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Last Updated On: January 14th, 2021

Tis the season! Well…it’s that time of year again. Interview Time!

If you’re a stressed parent of a private school applicant you’re probably going into a mild panic attack-style sweat waiting for the highly anticipated interview. As many schools have adapted this year to the pandemic and need for online schooling, they still haven’t quite eliminated the ISEE. There’s still one lingering section that seems to be appearing across a majority of the schools…THE ESSAY.

Most schools are requesting a timed essay section that mimics the final section of the ISEE.


  • It’s TIMED. Anywhere between 15-30 minutes on the clock. Usually schools will interview you prior to the essay. Usually there isn’t a proctor in your face while you type. However, schools are trying various forms of security to ensure students don’t “cheat” or seek outside assistance during this timed segment.
  • QUESTION! You don’t know the question ahead of time. WEE! This is the fun part. Will it ask you about time and space travel or will you need to whip out your 5 point plan for solving homelessness in America. You don’t really know until you jump in.
  • BE YOURSELF! It needs to sound like you. In the past schools used the essay portion of the ISEE to make sure the writing styles aligned with those essays and short answer supplements that students sent in for their applications. Now without the ISEE they have to find another way to match the student and their words. In case it isn’t obvious…this has to be done because many parents micromanage the essays and it’s important for schools to genuinely know the student’s writing level.
  • They will not refer to this as an “ISEE essay.” It is being called a “writing sample,” but we all know what they mean. It’s one and the same. For more on what to expect on the standard ISEE essay check out my blog: What To Expect On The ISEE Essay.


  • How do you prepare for anything? PRACTICE. It’s not the easy way out and it’s not fast, but practice always makes perfect. Practice writing timed essays and writing samples. Give yourself at least one essay prompt per week.
  • Practice all styles of writing. Persuasive, descriptive, narrative, expository. Get into each. Learn the elements and facets of each style. You never know what a school may want to see. Best to practice every style so you’re ready for any surprise they might throw your way.
  • Know Thyself. Instead of facing every timed essay as a blank slate, get familiar with yourself and the topics you gravitate towards. If I asked you to pick a world problem to solve, what would it be? Although the world may seem very stressful and it can be hard to pick just one, please remember you don’t have to find a cure for the Coronavirus. Your answer is meant to show where your heart lies. Are you someone who wants to nurture the community? Do you love animals? Do you have a great vision for the future of education? This is where your ideals shine.


  • THESIS please. This is very important. No matter what grade level your student is applying for they must know how to write this effectively. It can be a simple comma list format, but it must be articulate and thought out.

PRO TIP: If you can add parallelism in the thesis, it will look and sound stunning.

Example from The University of New Hampshire: Parallel Structure Guide

Wordsworth uses themes of hallucination, sleep, and death to illustrate the ties between reality and the world of the mind.

If you’re still unsure what parallelism means…check out this helpful lesson: 7.3 Parallelism – Writing for Success

  • Three BODY PARAGRAPHS. Don’t skimp here. You need three meaty paragraphs with supporting details and personal examples. Each paragraph should be at least five sentences and if you can manage a well developed essay with more than five, DO IT. Remember your strongest “reason” or paragraph needs to always be first. People are less and less patient in this world. Best to hook them early with your finest work presenting it’s face first.
  • INTRO and CONCLUSION. Listen, I get that 30 minutes isn’t a lot of time, but even if you can do a simple two sentence intro and a two sentence conclusion, that’s a win. It shows that you know how to write a 5 paragraph essay. It shows that you know what needs to be where, but you merely lacked the time to make it as full as you would have liked.

PRO TIP: Don’t use phrases like “In Conclusion.” There are so many other great ways to end an essay. You HAVE to restate your thesis so why not connect the final paragraph back to your thesis. End your essay with sentences that display your argument on a larger world-wide scale. Get reflective and share how your ideas will impact the world around you.

Last question…DO YOU HAVE ANY INSIDER TIPS? Why yes, I do.

  • Unlike the ISEE Essay, most schools are giving options for the essay prompts. Usually they provide two prompts for you to choose from. One is typically more practical while the other is more creative.

For example…

Practical: If you were the leader of a country what would you do to improve the lives of your citizens?

Creative: If you could invent anything in the world, what would it be and why?

  • Try to have all your essays from applications online and easily accessible. Some schools will allow you to copy and paste your essay into the document or system they’re using.
  • Occasionally I have heard of some students who have either done the essay prompt in an application essay already or who have already written an essay that is nearly identical. By copying and pasting your revised essay into the document you can use the time to instead make edits and adjustments as needed. It’s great when this kind of surprise happens!
  • Most schools have the timed essay or writing sample directly following a school interview. This is a blessing. Use that post interview adrenaline to propel you into the next task. You usually won’t get a proctor either. Use that knowledge to ease your mind and really get into your groove.
  • Remember what you wrote in your application essays. What topics did you focus on? What characteristics about yourself did you choose to share? What did you talk about in your interview? Now try to share something else.
  • Use the essay as another opportunity to showcase your personality and interests. Of course, you must be authentic to yourself and who you are, but most students have many qualities of themselves they never get to touch on in the application and interview process. The essay is your time to shine! Give it the energy and space it deserves.

For more help on how to “get personal” on your essays, check out my latest blog on college essays and getting personal when writing: Essay Examples: Effective Techniques

Happy writing!

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