Writing a University Application – Step 3: Writing a Perfect Essay in 10 Steps

Posted on Aug 17, 2012

In this series, we give you our expert tips on writing a university application essay, based on our years of work editing and proofreading admissions essays. In parts 1 and 2, we told you all that you need to know about preparing for a university application essay, which we feel is the most important thing. If you have gone through all of of the preparation covered in steps 1 and 2, you should be ready to move to the next step: writing your university application essay.

Begin with a strong opener. If possible, try to use something catchy and also direct, but if you can’t be catchy, be direct. If you are answering a specific question, answer it within your first two sentences. If you are writing a general statement, think about what your most important point is, and open with that. If the question is why you want to go to that school, answer it right away. If it is about an important experience in your life, describe it right away.  Then, in the next few sentences, give a short explanation of the details that you will write about in the rest of the essay.

Avoid using dramatic openers that do not really relate to the topic that you will cover. They will get your reader’s attention at first, but also might irritate your reader, as they will make reading your essay and understanding your points more difficult. Remember, your goal is to be clear and to make it easy for the reader to get the information that he or she needs.

Give details instead of description. If you are writing about your personal history and experience, tell your reader your story with facts, and not with too much complex language. Don’t tell your reader why your experience is important or try to convince the reader that it is more important than it really is. Share the facts that will let the reader understand why your experience is important.

Keep things short and simple and be direct. Focus on your experience and qualifications and be realistic. Think about how your life so far has prepared you for this next step and tell your reader about it. Above all, don’t make things up.

University application writing 5 - man on stepsConsider your reader. Your essays will be read by at least one or two professors, who are looking to choose the best possible students. They will be reading hundreds of essays, and only giving each 10-20 minutes at most. Because of this, they will be looking for essays that express ideas clearly, without mistakes, and which get to the point in a direct but interesting way. Some readers may also appreciate humor or creativity, but this is not needed.

All readers will appreciate a basic, short essay that convinces them that you are a good candidate.  All readers will be irritated by a long, poorly organized essay that is very complex and is unclear about real facts. Admissions officers know what is important to them and what is not, so leave this to them and don’t try to convince them that something is a strength or qualification by telling them that it is. Just present the facts clearly.

Do not focus on your personality and characteristics. These should already be clear from the facts of your essay and your writing style. Every person thinks that they have some great personal characteristics, but there is no proof for your reader that you actually have these characteristics except facts, so present the facts instead of the characteristics. Anyone can write that they are hardworking, but not everyone can say, for example, that they have studied full time while also holding a part-time job and volunteering for three hours a week.  This information will be convincing. Just writing that you are hardworking will not.

Do not describe how committed you are. Avoid spending a long time talking about your commitment to the program that you are applying to and describing how you promise to do your best as a student and alumnus. Instead, show this, by making it clear that you know about the university and its programs, that you have a clear plan for your program and classes,  that you know how your studies will fit into your future career, and that you have plans for your life after studying. Don’t tell the reader that their school is the best for you, explain why it is the best, giving details.

Be concrete. Whenever you are writing about the future, explain your concrete plans, whether for your studies or your future work. Share details and talk about specific ideas, giving time frames if possible. Focus on areas in which you hope to be successful.

If it is appropriate to the application essay, share your extracurricular plans as well. If you plan to volunteer or do community service, play sports on a team, participate in specific clubs or societies, or take advantage of any exchange or internship opportunities, talk about your plans. Again, give details and names.

Problems and adversity. In some cases, you will have a chance to talk about negative or challenging things in your past that may have stopped you from doing as well as you could have. Basically, this means writing about problems in your past that had a bad effect on your work or educational experience. If you decide to write about this kind of thing, make sure to be direct and honest, and make sure that it will be better to mention it than to leave it out. You do not have to give too man painful details, but make sure that you are truthful and discuss things that you are comfortable being asked more questions about.

If you do not feel comfortable talking about something, it is best not to mention it at all, because if it does affect your application, you may have to discuss it in more detail in the future. Also, be realistic and consider the lives of other candidates who are applying to the school. Is your problem a very serious one? Did it affect your life beyond your control? Keep in mind that other applicants may come from war-torn countries or have raised families as a single parent in impoverished conditions, working full-time and studying at night to gain qualifications. Make sure that your problem is a serious one, that you are comfortable discussing it with others, and that it really affected you in a way that you could not control. Finally, if you think that you are already a good candidate for admission to the university, consider not mentioning problems in your application. Mentioning problems is really something that should become more of a focus if you think that your chances of admission are not good because of the problem.

University application writing 6 - International students

If English is not your first language: If you are not a native speaker of English, do your best to write clearly and simply. Think about how to communicate your points so that your reader will understand. Do not try to impress your reader with your writing ability by using complex language because you think that it will show that you are an advanced learner of English. If the reader has doubts about your English, they will look at any important test scores, such as TOEFL or IELTS, or your results on a proficiency test. Your university application essay is not the place to show of your knowledge of English. It is a place to communicate who you are.

If English is your second language, you need to get your essay checked before sending it off. We can do this for you and there are other excellent professionals available as well, but if you can’t afford to pay for the best service, at least try to find someone who speaks English well at an academic level and have them check your paper. Your essay does not have to be perfect, but it must be free of mistakes.

Review and edit. Even if English is your first language, you still need to review your university application essay before sending it off. Reread and edit it, and focus on cutting out everything that you can. We usually find that most university application essays that people send us can have about 25% of the text cut out. Stick to basics and if anything does not sound great, cut it or rewrite it. Do this again and again until you can’t do it anymore. If you don’t have the time for this, you can send your paper to us to edit or proofread.

If you have time but not money, do it yourself, and then have a friend read it. This should ideally be someone who is experienced with applications essays or at least essay writing, but if you cannot find anyone suitable, just ask anyone that you know to read and check your essay. A fresh perspective is always good.

Once you have done all of this, your university application essay should be as strong as it can possibly be. Make sure to carefully read information on sending off your application package and on deadlines. A great application essay is very important, but it is only one part of a university application.

In the future, we will share more specific tips on answering common application questions, so keep checking out our blog. If you have anything to add, or you disagree with us, let us know in the comments. If you are interested in getting our help with your application but are not sure if it is worth the money, try our free edit service. We’ll edit 200 words for you for free so that you can see how great our work is, and return to you within 24 hours. It’s totally confidential. We hope that we can help you and wish you the best of luck with writing your university applications!



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