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Phoebe Fox of La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Read essay [PDF]
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Jacob Bloch of Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington, N.Y.  Read essay [PDF]

2013

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Courtney Swafford of Write from the Heart in Wilmington, Del.  Read essay [PDF]
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Anran Yu of Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz.  Read essay [PDF]
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Chuli Zeng of Woodbridge High School in Irvine, Calif.  Read essay [PDF]

2012

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Hwasung (Daniel) Yoo of Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond, Va.  Read essay [PDF]
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Niisackey Mills of South Plainfield High School in South Plainfield, N.J.  Read essay [PDF]
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Dustin Chandler of East Burke High School in Connellys Springs, N.C.  Read essay [PDF]

2011

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Emerson Hardebeck of Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash.  Read essay [PDF]
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Shaun Moran of St. Augustine Prep School in Richland, N.J.  Read essay [PDF]
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Chris Papas of Oakton High School in Vienna, Va. Read essay [PDF]

2010

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Erin McDonough of Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Va.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Shaj Mathew of Huntingtown High School in Huntingtown, Md.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Xiaonan “April” Hu of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va.

2009

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Alix Cohen of Cypress Bay High School, Weston, Fla.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Victor Hollenberg of Staples High School, Westport, Conn.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Alyssa Patrick of Eisenhower High School, Yakima, Wash.

2008

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Mark Brouch, Aurora Central Catholic High School, Aurora, Ill.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Evan Rich, Jericho High School, Jericho, N.Y.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Danna Seligman, Newbury Park High School, Newbury Park, Ca.

2007

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: David Kelly, Broomfield High School, Broomfield, Colo.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Dan Garon, Robbinsdale Armstrong High School, Plymouth, Minn.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Erin Gowdy, Bob Jones High School, Madison, Ala.

2006

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Angelika Zych, Vanguard High School, in Ocala, Fla.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Jonathan Homrighausen of Sunnyside High School in Sunnyside, Wash.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Amy Brooks of Clayton High School in Clayton, Mo.

2005

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Mindy Zhang, Robinson Secondary School, Fairfax, Va.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Zachory John Drisko, Green Hope High School, Cary, N.C.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Katie Roberts, Home schooled, Walnut Shade, Mo.

2004

— First Place, $1,000 Scholarship Winner: Heather Hamilton, Sentinel High School, Missoula, Mont.
— Second Place, $500 Scholarship Winner: Logan Oyler, Hickory High School, Chesapeake, Va.
— Third Place, $300 Scholarship Winner: Joey Muffler, Bishop Ireton High School Alexandria, VA

2002

— First Place Winner: Jonathan Ross Kaplan, Nova High School, Davie, Fla.

2000

— First Place Winner: Katie Pennock, West Henderson High School, Hendersonville, NC

1999

— First Place Winner: Darcy Colson Baxter, Lansing Central High School (near Ithaca, N.Y.)

1998

— First Place Winner: Michael Anthony Fedele III, Northwestern High School, Rock Hill, S.C.

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