Student essays are an important part of the private high school admissions process for students in New York City. While information like grades and test scores can help an admissions committee evaluate a student’s raw performance, essays are a key way for students to demonstrate their unique voice and personality. Treat student essays like mini interviews: they’re a chance to let admissions committees really get to know the student.
We recommend starting student essay drafts as soon as possible (in the summer or early fall) to allow plenty of time for a thoughtful drafting process. One of the first steps to begin drafting essays is to identify the prompt(s) to write about. Students may have a variety of prompts to choose from, or they may be given a specific prompt. This depends on the student’s age (middle versus high school) and whether the school they’re applying to is an ISAAGNY member school or not.
Here are several example essay prompts from the past:
Regardless of prompt, we encourage students to write about a subject that genuinely interests them and feels rich and dynamic enough to write several paragraphs about. Essays are a way to show off creative writing skills, but make sure that essays present a consistent application narrative and a relatively consistent application of writing voice (across each essay, graded writing samples, etc.).
When approaching the student essay writing process, reading a sample essay is one of the most helpful ways to begin brainstorming. Here’s a sample student essay for private high school admissions that effectively provides a window into the student’s passions and way of thinking.
*Note that this is a fictional sample, not a real student essay.
Prompt: What is your favorite work of art (visual, written, musical, etc.)? Why is it meaningful to you?
“If you could say it in words there would be no reason to paint,” is a famous quote by artist Edward Hopper that has always inspired me. I’m naturally drawn to Hopper’s distinctive style of concrete, representational scenes; he was a master at manipulating light to create striking contrast and focus. But I appreciate Hopper’s art for more than just aesthetic choices; I connect deeply to Hopper’s intent to communicate memories and feelings through art. As a budding artist myself, my goal is to inspire real nostalgia and emotion with my paintings, the same way that Hopper’s works do for me.
For example, Hopper’s “House By The Railroad,” completed in 1925, brings back many memories for me. The painting depicts a grand Victorian home with railroad tracks nearly underneath it. Like many of Hopper’s works, the scene is inspired by Hopper’s hometown of Nyack, New York, which happens to be the same town my grandparents live in. Even just a quick glance at the painting reminds me of walking up to my grandparents home in the summertime to greet them standing on the large front porch. Their home was situated not far from railroad tracks in Nyack, similar to the house in the painting. Whenever I see the piece, I’m reminded of the happy memories I’ve created at my grandparents’ home: eating grilled cheese and tomato soup on the front porch with my grandmother, hearing the train to Manhattan go by in the distance, and other everyday pleasures.
In fact, from an early age, my grandparents encouraged my interest in Hopper’s art. My grandfather brought me to Hopper’s childhood home, which has since been turned into a museum, for the first time when I was ten years old. I still remember feeling awed as a young girl just being in the home of such a renowned artist; we visited his childhood bedroom and the spaces that eventually became subjects of his artwork, and I was inspired to find artistic inspiration in my own immediate surroundings.
That’s clearly what Hopper aimed to do. I love that so much of Edward Hopper’s art captures standard American life. While many of Hopper’s paintings are of everyday scenes (homes, bedrooms, and more), his use of light and positioning of human figures adds nostalgic character to even the most mundane of scenes. Hopper’s art can teach us that even day-to-day moments can be striking and noteworthy.
I recently visited an exhibition on Edward Hopper at the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan. Again, I found myself drawn to “House By The Railroad,” and other paintings that depict houses and restaurants and other run-of-the-mill spaces, made distinctive and beautiful with Hopper’s earnest, light-filled approach. Seeing Hopper’s art again in person brought back many memories and feelings for me, many of them from carefree days with my grandparents in Nyack. Someday, I hope to be able to evoke similar emotion through my own artwork.