Puzzled over private school application
December 25, 2007 9:01 AM   Subscribe

My 8th grader wants to attend a very progressive local private high school next year. Are there some general guidelines for how long, or how deep, these non-college application essays should be?

This year (and only this year), he's schooling at home after we both grew frustrated with the middle public school options locally. The private school involved would be a perfect fit for him. It's probably the central point of non-fundamentalism in the entire state of Georgia. The school is not a military, overly college-prep, uniformed, or stifling environment. They're more focused on the whole result and keeping the kid interested in their own life (present and future).

Neither of us have ever filled out private school applications before. Most of the information I find on-line is geared toward college application essays. The school requests copies of graded English papers (check) and 2 new essays from suggested topics.

He's chosen to write why some of his activities and one particular book are important to him. I would say he doesn't like to write, but he would disagree. He writes great essay question answers and prefers essay questions over multiple choice. But with longer essay assignments, he gets frustrated, stressed, and obsessive. So, I'm trying to avoid the obsessive length and determine if a shorter testing-type essay question format, extended essay question format (2-3 para), or full 5 paragraph essay would be appropriate?
posted by ick to Education (10 answers total)
Doesn't the application specify a range? Why not just call the school?
posted by caitlinb at 9:39 AM on December 25, 2007

Best answer: I'm willing to bet that the school is primarily looking for evidence of his intellectual curiosity and capability, not an essay of specific length or format (otherwise they would say so). I would recommend that he write something original and sincere as this will make his work stand out above the piles of numbingly similar essays the admissions staff surely gets each year. He might benefit from writing a few drafts and having revision sessions where you sit down and talk about what he's written with the goal of improving the focus of the essay.

It's probably just my inner cynic speaking but I have a feeling they're going to give a lot more consideration to what degree of financial aid he will be seeking than the intellectual sophistication of a thirteen year old.
posted by inoculatedcities at 9:49 AM on December 25, 2007

Best answer: I think you should let the kid write the essay he wants to write. Why? Because that is the way he will write when in school. Don't try and anticipate what the school wants. It is better for him to write something true to him. Home schooled kids are often ahead of the curve and it sounds like this school welcomes non-cookie-cutter kids, so don't encourage your kid to write a cookie cutter essay. Maybe give him a very basic "try not to go over one page" and review the components that make a good essay, but after that, let him do it his way.
posted by 45moore45 at 9:49 AM on December 25, 2007

Response by poster: The application does not specify a range. They want to learn about the kid in a "personal and thorough way" from their written "thoughtful answers". The section is titled "Essays". The school is closed for Christmas vacation, but I can ask them in a couple weeks. The essays are due in a few weeks.

We're just unsure of the length and format they're seeking. He tends to get into rants, so I usually advise him to consider his audience and organize his madness. As an example, last year in school (during class), he wrote a paper about school administration unwillingness to address bullying behaviors more seriously as a primary factor leading to the destruction of school systems and communities as a whole. This year, he's written long essays about his political views and the legalization of pot. So, no, I have no doubt that his personality will show through whatever he chooses to write.

He is only homeschooling this year. Intellectually, he is ahead of the curve which is a major reason I pulled him out of the public school. They do not have a challenging program for the TAG kids in 8th grade. Couple that with overworked teachers who require blind, complete, quiet obedience from an independent, self-thinking, assertive, and norm-challenging 8th grader. When teachers steal time to know him, they adore him and make modifications to support (spoil) him. We're not overly concerned about the teacher interview part of the application, hehe.
posted by ick at 10:54 AM on December 25, 2007

I just sent my college essay application about a month ago. There was no word count given in the essay question, and I also had concerns about that. I went and talked to an english teacher at my high school who teaches a class where you basically write a bunch of college essays. He said that you have to imagine the person reading this essay has been reading them all day and wants nothing more than to read one different that he/she enjoys. They've got a ton of essays to get through, so don't make it long. Mine was a page and a half, and these are for a bunch of different and expensive colleges. I can't imagine a private high school wanting more than a college. Try and keep it short. Less than three pages, at the most.

(I don't think someone applying to private school should write about the legalization of pot, if you two are considering that.)
posted by Corduroy at 11:08 AM on December 25, 2007

As an example, last year in school (during class), he wrote a paper about school administration unwillingness to address bullying behaviors more seriously as a primary factor leading to the destruction of school systems and communities as a whole.

This is a kid after my own heart! Let him rant away. Has he ever considered writing a play or a screenplay? It sounds like a good structure for his point of view and something tells me he probably won't have much trouble filling in the dialog. He could answer the essay questions and also refer to his screenplay in progress. He sounds like a brilliant non-conformist and bravo to you for seeing the failure of the school system to foster a raw talent. I somewhat relate to this situation and I ended up leaving high school after 3 years to attend college and was not much of a conformist in school. Most school are not designed for the highs and lows on the graph--they are the training ground to make submissive monkeys out of the masses. Instead of being worried about your child getting in, I would be asking the school what their strategies are for working with a bright kid. Bright kids who get bored often become troublemakers and the school should be prepared to answer that issue with how they address different learning styles and how they keep their students engaged.
posted by 45moore45 at 11:54 AM on December 25, 2007

Ick, I'd say "let him rant if he's so inclined." The finished product will probably be interesting, different, and showcase his personality and feelings better than something more formulaic.
posted by Cricket at 1:57 PM on December 25, 2007

I don't think someone applying to private school should write about the legalization of pot, if you two are considering that.

Corduroy, if the school Ick's son is applying to is the one that I'm thinking of from her description, a well-written essay on legalized herb might get him a full scholarship.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:24 PM on December 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

well then, hey, why not?
posted by Corduroy at 3:36 PM on December 25, 2007

Best answer: I guess it depends on exactly how alternative this school is, but for many purposes (i.e. SAT writing section) a longer essay will tend to be viewed more favourably than a shorter essay. Considering that essay readers are, indeed, overworked and have to read a whole bunch of essays, the first glance at an essay is super important and a longer essay looks better (looks like he had more to say, used more detail, and had more room for structure like transitional sentences, etc.). Also, since you're asking here I can only assume that the essays call for a separate, attached sheet (as opposed to a blank on the form), which would, to me, call for at least 3-5 paragraphs (structured, grammatically correct paragraphs, with plenty of detail).

Probably leading to endless procrastination, and eventually never actually finishing the essay on my part, but hey, I hate essays, which is why I know so bloody much about them. I hope your son has better luck.
posted by anaelith at 5:28 AM on December 26, 2007

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