Writing a University Application – Step 2: Getting Ready to Write

Posted on Aug 14, 2012

After following our guidelines for planning your university application essay in step 1, you are ready to start writing. Start by looking carefully at the guidelines and prompt that you have been given. Even if this is the tenth university application essay that you have written and all of the topics seem to be the same, read carefully and think about what the question is really asking.

Why are you being asked this question? What does answering it say about you as a potential student? Some prompts just tell you to write a statement about yourself, while some might be very specific, asking about a particular experience in your life.

If the question is very specific, answer specifically, and do not add in a lot of extra information that you think that the reader should know. Just answer the question. If the topic is very general, try to cover most of the important points that that you have already prepared in the planning stage.

Pay attention to the word or character limit. If you are not sure what it means, open another document that you have already written or cut and paste some text from an online source into Word, and look at how many words or characters it is. You can do this by looking at the bottom left of your Word screen and clicking the “words” box. Now, cut or paste more until you have the number of words or characters that you need.  Keep in mind that this is how much you should write. If you are given a character limit, you should check whether it is with spaces or without them.

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Next, think about the combination of how specific the question is and how high the word or character limit is. A very specific question would be something like “Describe an experience in which you acted as a leader to others and explain how it changed your life.” A general question would be something like “Why are you interested in the program that you have chosen?”

If the question is very specific and the word or character limit is low (250-350 words/ 1,500-2,500 characters), you should only write about the most important points that answer the question. Using our example prompt asking you to describe an experience in which you acted as a leader, you would only introduce the experience in one or two sentences, describe what happened and what you did in a few sentences, and then explain how it changed your life in one or two sentences. If the question is specific and the word or character limit is high (500-1,000 words/3,000-6,000 characters), you can add more detail and discuss some extra points. For our example, you could give some background information, create an interesting opener, give details of what happened and what you did, explain how it affected you, describe how it prepared you for your studies and future work, and explain how it makes you a better candidate for the program.

If the question is very general and the word or character limit is low, you need to give a very short description of the points that you have decided on, including only the most important information that answers the question. Cut back to essentials. If the question is general and the word or character limit is high, you can cover all of your points in detail, but still try to keep things as short and clear as possible.

If you have a big word or character limit but not much to say, just keep things short. Do not work to add to a text that you feel is finished just because you think that you should make it longer. The word or character limit is the absolute maximum that you can write before the reader stops reading. In many cases, for example, if your limit is 500 words and you write 750, the last 250 words will be ignored. In most cases, if you write too little, there is no penalty, and the reader will be happy to get all of the information that they need quickly.

After considering all of these points, you are ready to write. In our next post, we share 10 tips for writing a great 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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