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3 Tips for Writing Your Child's Private School Application Essay

How to harness the power of storytelling


Published on: October 30, 2017


It’s that time of year again: the busy admissions season for private and independent K–12 schools. Keeping track of each school's open houses, campus tours, parent and student interview dates and test requirements can feel like a full-time job. 

Each year, more families are considering private schools for their children and competition for top private schools in the greater Seattle area has become increasingly fierce. Some elite private schools admit fewer than 10 percent of their applicants from a highly qualified candidate pool. High standardized test (SSAT and ISEE) scores and GPAs alone, unfortunately, don’t guarantee a spot at these coveted schools. They're interested in forming a diverse and well-rounded student body that delves beyond students’ test scores and grades.

Some elite private schools admit fewer than 10 percent of their applicants.

One of the biggest mistakes I've seen families make in preparing their child’s applications for admission is to treat the information they submit as separate data points. Rather than painting a complete picture of their student, parent and student essays often read like a student activity form.

To give your child the best chance of success, it's important to be intentional and thoughtful about your child’s application. Remember that admission committees are interested in learning about your child and what your family can offer, and how you will contribute to their schools and school communities.

Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your child's private school application.

Know what it is you want to say about your child and your family: What are the key messages you want to convey?  

  • Think about how you and others see your child. You as parents? Grandparents? Their siblings? How would their friends describe them? Teachers? Neighbors?
  • What keywords begin to emerge? Kind? Mature? Creative? Curious? Inventive? A maker? A leader?
  • Choose three to five themes that best capture core identities of your child.
  • Use your child’s essential qualities, be it their achievements, unique experiences, activities or interests to make the connection to these themes.
  • Once themes emerge, look broadly and creatively at parent and student essays, activity profile, teacher recommendations, and other application elements for opportunities to weave these ideas together for differentiation.

Start working on essays and other application elements

  • Typically, families apply for three to five schools and, depending upon schools under consideration, you may end up with writing not only a common set of essays but also other unique ones they require from applicants and their families.
  • These requirements all add up, expecting a significant amount of time and efforts on your and your child’s end. Good writing is a process; it doesn’t happen overnight. Be prepared to go through three rounds of drafts of parent and student essays to get to final “quality” ones you and your student feel proud of. Try to have solid first drafts by the end of October, the second one by the end of November and the final draft by the end of December.   
  • Make sure you write parent essays while your child writes their student essays. You can lend help to your child, but they need to provide original and thoughtful answers in their portion of the applications as well as during interviews. Schools can tell if a parent writes student essays and even go so far as to collect writing samples.

Use essays and other application elements for effective storytelling

  • Use a parent statement, student essays and an extracurricular activity profile to let the reader in: Who is your child? What do they care most? Who is their hero? Why? How do these insights connect with other information you are submitting about your child and your family? Is there a particular story(ies) that helps to describe your child and your family best?
  • Distill the story that defines your child and your family in the space provided in online applications before the deadline for completed applications. Each essay question has a specific word count you can’t exceed, so be mindful of how you will use precious real estate to convey main messages for differentiation.

Effective storytelling alone won’t necessarily put your child over the top if they aren't already a competitive candidate. But it goes hand-in-hand with solid standardized test scores and GPAs for robust applications. Let schools know how unique your child and your family are. Let them know how your child and family will contribute to a diverse student body. Good luck!

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