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Why the Essay Matters

Ideally, independent school and college applications give the full picture of an applicant. Replete with information about grades, rankings, and test scores, a student’s academic record is laid bare for admissions officers. Comprehensive lists denote sports, clubs, activities, community service, trips, and more. But, there is always a story behind this data.


The essay is your chance to demonstrate dimension, personality, voice, and style that may not be evident in the other pieces of your application. This is where you bring life to your documents - let them see, hear, and know you.


Admissions officers for high schools and colleges are expert readers and are able to look at a transcript and set of recommendations and see “what kind” of a student the applicant is. Yet, these documents do not tell the full story. While the essay may seem daunting, it is actually the student’s greatest opportunity. The prompts tend to be open and general enough that you can write about almost anything, as long as it answers the question (this is a crucial detail). With the right coaching and guidance, the essay can be a game-changer.


While the essay is a chance to stand out, it is also how the admissions readers get to know you. A related but unusual topic can show the ability to think outside the box and problem solve. Likewise, it can highlight little known character traits, values, and preferences. For example, one student I worked with wrote about pasta and how his likes and dislikes connect to the evolution of his risk taking, maturity, and readiness for a new academic institution.


I always encourage students to embrace their vulnerabilities and quirks. If you are a star runner and won every race, or are a talented singer and got the lead in the musical, the admissions officers already know that. What they might not know is that you are terrified of the dark, or you have a terrible sense of direction. One of the best essays I’ve read was about a very tall student who was grappling with stereotypes and assumptions about his size. It was reflective, honest, and humorous.


The format of the essay is another way to illustrate personality and style. Dialogue, one liners, creative spacing, and the opening and closing are all ways to show voice and dynamism. Visually the essay can represent a mood, message, or stylistic approach.


The main thing to remember is to be yourself. Let them get to know you. Show them who you are - each student is a whole person with a story to tell. Be honest and forthright.


I love these essays because of the creativity and personal expression they afford. I love seeing the inside story and how validating the writing process can be; crafting the essay is a journey and many students are pleasantly surprised by what surfaces.


Let's create an essay that shows off who you really are.


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