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ISAAGNY Upper School 2020-21 Common Essay Prompt Guide

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Welcome one and all to College Essay Advisors’ ISAAGNY (The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York) Upper School Common Essay Prompt Guide! The ISAAGNY common essay prompts are meant to provide you with some creative inspiration to help you write about yourself in a meaningful way.
Your main goal in responding to the prompt of your choosing (in 750 words or less) should be to reveal more about yourself to admissions officers. This is your opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice to distinguish yourself from other similarly qualified applicants.  Let’s dive in!

ISAAGNY High School Common Writing Topics:

1. Schools are an excellent platform to give students the tools and space to embrace other cultures to help fight systemic bias and racism. If you had the opportunity to meet with your school leaders to implement or identify meaningful and helpful ways to make a difference, what would it be?

This prompt is perfect for the diplomats, visionaries, and social reformers of the world. What admissions really wants to know is: What do you care about? How do you want to leave your mark on the world? Where is your place in the fight against systemic bias and institutional racism? And how would you want to act on your values?

Maybe you’d meet with your school leaders to discuss opportunities to diversify the student body, or to brainstorm ways to implement anti-racist education in the curriculum. Perhaps you watched an eye-opening documentary with your parents that you think all the teenagers (and their parents) should see. 

Ultimately, admissions wants to accept socially aware students who are committed to being a part of the solution to systemic issues. Your goal with this prompt is to tell admissions more about yourself while providing thoughtful commentary and actionable solutions for combating societal ills.

2. Describe one of your favorite family traditions and why it is meaningful to you.

The fun thing about essay prompts like this one is that you get to gush about something that brings you joy. The family tradition you choose to write about can really run the gamut. We recommend getting started by writing down everything that comes to mind — nothing is off-limits during the brainstorming and freewriting phases of the essay writing process. Then, once you have some material to work with, you can start reflecting on what those traditions mean to you. 

Maybe every year on Halloween, your aunt hosts a costume party with a dance contest that your entire family attends (that you won two years in a row, nbd). What is it about having the whole family together that feels so blissful? Perhaps every summer, your family drives to Brooklyn, NY for the West Indian-American Carnival Day to celebrate your Caribbean roots and culture. How does the atmosphere make you feel? Do you look forward to the parade, music, and food every year?

Finally, make sure to answer the second part of the prompt: Why is it meaningful to you? How have your family traditions shaped who you are? How can you lead admissions to a new way of understanding the person you are today?

3. What have you learned about yourself during the Covid-19 pandemic (as a learner, as a family member, as an individual, or as a community member)?

This prompt does students many favors in its clarity and straightforward nature. Schools want to know how Covid-19 has impacted your life and what you’ve learned about yourself over the past year. 

It goes without saying that all students’ lives and modes of operation have been impacted by the pandemic. What you want to avoid in your response is elaboration on the obvious. Nearly every applicant has endured the challenges of transitioning from in-person to online learning. They have all adapted in one way or another to the shifted schedules, truncated curriculums and imperfect grading metrics. What admissions wants to know is, how did you respond to these enormous shifts in learning and lifestyle? And what did you learn about yourself in the process?

Maybe you stepped up and delivered groceries to the elderly and other at-risk populations in your community when coronavirus cases in your state skyrocketed. What did you learn about your ability to rise to the occasion? Perhaps you took on more responsibilities at home and tutored your younger siblings to keep pandemic-related learning loss at bay. What did you learn about being a team player? Do you have more respect and gratitude for your parents now that you’ve walked a mile in their shoes?

4. What is something you would like to learn more about (knowledge you would like to gain/a skill you would like to develop)? Why do you want to learn this? How will you develop this expertise? What resources would you need to accomplish this? Who will you enlist to help you?

If you were intimidated by the sheer number of questions in this prompt, we have good news for you. This prompt is not as complicated as it may seem upon first glance. Admissions officers want to accept applicants who are passionate about learning; they want to know what piques your interest. So, don’t focus on all of the different questions, initially. Instead, focus on your interests.

What do you want to learn more about? When have you pursued knowledge outside of the classroom? What you choose to write about can be scholarly in nature, like your fascination with marine life and the coral reef, or it can be about something you wouldn’t necessarily learn about in school, like the history of Black chess players or 18th-century American fashion.

Once you’ve nailed down your topic, revisit the questions to make sure you’ve touched upon them all. And remember, so long as you’re revealing new information about yourself to admissions, you’re on the right track!

5. Since it’s an election year, consider this: if you could run for ANY public office, what would it be and why? What would your platform be?

Another way of thinking about this prompt might be, “What’s important to you? What values do you live by? What kind of change do you want to make in the world?” 

Maybe you dream of being President one day, uniting the American people over shared values of peace and harmony. Perhaps you’re not interested in the presidency, but you would love to be the mayor of your small seaside town, so that you could make every beach a dog-friendly beach! 

Admissions isn’t necessarily looking for you to have strong opinions on public policy or recommendations for implementing the Green New Deal (but feel free to write about them if you do!), they just want to learn more about the way you think and interact with the world around you. Maybe you only want to run for public office so you can make ice cream free for all children! (You have our vote!) Be as authentic as possible and admissions will surely be impressed.

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