While earning good grades and scoring well on standardized tests are skills that eighth-graders have honed for years, writing an application essay for Catholic high schools is a new challenge that can be stressful. Fortunately, application essays to high schools in the Archdiocese of Washington tend to fall into one of two categories: essays that explain what the student can bring to the school and essays that describe why the student wishes to attend that particular high school.

Describing Yourself

Brainstorm a list of at least 10 of your activities, interests and accomplishments. These can include extracurricular activities, school awards, involvement in your church or even personal achievements such as teaching a younger sibling to play baseball or overcoming an illness.

Review your list and write down personal qualities that you needed to excel in each of those situations. For instance, if you made honor roll, you showed intelligence, while if you were an altar server, you showed faith. Try to come up with at least two qualities for each activity, achievement or interest. If you can't come up with any cross the item off your list.

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Study publications of the school to which you're applying and make note of what qualities they value in their students. For example, Stone Ridge emphasizes leadership and social action, while Good Counsel accentuates the values of the Xaverian Brothers.

Go back to your list of qualities and circle or highlight the ones that match the values of the school to which you're applying. These are the qualities that you should emphasize. You can also highlight any qualities that you feel are particular strengths of yours even if they don't match the mission statement of the school.

Brainstorm specific times that you showed the qualities that you circled or highlighted. If you said that you were a good leader in drama club, what did you do to prove it? If you can't come up with a specific example, cross it off your list. High schools don't just want to hear you describe your qualities; they want proof.

Write your rough draft. Include the qualities and examples you listed while brainstorming. Don't worry too much about organization or grammar here; the goal is just to get a rough draft on paper.

Read over your rough draft and make any necessary corrections. Print a copy and ask your parents and English teacher for advice.

Describing the School

Brainstorm a list of at least seven qualities that attracted you to the school in the first place.

Study the publications of the school to which you're applying, paying special attention to the mission statement. Do you mention at least two or three of the qualities that they emphasize about themselves? If not, choose the two or three qualities from the publication that most appeal to you and add them to your list.

Brainstorm reasons why these factors are important to you. Come up with at least three reasons for each factor; if you can't, cross it off. If some reasons seem shallow, like "because football is fun," explain why you enjoy football so much. Choose the reasons that are most important to you and highlight them.

Write your rough draft. Include the reasons you listed while brainstorming. Don't worry too much about organization or grammar here; the goal is just to get a rough draft on paper.

Read over your rough draft and make any necessary corrections. Print a copy and ask your parents and English teacher for advice.

Tips

  • Be honest. Don't just tell the high schools what you think they want to hear.
  • Write a different essay for each school. If you mention Jesuit values in your DeMatha essay, they'll know that it's a recycled Gonzaga essay and be less likely to accept you.
  • Most school websites have a section titled "Mission and Philosophy." This will be your best resource for finding what qualities the schools value in their students.
  • If you're having trouble with variety of vocabulary, use a thesaurus -- but don't overuse it. If you use a word without really knowing what it means, you'll probably use it incorrectly.

Warnings

  • Never include anything in your essay about being better than other people around you, unless it's a statement of fact such as "I received the MVP Award for being the best player on the football team." You're already promoting yourself in the essay; belittling others will make you sound arrogant.
  • Don't just use spell check. Some typos involve accidentally typing one word instead of another, such as "sill" instead of "skill," and spell check won't catch those mistakes.

About the Author

A resident of the Baltimore area, Rachel Kolar has been writing since 2001. Her educational research was featured at the Maryland State Department of Education Professional Schools Development Conference in 2008. Kolar holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Kenyon College and a Master of Arts in teaching from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland.