The Art of the Essay

Bryan Geary
Tis the season for applying to St. Paul’s – what you need to know

By now, students who hope to enter St. Paul’s School in the fall have taken tours, weighed their options, and begun completing applications. Many will spend their holiday break tackling one of the most challenging parts of the process: making their applications stand out amongst the others. For those familiar with the process at the School, the answer lies in the essay section.
After all, by the time January 15 rolls around, eight sets of eyes in the St. Paul’s Admission office will each have read roughly 200 applications. In three essays of 2,000 characters and three short answers of 700 characters, prospective students have the opportunity to allow the reader to get to know them in a more meaningful way. After eight years of reading submissions, St. Paul’s Director of Regional Scholarships and Assistant Director of Financial Aid Alessia Carega ‘95 has some advice.
“Stay true to yourself,” she says. “Essays are a chance for students to open up and tell us who they are in ways that a transcript can’t capture.”
When Cal Schrupp ’19 applied, he talked about growing up in nearby Gilford, New Hampshire, and how that experience helped him become a part of the St. Paul’s community. Schrupp, however, remembers one detail in particular about his first attempt at that essay. “It was really bad,” he says with a smile. He did most of the work during his family’s annual trip to Canada during the winter break and says that dealing with feedback from his family was difficult at times. He wanted to balance heeding their advice with being authentic. Looking back, there’s one piece of advice he would have given himself. “Ignore the question,” he says. “I believe the best way to do it is to think about things that you want to write about first, and then figure out how you can answer the question with those things.”
In her time at St. Paul’s, Carega says that there has been a concerted effort to make the application process “more accessible” to more people. The application now includes more short essay questions, similar to a college application, in an effort to give students a chance to showcase not just their writing skills, but also themselves. While good writing is important, Carega notes that it’s not simply an essay writing contest. “We’re looking for insight into the person,” she says.
Sydney Bednar ’19 says that the brainstorm part of her application proved to be most cumbersome. A piece of advice from her brother, who also attended St. Paul’s, led her to a topic that helped her say what she wanted others to know about her. “He told me to write about something that was important to me and not simply answer the question,” she says. “I wrote about [the Disney movie] Mulan and about how her personality inspired me to be resilient and to be myself.” Bednar believes that her essay allowed the readers to envision how she would fit into the community at St. Paul’s. “I believe that the Admission Office is looking for students who truly want to be here,” she says. “Regardless of our backgrounds, everyone in this community brings the same energy.”
“Well-written essays really pull an application together,” Carega says. “It’s a moment when the student’s voice comes alive and we get a real glimpse of who they are.”