By: George Higgins, Headmaster, The Beekman School
Applications for private high school admissions may vary slightly from school to school, but there are several components that will remain constant regardless of where you apply. Making a personal statement is one of those basics, so my first advice is – don’t cheat.
People in an admissions office read a lot of essays. Even though it’s easy to use examples of essays that you find on the Internet, that’s not going to be your best approach. Your essay is going to read like many other essays and you want yours to stand out. You need to focus on what makes you unique. Do you have a particular interest that will set you apart from other students? Have you had a life experience that has helped you develop a special point of view that others may find interesting? These are the personal statements that will make a better impression with an admissions committee.
Don’t have a parent or teacher get too involved in writing your essay. Yes, you’ll want some feedback, a second opinion, and perhaps a proofreader, but you want to be sure that the final essay is your voice. The admissions committee wants to get to know you, and the best way for them to do that is through an honest, sincere, well-written personal statement.
Like the SAT or the ACT in the college admission process, many NYC private high schools will want to see your ISEE or SSAT scores. If you are one of those students who doesn’t perform well on these types of tests or you didn’t score as well as you could (or should) have, all is not lost. Schools look at these scores to try to assess your learning potential so when you are in the interview, show them that you are a student who is genuinely interested in learning! Highlight your areas of academic interest. Talk about a book that you recently read and really loved. Mention educational passions that you have pursued beyond the classroom.
Depending on the size of your current school, a variety of extracurricular activities are available and the admissions committee will probably like to know what you choose to do with your time. Stress your participation in school activities. Every school wants students who are involved. If you haven’t taken advantage of the opportunities in school, what about all of the choices you have around New York City? While I’m not suggesting that you come off as over-scheduled, try to find places where you can channel your interests in activities that enhance your day and show you as a motivated, enthusiastic individual.
Although I’ve never read a bad one, high schools (and colleges) still like to see teacher recommendations. Even though you have no control over what that person says in a letter, make sure that the things your write and say about yourself, and the things your parents write and say about you, match what your teachers are saying about you. Often times these letter are confidential so you won’t have access to the content; again I stress, honesty with a positive spin is always the best approach.
Financial aid is a concern for many families applying to private high school. Does it hurt your application if you are also applying for financial aid? No. You will often hear the term “need blind.” If you qualify, you will be offered a certain financial aid package. At that point, if the school has accepted you then you have to make the decision as to whether or not you’re comfortable with the financial obligation. If you applied to more than one private high school (and you should), see who offers you the best financial aid package; if it wasn’t your first-choice school, go back to them and discuss your offer. In some cases, the school may be willing to match the other school’s offer if they really see you as a good fit.
Lastly, pay attention to deadlines. Applying late speaks volumes about the type of student you are, so don’t let this happen. Submit your application, along with any supporting documents, as soon as you can and prepare yourself for an interview where you are polite, charming, mature, articulate, and enthusiastic.