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Writing an Admission Essay

All writers at some point sit down in front of a blank page or screen and face the daunting task of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys, with the initial goal of getting that first word out. When Toni Morrison wrote “Beloved,” or Earnest Hemingway penned “The Old Man and the Sea,” they started with just that – a blank page. It can be intimidating, especially when the task at hand is to write for an audience – in this case an admission committee – knowing your work will be evaluated as part of your admission decision.
Luckily, you don’t have to write like Morrison or Hemingway. In fact, admission committees don’t want you to. Rather, they want you to be you and tell your story in your voice. So, put the Thesaurus away and use your words and your voice. Big words often hinder an essay’s message and render it inauthentic, and authenticity is key. Be you!

But avoid this trap – don’t be too informal. Slang terms, clichés, and overly casual language should be eliminated. Remember, you are writing an admission essay, not texting a friend. Save the LOL’s and SMH’s for your smartphone (LOL).

And for goodness sake, be interesting! Remember, during application reading season (which typically runs from late January through all of February), admission officers read essays sometimes all day long and on nights and weekends! We aren’t looking for grandiose statements or meandering philosophies of life; we are hoping for a grounded, down-to-earth picture of you. Use personal detail. Show, don’t tell. Compelling essays place the admission counselor there with you, observing you in the scene. "Show don't tell," means if you want to relate a personal quality, do so through your experiences. Tell us a story!

And remember, be concise. Pay attention to word limit. Avoid the temptation to be wordy. Remember, the challenge is to tell us your story, not author the next great international bestseller. Short sentences can actually be more compelling and hold the reader’s attention because they’re direct and to the point.

And finally, a writer is only as effective as his or her editor, and although it is advisable to have a trusted adult check your work, in the end, you are your own editor. Write, revise, and review, and then revise and review some more. At the onset, think of your essay like an untouched block of clay that evolves over time into a wonderful sculpture as you write, revise, and review (and then revise and review some more). And before hitting submit, ask yourself key questions. Have you answered the actual essay question? Have you told a story? Have you included your own experience (show, don’t tell)? Did you eliminate slang? Are there misspellings? What does your essay reveal about you? Would you enjoy reading your essay if you were the admission counselor?

 The initial challenge, though, is to sit down and simply begin. Put pen to paper or word to screen. “Imagine it, create it,” Morrison says. You’ve decided you want to apply for admission to boarding school. By all means, go for it!


Written By:

Kevin Graber

Phillips Academy Andover