6 tips for writing a great university admissions essay

Many universities require an essay from students when they apply to university. One recent report showed that US universities rated the application essay as highly important in making admissions decisions for international students.

If writing is not a strength for your students, or students are applying at a US university and English is their second language, this might be a cause for worry. It shouldn’t be! Application essays present a great opportunity for students to communicate their unique strengths to university admissions officials.

Some universities will give students specific prompts to answer. Others will ask students to tell their story and how it led them to university. No matter what the university asks students to write, remember that admissions officials are not simply looking for the ability to use big, frilly words. Your students should remember to be themselves and speak in their own voice.

Here are six tips your students should remember when writing their admissions essay.

  1. Start early. Make a list of the number of essays you need to write and their deadlines. Give yourself plenty of time to think through the topics and brainstorm writing points.
  2. Create an outline. Break down the prompt (the question asked) of each essay. Ask yourself: Why would an admission official ask this question? What are they hoping to hear from you? Next, pair personal stories or experiences that illustrate your answers. Use these anecdotes to help organize your thoughts around your thesis, in bullet-point format. Make sure it has a clear beginning, middle, and end. This is your outline.
  3. Read some examples. Some universities publish essay examples on their websites. These examples may indicate what that university considers a strong application. If the university you’re applying to doesn’t provide sample essays, try searching online to better understand the expectation. (Remember, NEVER plagiarize somebody else’s work.)
  4. Address what is NOT on your transcript. Think of your essay like an in-person interview. As you write your essay, imagine you’re sitting in the room with an admission official. They have already read your transcript and resume. The question is, “what else should I know about you?” That is what you should keep in mind as you’re writing your essay. How could you expand on the information presented in the other parts of the application or highlight strengths you haven’t pointed out in other parts of the application?
  5. The deeper you go, the better. For your anecdotes, focus on specific details. You might not have enough space to tell your entire life story, but if you focus on a couple of examples, it can make your essay come to life.
  6. Have a few people review it. Once you have completed a draft, ask someone you trust (a parent, counselor, or teacher) to review your work. Ask them to check for grammatical errors and provide feedback. Remember to limit the number of people who review your essay to one or two—too many opinions can muddle your voice.

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