Application portals like Gateway to Prep School and the SAO usually require students to submit a graded essay. The portals do not give students much guidance on what type of essay to submit. Here are some guidelines to follow.

Criteria for Your Essay

  • Your graded writing sample should be an essay from your current school.
  • The essay should be from this academic year (your current grade).
  • The assignment can be from English class or a humanities class, like religion, ethics, or history. Your essay should showcase your writing skills, so avoid things like lab reports.
  • The essay must be in English.
  • Both handwritten and digital essays are acceptable.
    • Handwritten essays should have the teacher’s comments, grades and notes on it. Scan or photograph the essay, then upload it as a PDF.
    • Typed essays should also have the teacher’s comments on it. If you can download the essay as a PDF with the teacher’s comments, this is ideal. However, often teachers leave comments on Google Docs, and those comments won’t be included in the PDF. In this case, take screen shots of the essay and comments, and create a file of the screenshots.

The quality of your writing is more important the the grade

In general, you should submit essays that are 85% and higher. This indicates you met all the of teacher’s requirements well, and this is what most applicants will be submitting. However, a good grade is not enough — you also have ensure your writing is up to the school’s standard.

To understand what this means, think about how a 90% essay in a low-level English class may only score a 60% in an advanced prep school. So, the prep schools will make their own judgements/assessments about your essay, and see if it is up to par with their own standards of grading. In other words, send in something you are confident would score well at an elite prep school.

Here are some ways to ensure your essay stands out amongst the competition:

  • Essays should have a standard essay structure which includes a thesis statement, paragraphs, a conclusion, etc.
  • Although there is no minimum for the word count, you want to submit something that showcases your writing style and skills. Consider that whatever you choose to submit is saying to admissions “this is some of my best work”. I suggest 400+ words at the bare minimum.
  • Choose an essay where your ideas are creative and interesting. Avoid basic essays and assignments, even if you got a high score on them.
  • Avoiding controversial topics, in most cases. Prep schools value diversity, equality and sensitivity — if you are submitting an essay about a controversial topic, make sure you have done your research or can speak directly from experience. Sensitive topics include issues of racism, sexism, harassment, oppression, violence in schools, etc. Again, if you are not well-versed in these topics, you risk being misinterpreted, and that will flag your application.

Check that you are writing at your grade level

Ensure that you are writing at or above your grade level. Below are examples of what a competitive essay would look like for prep school. Note that the lengths of these essays are not reflective of how much you are expected to write — they are just examples that showcase the expected quality. As mentioned, I suggest a length of at least 400 words.

To see other grades, check out these writing samples of different levels, with each essay ranging from a score of 1 to 5. Anglophones should aim for an essay that looks like a level 4 or 5. Francophones/allophones should aim for an essay that is at least a level 3.

This expectation might seem high compared to your current curriculum. That is normal — these prep schools have limited spaces, and the applicant pool is made up of strong, high-level students. Below are some solutions for what to do if you don’t have an essay that is up to standard.

What to do when you don’t have a good essay

  • If your English courses are too basic, ask your English or humanities teacher for an extra assignment that they can grade. Feel free to show them this list, which will help them come up with an appropriate prompt/grading rubric. If you need help finding topics to write about, ask Chat GPT for topics, or meet with me in-person or online to discuss personalized essay suggestions.
  • If your English and humanities teachers are not willing to grade a new essay, I can find you additional solutions depending on your situation. You can contact me here for guidance and advice.