Writing a University Application – Step 1: Preparation

Posted on Aug 7, 2012

student thinking about writing university application essayWriting a university application essay, whether a general personal statement or a response to a prompt, can be difficult. It can also decide where and how you will spend the next years of your life.

While it’s a great idea to have your university application essays edited professionally, they are documents that you must begin creating by yourself. We edit hundreds of essays each year and have a lot of experience with what separates a good essay from a bad one. Here, we give you our expert tips on writing great university application essays that will help you get into your dream school.  This is the first in a series of blogs on the topic. In this first part, we focus on preparation.

Most of the work in writing an application essay involves figuring out what to write. Because of this, it is very important that your first step is to take the time to prepare before you write. It is best to write a new essay for each school that you apply to, but many schools ask for similar application essays, so some parts of your essays can be reused.  This makes it worth spending the time to make your first essays as strong as possible, so that any parts that you will reuse will not need much future work.

For each school that you are applying to, start by doing some research, if you haven’t already. Go to the school’s website and read as much as you can. See what the school thinks is important and how its students are described. Try to find information on the program that you are applying to and learn what makes it special. Look for courses that you would like to take, and who teaches them. Try to find out which professors teach in your program, especially if you are applying at the master’s or doctoral level and will need a supervisor. Check whether there are any extracurricular activities that you may want to participate in, such as sports, clubs, groups, or volunteering opportunities.  Take some notes so that you remember important points, or bookmark pages that are important in your browser. Doing a half hour of this for each school will greatly improve your essays, and your chances of admission.

Girl researching for university application writing

Next, plan your essay. If you are given a specific question, read it carefully and think about what you are really being asked. We will cover some specific questions in a future article, but for this series, we focus on the things that most universities will want to see in the essays that they ask for: information on you as a person, your experience, your goals, your reasons for choosing the school, your plans for your studies, and your plans for after graduation. In general, however, a good first step is to read information on what the university wants you to write and carefully consider what information the reader will want from your university application essay.

Next, before you start writing, think about what you want to communicate to the reader about yourself as a person. The things that are important in most university application essays are:

  • Your educational background
  • Your employment history
  • Your plans are for your studies
  • The reasons why you want to study at the school and in the program
  • Your plans after graduation and how they connect to your studies
  • Other qualifications that you have that will make you attractive as a student or that have prepared you to stud
  • Any volunteer work or extracurricular programs that you want to participate in, especially community service or internship programs
  • In some cases, unusual or negative aspects of your application that you want to explain.

Prepare yourself to write briefly about all of these things, and if one of them is a weak point, consider how you can honestly write about it in a positive way, without making things up.

Make notes on what you want to say about each of these areas. Quickly write down all of the points that you think are important, until you run out of ideas. Once you have a good list, organize your points, think about them carefully, and cut out everything that is not important.

Man thinking about what to write on university application

This note-taking preparation should take you roughly half an hour, and it will give you a body of information and ideas that can be used on almost any university application essay. Doing this can be difficult, but it will prepare you to write a great essay that might decide how you spend years of your life, so it is worth it. The ideas that you put together here can be used in almost any essay, so preparing well will save you time later. You might think that this is not necessary, but it will make a big difference to be well-prepared. Universities can tell a lazy writer from a hardworking, committed one. Which one do you think they will choose?

In the second part of our series, we share more expert university application tips, describing the process of writing the ideal application essay. In the third part, we share ten steps for writing the perfect university application essay.

If you have questions, or there’s something that you’d like to see us write about, leave us a comment below. Want us to edit your application essay? Try out a 200-word edit for free right now!

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