By Mr. Chris Lorenc
A high school application essay is a personal essay. Essentially you’re introducing yourself. No matter the question or prompt, one way or another every question comes down to this: tell us who you are and what’s important to you. And…tell us why we (as a school community) are a good fit for you—and what you’re looking forward to being able to contribute to our school community.
The schools already introduced themselves to you. They’ve done this through their mission statement, school philosophy, and open houses. It’s very important that you read and understand a school’s mission statement and philosophy of education—and pay close attention to who the school says it is. You and your parents may primarily want you to go to a school because it has a great academic reputation, and you think it will help you get into a good college. And the school undoubtedly does have an excellent academic reputation. But when you read the school’s mission statement, you’ll discover that academic excellence by itself isn’t the primary or central value at the heart of the school’s mission and philosophy. If the school’s telling you, “We value A, B, C, and D,” and in your essays, you don’t even mention A, B, and C, then you can come across as not caring about those values.
This is something particularly to pay attention to in the values-centered mission statements of Catholic prep schools. You don’t need to be a Catholic yourself in order to be accepted at a Catholic school, but in your application essays, you need to be able to understand the school’s values and translate them into terms that make sense to you in your own family and family’s traditions. If you don’t come from a middle school or faith community in which this Catholic language is familiar, find someone who can help you understand this language. Almost invariably when someone helps you understand this language, you’ll see how these values are also important in your own life even if your family uses different spiritual language to express those values.
A “good school” really means a “good fit” between an applicant and a school community. You should be asking yourself: “in all its core values, is this school community really a good fit for me?” Once you’re able to answer that question for yourself, you’ll be able to express your shared values in your application essays.
Since these are personal essays, speak honestly and from your heart—and give good practical examples (and sometimes brief anecdotes) about what you’re saying. The school already knows the data of your grades and test scores. Through your essays, they’re looking to get a personal feeling for who you are.
And obviously it goes without saying: write the essays yourself. You can get feedback, maybe even a little trying-out of your ideas back-and-forth with another, but your essays should sound like you because they’re written by you. Anything else would be a breach of academic integrity.
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Mr. Chris Lorenc is a former English teacher at Bellarmine College Prep in San Jose, CA. For the past several years, he has been working 1-on-1 with students to help them write their application essays. If you are interested in working with Mr. Lorenc, you may contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He has limited availability, so don’t wait until the last minute if interested!