The Personal Essay is the fifth and final section of the ISEE Upper Level. The essay is not scored; however, a copy of it is sent to each school to which families send their scores. Students have 30-minutes in which to write up to 2-pages in response to one prompt.

Although the essay is not technically scored, it is nonetheless an important opportunity for students to showcase their unfiltered individuality and convey their excellent communication skills.

ISEE Upper Level Sample Essay Prompts

  1. What is something you have accomplished that has made a great impact on you?
  2. Who was your most important role model as a child? Describe this person and his or her influence on you.
  3. If you were in charge of a school trip, where would you go and why?
  4. If you could change an action you took in the past, what would you change and why?
  5. What aspect of high school interest you the most?
  6. If you could gain one new skill what would it be and why?

Example Brainstorming, Outlines, and Responses

What is something you have accomplished that has made a great impact on you?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about something that you have done that has had an effect on your life in some way. After completing this task, you could be a completely different person, or you are more firmly set on the path towards your goals.

This accomplishment could be big or small, charitable or self‐serving, or serious or hilarious. It doesn’t matter as long as the thing you accomplishment affected you in some meaningful way. For example:

  • Victory or defeat in a sport
  • Award won or lost in a competition
  • Book or book series that you’ve read
  • Vacation you’ve taken
  • Community service you’ve completed
  • Family event you’ve attended
  • Church activity in which you’ve participated
  • Individual (human or animal) that you’ve formed a relationship with
  • Goals that you’ve met in and/or out of school
  • Movie that you’ve seen

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) I visited England for the first time in 7th grade.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) I went to Shakespeare’s hometown.
      • (Detail 1) There were lots of small performances.
      • (Detail 2) His home was very small with a big, fancy bed.
    • (Supporting Idea 2) I went to visit Stonehenge.
      • (Detail 1) The audio tour was very informative.
      • (Detail 2) The ruins were awe inspiring.
    • (Supporting Idea 3) London is a large, cosmopolitan city.
      • (Detail 1) It has lots of great, free museums.
      • (Detail 2) I really enjoyed the experience of afternoon tea.
  • (Conclusion) My family’s visit to England was eye-opening.

Sample Response

Something that I have accomplished that has made a great impact on me is the vacation I took to England last year. I had never been outside of the U.S., and I was very excited when my parents told me we would be flying to London right after my midterms. My classmates and I had just learned about Shakespeare in English and read abridged versions of several of his plays, so my parents thought it would be a great idea to visit his home. Plus, we had been learning about Stonehenge and various other ruins in History, and my parents said I should see some of them in person. Upon visiting Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge, and the museums in London, my interest in the world outside of my home and school grew immensely.

Although we spent the first day of the trip walking around London, I like to say our trip really started on the second day when we drove to Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. The village was beautiful, but I really wanted to see the home of “The Father of English Literature,” as my teacher would say. A woman greeted us with the introduction to his “Romeo and Juliet,” and I was impressed with how easily she spoke Shakespeare’s words. Then, I felt so strange as we entered his home, and a wave of goose- bumps swept over me. I could imagine Shakespeare playing about the house and growing up to be the man who would forever change the English language. By just standing in the middle of his home, I felt a respect for Shakespeare that was greater than anything I had felt in the classroom.

On the third day of our trip, we ventured out to see Stonehenge. I had seen pictures and information on Stonehenge, but I honestly had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, I looked out at the ruin and felt the same strange feeling as I did in Shakespeare’s home. Stonehenge was amazing. We arrived early, so the sun hit the stones in a way that made them seem mystical. I didn’t even bother to listen to the audio tour as I slowly circled the ruin. We learned about so many ruins in History, but here I was standing near one of the most well-known. Someone placed these enormous stones here centuries ago for a purpose we still haven’t quite figured out, and I walked on the same ground they did all those years ago. I eventually walked back to our rented car in a daze, and I spent the rest of the day thinking about the people who built Stonehenge and what it would be like to meet them in person.

Even with Stratford-upon-Avon and Stonehenge nearby, London is not empty of its own wonders. For the rest of our trip, we visited many museums and saw equally amazing things as Shakespeare’s home and Stonehenge. In particular, I was most interested in the Rosetta Stone, the large stone tablet that allowed us to decipher several ancient languages. The Rosetta Stone was at the forefront of the British Museum’s collection, and tons of tourists surrounded its glass case. The stone was much larger than I anticipated, and I could clearly see the various markings covering it. Just as with Shakespeare’s home and Stonehenge, I suddenly imagined scientists discovering the Rosetta Stone and marveling at the opportunities it presented to understanding ancient languages. It was amazing to me that a rock could open so many doors to solving history’s secrets. I wanted to know what other seemingly mundane object was the key to more of history, and we scoured the British Museum searching for them.

All in all, my family’s trip to England was an eye-opening experience. I saw with my own eyes the makers of all that I was learning in school and not just from what I was reading in class. My family and I even discussed everything we had seen over afternoon tea in the British Museum, which is something I had never done with what I learned in school over dinner at home. I was truly excited about learning, and my trip to England still fuels that excitement to this day. In the end, visiting Stratford-upon- Avon, Stonehenge, and London’s museums opened me up not only to information but to the desire for that information. I can’t wait for our trip to South America next year to see the all of the ruins there!

What is something you have accomplished that has made a great impact on you?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about the most important individual that you have modeled yourself and/or the things you do in some way and their influence on you. This individual does not need to be someone you have actually met, nor does his or her influence have to have had that great of an impact on you.

However, role models are usually those individuals who have changed or shaped your life in an effective way. Your choice does not necessarily have to be heavy or serious, but you think carefully about your choice. For example, your role model can be a/an:

  • family member (parent, grandparent, aunt/uncle, sibling, cousin)
  • friend
  • teacher
  • leader
  • author
  • actor/actress
  • sports figure
  • historical figure
  • fictional character (book, television, comic, video game, etc.)

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) Batman is an excellent role model for me.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) He fights crime.
      • (Detail 1) He puts dangerous criminals in jail.
    • (Supporting Idea 2) He uses his money to help others.
      • (Detail 1) As a philanthropist, he improves the life of Gotham’s residents.
    • (Supporting Idea 3) He thrives in a difficult life.
      • (Detail 1) His parents died when he was young.
      • (Detail 2) He cannot reveal his true identity.
  • (Conclusion) Batman has inspired me to fight injustice, help others, and be humble.

Sample Response

My most important role model as a child was Batman. Even though he is a fictional person, I have always looked up and admired the good things that he does in the comics, on TV, and in the movies. Growing up, many of my birthday parties were Batman- themed, and I regularly dressed up as Batman for Halloween (including this past Halloween). I would watch the Batman cartoon series over and over again, and I’m sure my parents could even quote several episodes now. Batman is a great role model as he always tries to do the right thing as a person and as a crime-fighter, he is incredibly charitable to those in need, and he has persevered through a very difficult life.

Although I realize that Batman goes above the law with how he fights crime, I know that his heart is in the right place. When Batman lost his parents as a child at the hands of a criminal, he made it his mission to battle crime in Gotham City. Batman utilizes his intelligence and vast wealth to stop criminals such as the Joker at every turn, all the while trying to minimize the damage the criminals cause. For example, Batman thwarted the efforts of Ra’s al Ghul, a man determined to destroy Gotham City. Ra’s al Ghul decided that Gotham City needed to be destroyed because it was too corrupt, but Batman knew that it could be saved. Though Ra’s al Ghul managed to wreak havoc on a portion of Gotham City, Batman was able to stop it from spreading. Batman’s crime- fighting inspires me to stop violence and other destructive actions whenever I can. Once, I saw one of my classmates bullying another in the hall. Without thinking, I got between them and was shoved by the bully in the process. I stood back up and staid between them, and eventually the bully walked away. Thinking about it later, I realized that Batman always puts himself in danger to help others, so why can’t I risk a little injury to do the same? In the end, I felt I had done the right thing.

Batman and Bruce Wayne are one in the same person, as Batman is Bruce Wayne’s crime-fighting alter ego. However, the actions of one are in the same spirit as the other. Bruce Wayne is incredibly wealthy because of his parents’ businesses and investments. Bruce Wayne uses this wealth to help those in need in Gotham City. For example, Bruce Wayne and his family set up the Wayne Foundation Building, which works on several social projects like soup kitchens and funds scientific research. The Thomas Wayne Foundation funds medicine and medical help and manages several free clinics across Gotham City. Along with these two foundations and many others like it, Bruce Wayne, or Batman, seeks to improve the quality of life for everyone in Gotham City. To that end, I am inspired to perform whatever charitable work that I can. Every holiday season, I work in soup kitchens to help those who can’t feed themselves. I regularly participate in food and clothing drives with my church, and I perform community service with Small Steps, an organization that helps underprivileged young people.

Aside from his acts of charity and crime-fighting, Batman has led a very difficult life. Both of his parents were killed one night when he was very young, and he had no other family except Alfred, the family butler. However, Batman made the most of it, and found a father figure in Alfred. He selflessly seeks to help those in need, even though he could not claim any credit for himself. He is a vigilante, you see, since he fights crime without the approval of the police. Batman has to forever remain in the shadows and cannot claim any credit for his actions because he would be locked away for it. Whenever I feel down about how life is treating me, I think of all the hardships that Batman has faced. I realize that I should make the most of the situation, because there are many people who have it worse than I do. I also realize that, like Batman, I should help these people.

All in all, Batman was, and still is, the most important role model to me as a child. He inspires me to stop violence and wrongdoing whenever I can, strive to help as many people as possible, and to overcome hardships with optimistic thinking. Although he is fictional, Batman demonstrates what it really means to be a good person.

If you were in charge of a school trip, where would you go and why?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about an eventful school trip that you would like to go to with your friends. This could be a place that would be educational, sports related, or anything that just interests you.

You should think about all of the necessary things that a class must need for this trip. The trip should also be meaningful in some way. For Example:

  • Movie theater
  • Baseball game
  • Science museum
  • The waterpark
  • NASA
  • Washington D.C.
  • The Texas Renaissance festival
  • Rodeo

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) I would lead a school trip to NASA.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) NASA might close soon.
      • (Detail 1) NASA’s budget is always getting cut.
      • (Detail 2) We should see it in case it closes.
    • (Supporting Idea 2) NASA’s accomplishments are an important part of history.
      • (Detail 1) NASA astronauts were the first men on the moon.
      • (Detail 2) Examine moon artifacts.
    • (Supporting Idea 3) We can learn more about space science.
      • (Detail 1) Understand what it’s like to live in space.
      • (Detail 2) See astronaut tools and equipment.
  • (Conclusion) A trip to NASA would be historically, culturally, and scientifically valuable.

Sample Response

School trips do not occur very often, and they should always be carefully selected. If I were in charge of a school trip, I would take my fellow classmates to a place that is not only full of excitement and fun, but also must be educational. That is why I would take my class to the NASA Space Center in Houston, Texas. NASA would be the best possible trip because it is a historical place for the United States, extremely educational, and most importantly, we would have to go before there are even more budget cuts.

We must go to NASA before any more possible budget cuts that could potentially close down the Space Center occur. The cuts have stopped the manned missions to space and limited the number of unmanned missions. Most American astronauts now have to go to Russia in order to explore outer space. The Space Center in Houston was essential to the missions. I would hate to be one of the many students that did not get the chance to explore the amazing institution that put the first man on the moon.

The Space Center holds some of the most indispensable memories from our past. It is of great importance for any student to learn as much history as he or she can, and to be able to see the history firsthand will inspire students to learn even more. There are displays filled with some of the old space suits, equipment, and moon rocks. The Space Center even has simulation areas. Student can experience high speeds, fly in the old space crafts, or even pretend to be the first astronauts to walk on the moon. The history of NASA can show us how the race to the moon inspired the advancement of science and technology.

However, NASA is still developing new and exciting equipment and tools to help possible missions to Mars and other planets. In the past few years, they have launched numerous satellite missions, landed two rovers on Mars, and created countless of inventions to help space travel. All of these things can be seen at the Space Center, and should be seen by all students. Just by observing these new gadgets and gizmos, student can be motivated to become future engineers, scientists, physicists, mathematicians, and so much more. What is more important than sparking a student’s imagination?

Picking a school trip may seem simple to most, but for me it must meet specific requirements. It is important to think about opportunities that may be missed due to time. School trips should also consider important moments in our history. They should also inspire students to explore the fascinating world around us, and show the relevance of our studies. In the end, the school trip I would plan would be a mission to NASA, where my classmates and I could learn the history and future of space travels before
it’s too late!

If you could change an action you took in the past, what would you change and why?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about a moment in your life that you may regret. Think of something that you may have done that may have affected another person. Maybe you did something that changed your life in a bad way. What would you change and why? For example:

  • I didn’t study for my history test and failed
  • I blamed my sister for breaking the T
  • I pretended to be hurt during the basketball tournament
  • I forgot to get my Mom something for Mother’s day
  • I stole a candy bar from the store
  • I burned my thumb trying to light a firework

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) I was wrong for faking an injury during a sporting event.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) I should stand up to fear.
      • (Detail 1) Should not let fear take over.
      • (Detail 2) It’s ok to lose.
    • (Supporting Idea 2) Team effort
      • (Detail 1) It takes a team to win.
    • (Supporting Idea 3) Be a good example.
      • (Detail 1) Show my little brother it’s okay to lose and play fairly.
  • (Conclusion) I shouldn’t have faked an injury, but now I’ve learned form my mistake.

Sample Response

The action I regret the most happened a year ago. It was the championship match of the 7th grade boys’ basketball team and we were down by ten points with eight minutes left. I was tired and frustrated, due to it not being my best game. I panicked and fell to the floor, grasped my leg and faked an injury. This was not my most honorable moment. I want to erase this from the history books because I should have stood up to my fears, I could have won the game, and I could have set an example for my younger brother.

Standing up to your fears is not an easy thing to do, but it can teach you a lifelong lesson. I pretended to be injured because I was afraid to lose. I grew up watching movies where the good guys win and the bad guys always lose. I never saw myself as bad person, so when the time came that I was losing and feared the worst, I panicked. But if I could go back in time and stop myself, I would. I can tell my old self that it’s ok to lose. If I had faced my fears at that basketball game, I probably would have had the courage to ask a girl out to the eight grade prom, or tried out for the soccer team. Once you start to fear one thing, whether it be failure or asking a girl out on a date, you will start to fear many things.

Who is to say that we couldn’t have won? It was only ten points in eight minutes. If I had just got up and tried harder, and helped my team, we could have won. I should not have put the whole game on my shoulders. It was not my job to win the game; it was the team’s job to win. I was a crucial part to the team, and I let them down. Later that year, I had to work with three other students to write a report on the civil war. I was not familiar with the southern side of the war, but one of my group mates was. We worked as a team and we were able to finish the assignment with an A. That game was not my best game. In fact, it was the worst scoring game I ever had. Maybe I should have stood up and passed the ball more. I could have given someone else the chance to show off their strengths. If I did that, then we would have worked as a team, combining our strengths and weaknesses, in order to win the game.

Win or lose, by standing up to my fears or playing as a team, I could have set an example for my younger brother. He was sitting right behind the bench cheering for me to win. If only I had stood up, I could have shown him it’s ok to lose. We should compete for fun and hope to succeed, but if we don’t, it is not the end of the world. Or, if I got up and shown him the power of team work, maybe he would go on and value the to ability rely on others. He could carry on those lessons to his team next year and maybe even use it to win. By staying on the ground, I instead made it okay to lie and give up. If I could take back that night on the court, I would have taught my brother a valuable lesson in good sportsmanship.

In the end, that night still happened. I still fell on the floor and pretended to feel pain. I cannot take it back, but I can still learn from my mistake. I can now hold my head up when I lose a game. I am extremely proud and grateful to be on a team. Most. importantly, I have shown my brother what not to do, and have admitted to my mistake. While I would change this mistake if I could, I am better for the experience.

What aspect of high school interests you the most?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about the things that you may hope to learn or do in high school. It is something that may be exciting and interesting to you, but not to everyone else.

You could talk about sports, science, theater, or new friends. As long as it interests you. For example:

  • Being on the swim team
  • Acting in a high school play
  • Learning how to play a new instrument
  • Meeting new friends from other middle schools
  • Working in the science laboratory

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) I look forward to learning new things.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) Science
      • (Detail 1) Chemical reactions
      • (Detail 2) Anatomy and physiology
    • (Supporting Idea 2) Band
      • (Detail 1) Learn to play trumpet
      • (Detail 2) March in the band
    • (Supporting Idea 3) Drama
      • (Detail 1) Learn to act
      • (Detail 2) Learn to build a set for a play
  • (Conclusion) I am excited about all the new things to learn in high school.

Sample Response

A very big aspect of high school that interests me the most is the opportunity to learn new things. My middle school did not have too many extracurricular opportunities besides sports. I have been on the football team, basketball team , and even the swim team. It is time to challenge myself with something new and exciting. What is more different from sports than science and the arts? The three things that interest me the most about high school are the opportunity to take more science classes, learn how to play the trumpet, and act in a high school play.

The opportunity to learn new experiments and scientific principles excites me the most. I have always loved my science classes growing up, and every year I enter an experiment to the science fair. Last year I did my experiment on the effects of household soaps on the human skin. My favorite subject is chemistry. I feel like it is one of the few subjects that get over looked in middle school. My science class did not even have the proper supplies when it came to performing a chemistry experiment. This will not be the case for the high schools. My brother even told me that the chemistry classes are equipped with Bunsen burners. Science has a very important part in our society. Some of the things we love and cherish, like our smart phones and laptops, would not be here today if it was not for science. The process to become a scientist starts in high school and I cannot wait to start.

Science is not the only new and exciting subject I want to learn. I have this urge to play a new instrument, and that instrument is the trumpet. My dad grew up in New Orleans and played the trumpet when he was in high school. He always talks about the days he would play at football games and in competitions. Growing up, he would play his old jazz records for me, and sometimes even play along with his trumpet. Some of the records are so old, the labels have fallen off. Once in high school, I hope to learn how to play like these unnamed musicians. I am excited to think that, while in high school, I can learn how to play as well as my dad. Maybe even I can play with him one day.

Along with learning to play the trumpet, I would also love to act in a play. I went to my older brothers performance while he was in high school, and I want to follow in his footsteps. Everything about theater is interesting to me. I want to learn how to create a set from scratch. I want to play the villain and the hero. I want be in a comedy and in a Shakespeare play. When it comes to theater, I feel like the sky is the limit. In middle school, we just had the basic holiday performance. We would sing boring Christmas songs and one lucky student would be picked to play Rudolph. My brother performed as Ebenezer Scrooge in their high school rendition of a Christmas Carol. Even though I may not play the Scrooge, the chance to become a new and exciting character is the most interesting aspect of high school that I can think of.

High school is a time for a student to grow and develop into an adult. The adult I want to become will need his high school science, music, and theater classes. With the information I learn in my science classes, I can go on to get a degree in chemistry. Learning the trumpet can give me a better appreciation for jazz. Maybe, my dad and I can even play the trumpet together; Or my brother and I can perform in a play together. High school seems like a very interesting and memorable place.

If you could gain one new skill, what would it be and why?

Start by Brainstorming

The prompt is asking you about something you may want to learn. It is something that may be exciting and interesting to you, but you haven’t learned yet.

You could talk about a sport that you want to learn, or even a musical instrument. As long as it interests you. For example:

  • learn how to play soccer
  • learn how to play basketball
  • learn how to cook
  • be better at math
  • learn magic
  • learn how to play the drums

Then Write a Quick Outline

  • (Thesis) I want to learn how to cook.
    •  (Supporting Idea 1) So I can cook with my dad.
      • (Detail 1) Help him in the kitchen.
      • (Detail 2) Give him a break.
    • (Supporting Idea 2) Good for college.
      • (Detail 1) Save money.
      • (Detail 2) Eat healthy.
    • (Supporting Idea 3) Possible career.
      • (Detail 1) Be a television celebrity chef!
      • (Detail 2) Open my own restaurant.
  • (Conclusion) Learning to cook has many valuable benefits.

Sample Response

There are so many different skills that I want to learn, but only one stands out at the moment. Most people want to learn how to play a new sport, maybe a new instrument, but I would rather learn how to cook. I have always enjoyed food, and I feel it is time for me to learn how to make it. If I learn the skill of cooking, then I can help my dad with dinner, I can take my skills with me to college, and maybe I can even start a career with it.

The main reason why I want to learn this new skill is to be able to cook with my dad. For as long as I can remember, my dad has been the main cook at my house. Every night he makes an amazing meal with fresh and healthy ingredients. He even takes time out of his busy schedule to pack a homemade lunch with organic apples and peanut butter. I want to be able to come home from school and help my dad cook dinner. This way, he does not have to feel so stressed when he comes home from work. I can start prepping the necessary ingredients and my dad can take over when he gets back from work. Maybe one day my dad can sit back and relax while I cook to whole meal.

Learning to cook is also a skill that I can take with me when I finally get to go to college. I can’t imagine how I would feel, or even study, if I just ate chicken noodles all the time. I would rather learn how to make chicken broth with organic vegetables than eat a microwaved dish out of a cup. Having a healthy diet will give me the proper energy to succeed in college. I learned in my health class that the body needs a good balance of healthy fats, vitamins, proteins, and carbs. The processed food that most college students eat contain a great deal of carbs and bad fats with very little to no vitamins. Plus, cooking my own meals will save me a ton of money.

Cooking could also make me some money. One day, if I get really good and creative with my culinary skills, I could possibly make a career out of it. I could have my own restaurant that serves healthy and delicious food. I can take what my dad teaches me and use it at my restaurant. Maybe I would even get a chance to have my own cooking show, teaching kids the joy of cooking. It is important to show other kids the significance of eating healthy food, so they are not stuffing their faces with processed junk food. This way, they could pass on what they learn to their brothers and sisters, or even to their own kids in the future.

Learning to cook is a very important skill that I would love to learn, and is a skill that most people my age would not consider important to learn. It might bring my father and I closer together and give him the break he deserves. I could even take this skill with me to college and show my brother how nutrition can help you study. This skill could end up being a possible career, owning my own restaurant. I could even have my own cooking show. In the end, learning the skill to cook would better my father’s life, help with my studies, and even give me opportunities to better life and the lives of others.