Acing Your Admissions Essay

4 Tips for Success

Writing. David Fischer/Getty Images

The admission essay is an important part of the application process for boarding schools, and one that can be daunting for students to undertake. But, don't spend your time surfing the web searching for sample admission essays; you won't find them and even if you do, using a sample admission essay can actually put your application at risk for being accepted. Why? Admission essays are meant to be personal pieces of writing that reflect your own writing abilities, ability to tell a story, and who you are as an individual. Want some help? Check out these tips for success. 

Be prepared for two writing scenarios

Most private schools want to see a sample of your writing ability. There are two ways that you might be asked to demonstrate your skills including both an admission essay that is submitted as part of the application, as well as an on-the-spot writing assignment when you visit the school and interview. The formal essay that is part of the application needs to be taken seriously and needs to truly be written by you, not your parents or an admission consultant. If you were wondering why a school would ask you to write on the spot, that's the reason why: they want to make sure that it is really your work and not somebody else's. When you're asked to write on location at the school, the admissions staff will likely seat you at a desk in a room by yourself and ask you to respond to a writing prompt. In both scenarios, be sure to read and follow the directions carefully.

Be Yourself

The essay or writing sample is an important part of the school's admissions process. It adds to the picture the admissions staff already has of you as an applicant to the school. It sheds light on your personality and character, your values and your beliefs, as well as your intellect and writing abilities. That's really what the admissions people are trying to discover; who are you as a person and as a scholar? Whether your point of view is liberal or conservative doesn't matter. Just be honest and be yourself, and don't be afraid to make the essay personal as a way to better showcase your uniqueness.

There is no "right" writing prompt (unless there's only one option)

Many students fret over picking the perfect writing prompt, and wondering which topic the admission staff wants you to write. If the admission office actually wants you to write one specific topic, they will give you one specific assignment. However, if you're offered writing prompt options, pick the one that interests you most, not what you think you're expected to write. Express yourself as clearly and as convincingly as possible. Be yourself. Your ideas and the way in which you express them are more important. Show them that you are an original, that you are unique and that you have imagination and creativity. 

Practice Makes Perfect

While it is true that some people are better writers than others, the bottom line is that writing improves dramatically with regular practice. The more you write, the better you will write. Writing daily in a journal is a great way to practice regularly. You might also consider doing a serious email exchange with a mentor, teacher or family member. Once you are comfortable with putting words on the page, then begin to edit what you have written. Proofread and take the time to rework your original words and phrases to make them flow better and get your point across better.


Read as much as you can and you will write better. There's nothing wrong with trying to embrace a writing style you like. Reading good prose will give you other styles to imitate when you run out of ideas. Read the punchy, direct, snappy prose you can find in People or Sports Illustrated. Observe how those professional writers get their point across with as few words as possible. Try writing like that yourself. Then read something like Harry Potter so you can begin to appreciate devices like irony, foreshadowing and so on. Now write an action scene. Everything you read will add some great idea to your writing bag of tricks.