Many students shudder at the thought of having to write a school admissions essay. Whether it is a college admissions essay, or an essay for Hunter High School, ISEE, ISEE Prime or the SSAT the struggle is the same. There is, after all, a tremendous amount riding on your words. This essay could be the difference between getting into that school you’ve always dreamed of and receiving a letter that begins with “We regret to inform you…”
So, the anxiety level is high as you sit at your desk, staring at a blank Word document, wondering where to begin. You type a sentence, then delete it. You have a vague idea of what you want to say but struggle to find the words to communicate it. And all the while, the deadline draws nearer and nearer.
But it doesn’t have to be. You can write a captivating essay that will grab the attention of school admissions committees and genuinely move them. And that’s a really important goal since the majority of your Hunter High School Elementary, ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) or SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) results is impersonal and clinical. For the most part, schools see your name and a number. Your admissions essay is the one place where your personality and voice can shine through.
So, whether you’re trying to figure out how to put together an effective college admissions essay or you’re working on the essay portion of your application to get into New York City’s Hunter High School or writing an admissions essay for the ISEE or SSAT, learning how to craft a powerful essay is essential.
That’s where we can help.
We’ve put together a complete guide to penning the perfect admissions essay. We’ll walk you step-by-step through the process and even leave you with a handful of parting tips to keep in mind if you really want to wow your future school’s admission committee.
So, let’s get right to it…
What’s the point of any admissions essay ? College?Hunter High School? or ISSE and SSAT?
Before you ever put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), it’s always a good idea to reflect on why you’re writing to begin with. Understanding the reason behind a thing can go a long way toward helping you do that thing well.
So, what’s the point of a high school ISEE or SSAT or even a college admissions essay?
First, it’s important to realize that your admissions essay will not be the only (or even primary) factor in your application. This doesn’t mean that it won’t matter at all. It will. But it probably won’t matter as much as you’re fearing unless it is for Hunter High School. Then it is a make it or break it deal.
So, take a deep breath and relax. Anxiety over essay writing can keep you from writing the best essay possible. Instead, you should understand that your essay is only one important part of a much larger picture that your prospective high school or college will be seeing in most cases.
Once you’ve gotten some perspective, you should consider what a powerful tool your essay can be if you take the time to work through it piece by piece…
· An amazing essay can be the little bit that pushes your ISEE or SSAT results ahead of the competition.
· Your essay writing can help college admissions committees understand who you are at a deeper level than your GPA and a list of after school activities can.
· The essay portion of your ISEE, SSAT, or admissions application will be the one thing committee members remember – and talk about.
So, once you’ve recognized the limits and potential benefits of your admissions essay, it’s time to sit down and get to work.
Start with Your Prompt
When approaching an essay, it’s easy to put the cart before the horse. We read through the prompt once or twice and then we’re off to the races.
But that’s a recipe for disaster.
The best essays are tightly focused. They don’t get distracted by unnecessary details or other rabbit trails. Instead, they’re centered around the prompt and never leave it. But that won’t happen unless you take the time to fully think through your prompt.
Keep in mind that most Hunter High School, SSAT and ISEE essay prompts ask you to weigh on an important issue, consider a timeless truth, or reflect on a significant moment in your life. So, the first step in your journey toward essay success is figuring out which of these things your prompt is actually asking.
Take the time to read (and reread) your prompt. Then, before you start brainstorming, outlining, or writing, write down the goal of your essay in your own words. Let this purpose statement be your guide as you write. And after every paragraph, go back and ask, “Is this paragraph pushing me closer to this goal?”
Let Your Creativity Run Wild… Then Reign it In
When you’re sitting down to write your essay, spend just as much time preparing to write as you do writing, by brainstorming and outlining.
First, you’ll want to let your imagination and creativity run wild. If you’re a visual thinker, create a mind map. Make a list of ideas and words related to the prompt. Try to remember experiences from your life that relate to the topic you’ll be writing on. Get every possible thought you may have in your mind on a piece of paper. Don’t hold anything back.
Once you’ve gotten it all out, go through and begin to refine it. Search for the most compelling ideas. Look for thought threads that seem to come up again and again. Analyze how all of these separate pieces may be able to come together into a larger whole.
After you’ve focused and refined your idea, you’ll want to create an outline. An outline will ensure your essay stays on topic from beginning to end. So, write your main idea at the top of your page in large letters so you don’t leave it. It should be the guiding principle of your essay. Then, break down the rest of your paper into smaller chunks, adding any details from your brainstorming session into the appropriate sections.
Although some people prefer the freedom of writing without an outline, using one will help you hit your target more effectively – especially if you struggle with structuring and writing essays.
When you have your outline finished, it’s time to start writing.
This is the easiest step if you’ve prepared well. After all, you now know exactly what the point of your essay is. You understand its overall structure. You’ve even collected some great details to include.
Now, it’s just a matter of fleshing everything out.
Most writers will tell you that the best way to approach writing an essay (or anything else for that matter) is simply to sit down and write. Don’t overthink things. Don’t try to edit as you go. Instead, just follow your outline and get the first draft of your essay on paper.
There will be moments when you aren’t sure about the best way to word something. That’s okay. Don’t exhaust yourself with trying to find the perfect wording. That’s best left for the editing stage. Right now, you simply want a draft that you can start working with.
As you go, there are a handful of key things to remember that will make your writing more vibrant, engaging, and memorable…
Stay focused. Remember the main idea you wrote down at the top of your outline? Go back and look at that occasionally as you write. Let it keep you on track. And do the same thing with the purpose statement you wrote when you analyzed the prompt. If you feel your writing start to drift into distraction, pull it back.
Use strong, clear language. Your writing will be more enjoyable to read and more engaging if you’ll stick with vivid words and simple, direct sentence structure. This is one of the reasons your teachers will tell you to avoid passive voice (“The ball was hit by me”) and to use active voice (“I smacked the ball”).
Avoid verbal decorations. When writing an essay that has a word count, there’s always a subtle temptation to turn what could be a five-word sentence into a thirty-five-word one. Don’t fall for it! Be clear and concise. Refrain from using your words as unnecessary, decorative pieces on your sentences.
Let your personality shine through. Remember, your admissions essay is one of the few ways that your prospective school will get to know you. So, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through in the stories you tell, the language you use, and even with any humor you might throw in. And whatever you do, don’t – under any circumstances – plagiarize any part of your essay or ask someone else to write it. This essay is your chance to set yourself apart from the competition. So, do it proudly!
Edit, Edit, Edit.
Once you’ve finished the first draft of your essay, take a well-deserved break. Get a snack or go for a walk. Let your mind decompress and bask for a few minutes in the progress you’ve made. Then, go back to your essay and print it out if you typed it on a computer.
With your essay in one hand and a pen in the other, slowly read the whole thing out loud. By reading it aloud, you’ll be much more likely to catch awkward sentence constructions and other grammatical mistakes. In addition to these issues, look for misspelled words, slang, acronyms, and other things that shouldn’t be there. As you go back and edit, you may even notice whole sentences or paragraphs that need to be removed. Or, on the other hand, you may realize some great idea that you left out and you want to add back in.
Take your time editing. This is where you will transform your essay from mediocre to amazing.
Once you’ve finished and feel good about it, give it to a trusted friend, family member, or teacher who’s willing to give you honest feedback. Let them read it and make any suggestions. Having an additional set of eyes on your writing can help you sharpen unclear passages and ensure your essay is in top form.
A Handful of Parting Tips for any ISEE, SSAT or admissions essay
By the time you finish editing, your essay will be ready to submit. And we’re confident that if you’ve taken each of the above steps in stride, you’ll have a piece of writing you can be proud of – and that will capture the attention of that New York City Hunter High School committee or college admissions board.
But if you want to go above and beyond, you may want to consider a couple more parting tips. These are the things that will send your Hunter High School, ISEE or SSAT essay sailing past the competition…
Honesty is the best policy. As you reflect on your life, including the challenges, defeats, and victories, be willing to be genuine. Admit when you’ve made mistakes. Don’t sugarcoat your missteps. Authenticity speaks far louder than a fake, smoothed over past that everyone can see through anyway.
Use humor carefully. Humor is a powerful weapon when wielded well. But when it falls flat, it can be disastrous. So, only use humor if it fits the tone of your essay and if you’re absolutely certain that the middle-aged committee members reading it will find it as funny as you do.
Don’t procrastinate. It’s easy to put your essay off until tomorrow… that is, until it’s due today. So, don’t procrastinate when penning your essay. Give yourself plenty of time to do each of the above steps and to do them well. Writing under pressure may produce, but it seldom produces your best.
Show, don’t tell. This is some of the most classic pieces of writing advice you’ll ever get. Rather than telling the committee how trustworthy you are, show them with a brief story. Actions speak louder than words, as they say.