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SHSAT School’s students are the most talented in NYC. As such, they regularly apply to not only specialized high schools, but the many other elite public schools. In this article, we’ll share advice on choosing the right topic and writing high-quality essays for admission to Beacon School.

Beacon School is known for having no Regents requirements, project-based learning, rigorous academic classes, and exceptional college placement. Beacon is often a top choice for students more focused on the humanities and social studies.

While the specialized high schools use only one metric for admissions, Beacon uses an entire portfolio with numerous requirements. This year, the admissions process for the school has changed. Students will no longer interview for a seat at the school, and students will now be required to write two personal statements, as opposed to the previous requirement of one essay.

The Prompts

Beacon School’s essay prompts are as follows:

  • Part 1 (no more than 500 words) – What do you do in your extracurricular life that demonstrates a commitment to learning beyond the classroom? Discuss a special dedication to, a special talent for, or interest in the arts, technology, community service, an academic subject, or sports.
  • Part 2 (no more than 500 words) – Discuss a time when you overcame adversity. Discuss the challenge, how you overcame it, and what you learned from the experience.

How to Choose a Topic

Choosing the perfect topic for an admissions essay is often a source of stress for students. Keep in mind that how you write is much more important than what you write about. The admissions team wants to see that you can think critically, reflect on your experiences, and present a creative or interesting perspective. A topic that may seem mundane may allow you to reflect on an interesting idea. A topic that may seem too personal may allow you to show the admissions committee why you would be such a good addition to the school!

When choosing your topic, try not to focus solely on impressing the admissions team. Find a topic that is significant or meaningful to you. This topic will be easier to write about and will help the admissions team get to know you.

If you’re experiencing writer’s block, the following exercises can help you find inspiration:


At the top of a sheet of paper (or a document on your computer), write out the essay topic. Then, for ten minutes, write anything that comes to mind. Don’t second-guess your ideas, edit what you’re writing, or worry about grammar. The intention of this exercise is simply to get your ideas on paper. You can fix them up later.

After the ten minutes, read through your ideas. Mark your favorites, then sketch out a basic plan for an essay on these favorite topics. Which one looks the most promising? Which will let you discuss yourself in an interesting way? That’s your topic!

Inspiration Scavenger Hunt

If you’re really stuck, looking around your house for inspiration can help. Read through old journals, browse through scrapbooks, or see what forgotten items you can find in your closet or under your bed.

You may find something that reminds you of a special talent/interest or a time that you overcame adversity. Topics that seem small or insignificant at first often produce the best, most insightful essays.

Ask Others

You ultimately want to pick a topic that you love, but talking to your friends and family members can give you some ideas. Read the Beacon prompts to people who know you well and ask them what comes to mind.

Beacon School’s Rubric

According to the rubric from Beacon School, maximum points are awarded for essays showing that a student:

  • Part 1 – “demonstrates a passion for learning beyond the classroom through excellence in and a sustained commitment to one or more extracurricular activities.”
  • Part 2 – “demonstrates extraordinary ability to overcome and learn from challenges.”

So, what are you good at? What do you love to do, even outside of school? What’s an activity or hobby that you’ve pursued for a long time? Maybe you’re a bookworm with a huge book collection, or a long-time dancer who continuously hones your craft. Perhaps you’re a dedicated baseball player who attends camps every summer, or an aspiring scientist who designs your own experiments.

What challenges have you experienced and overcome? If you don’t come from a particularly challenging background, it doesn’t have to be something huge. Have you ever overcome an injury? Designed a system for handling arguments with your sibling? Made a mistake and grown from it?

Once you’ve selected a topic, it’s time to start writing!

Advice on Writing Personal Statements and Creative Nonfiction

When writing creative nonfiction and/or a personal statement, it’s fine to use the typical five-paragraph essay structure. However, it’s important to add more pizzazz and personality. Use vivid details, include interesting anecdotes, and write in your own unique voice. A personal statement should “sound” like you—a mature you.

Start your introduction in media res, or in the middle of the action. Tell an anecdote (story) that introduces your topic with specific details. After that, each paragraph of your essay should focus on a specific aspect of your topic.

For the second essay, for example, your introduction could tell the story of the conflict that you had to overcome. The first body paragraph could describe why the conflict or challenge mattered to you. Your second paragraph could outline how you solved the problem or overcame the challenge, and the third paragraph could reflect on what you learned from the experience or how you grew as a person.

Below, we’ll share some tips on writing personal statements.

Plan It Out

Taking the time to plan your essay before writing is crucial. Outline the important points you want to include in your essay. Select a topic for each of your body paragraphs and decide what supporting details you’ll include.

If you start writing without a plan, you might find that your essay is off topic, unfocused, or confusing.

Be Specific

Use specific details in your essay, especially when sharing your anecdote in the introduction. Think about what the experience looked, sounded, smelled, or felt like. Including these vivid details brings your story to life. It also helps your essay stand out from others.

Follow the writing rule “Show, don’t tell.” Instead of saying that you love to read, describe the way every available space in your bedroom is crammed full of books.

Find Your Voice

When someone reads your personal statement, it should “sound” like you’re talking to them. You don’t want to be overly casual, like you’re sending a text message to your best friend. But imagine that you’re writing a letter to a favorite older relative or talking to a trusted teacher.


Before you submit your essays, double and triple check for spelling and grammar mistakes. An essay with tons of mistakes will not make a positive impression. You should also make sure that your meaning is clear and that you stay on topic throughout the essay.

Ask older family members or even your English teacher to read your essays and provide feedback. Read your essay backwards or aloud to help you catch errors you might normally miss.

Beacon-Specific Advice

For the first Beacon essay, make sure that your excitement or passion for the activity you’re describing is apparent. The essay should have an enthusiastic tone and show that you’re truly dedicated to the interest you’ve chosen to describe.

When writing the second essay, make sure that it doesn’t sound like you’re complaining about the adversity or challenge you’ve experienced. Simply state the facts about what happened. Then, focus the bulk of your essay on explaining how you overcame the challenge and what you’ve learned as a result.

By following these tips, you’ll write excellent Beacon School essays that help you stand out from the competition.

For more advice on Beacon admissions, personal statements, or admissions to any other school in New York City, contact us at or follow us on twitter @schoolshsat!