A student on a laptop working on her private school application essay.

Encouraging Your Child to Write a Self-Revealing Application Essay

December 20, 2021

What is your child’s superpower? Schools want to know what makes your child unique—what they would add to the classroom or community that others do not. Many middle school students aren’t accustomed to this type of writing, and application essays might be their first experience with it. 

Schools try to make essay questions applicable to a wide audience, and the topics typically fit a concrete five-paragraph essay structure. Consequently, when middle school students write about a challenge, a favorite activity, or a hero, they often miss the opportunity to link that essay to something that showcases them as a special, unique individual. 

To help your child write a self-revealing essay, there are some simple questions below that you can pose to them beforehand or while brainstorming. While they may only need to answer one or two of these questions for the essay to achieve more, it’s helpful to offer a few options with slightly different phrasing. 

Please note that the schools want to hear your child’s voice; please refrain from editing or helping your child write the essay. Not only is this important so schools can make fair, equitable decisions, but they will easily detect overly polished essays that don’t contain a middle school student’s voice. However, helping your child set goals for this process is a completely different concept. 

If writing about an activity…

Children will naturally describe the aspects they love about the activity, along with the accolades or successes they’ve had; however, they often miss the opportunity to connect it to what makes them an interesting or compelling candidate. Questions you can ask to help draw this out of them include:

  • What is it about you as a person that drew you to this activity? 
  • How has this activity fundamentally changed you as a person? 
  • What have you learned about yourself as a result of being part of this activity?
  • What do you bring to school X as a result of being part of this activity?
  • How would your life be different if you did not participate in this activity?
  • How is this activity related to something that makes you particularly proud or unique?

If writing about a challenge…

Children typically write about the challenge and how they overcame it without linking it to something that makes them unique or changed from the experience. Questions to ask:

  • Why did you choose to write about this challenge instead of others you’ve had?
  • How has this challenge changed your perspective about your life or others’ lives?
  • As a result of this challenge, what have you learned about yourself or others?
  • What does this challenge illustrate about who you are as a person?
  • What do you bring to school X as a result of this challenge?
  • How is this challenge related to something that makes you particularly proud or unique?

If writing about a hero…

Children are known to write about their hero’s amazing accomplishments without saying why their achievements are important to them.  They may also leave out what they have in common with this hero. Questions to ask:

  • Why did you choose to write about this hero?
  • How has this hero influenced your life or the lives of people you care about?
  • What have you learned about yourself through watching this hero?
  • What do you have in common with this hero?
  • What do you bring to school X that is similar to what your hero brings to the world?
  • How is this hero related to something that makes you particularly proud or unique?

Encouraging your child to think introspectively through the above questions will help them write the type of self-revealing essay that stands out in the admissions process. For more tips on essay writing, read How to Write an Awesome Private School Admission Essay.

Jamie Moffett is the founder of Walking Feet Advisors, an advising practice for families applying to independent schools. She previously served as the director of admission K–8 at Marin Country Day School in Corte Madera, Calif., where she worked for the last eighteen years.

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