How to Write a University Application Essay

university application guide digital version-49.jpg by Victor L.
Principal, Queen Elizabeth Academy

Many top university programs, such as Business, Sciences and Engineering, requires the student to submit Personal Statement or Application Essay. Don’t overlook this item. Of the three major factors that will make or break your application, the Essay is one of them, and the other two being your grade 12 average and extracurricular / leadership activities.

What are universities looking for?

Universities are constantly trying to build their reputation. Many distinguished universities have already established a certain identity – what they want from you is to embody that identity, and promote it. For example, the University of Waterloo has a strong emphasis on Engineering and Science, while the University of Western Ontario has a strong Business program.

Each university seeks students with certain personal qualities and interests that fit into their academic focus. Beside academic scores, top universities are searching for students with accomplishments and leadership qualities, especially how you contribute and impact on your high school and the community you live.

Three Critical Elements in Your Application Essay

First, the essay should help the admission officer understand who you are beyond your grades. They want to know you as a person – your insights, values, passion, and what motivates you. They want to know your accomplishments and leadership qualities, your interests and focus. And how you spend your time outside the classroom, especially your contributions and the impact you’ve made in your community, is a great indicator.

Consequently, they are seeking students with passion with a particular field of interest, along with dedication and responsibility in pursuing that interest. The things that you’ve done in high school and your community are good predetermined factors that universities will look at.

This leads into the second point. You’ll need to position yourself in a consistent manner, demonstrating your passions and interests. Be specific! How have you shown commitment to your field of interest? If you want to get into the teaching program, talk about that. Psychology? Talk about that. Linguistics and Writer’s Craft? Tell them about your exploits as the editor of the school paper. Avoid, at all costs, portraying yourself as a “jack of all trades, master of none”, someone who floats in and out of activities. Show them your focus on a specific subject.

Lastly, universities want applicants who can write well. Your essay should demonstrate that you are a thoughtful person. Be organized and concise, making sure that your writing has no spelling or grammatical errors. You will need to lead your reader through your experiences, and show them how they have built your unique personality. Read it over and edit, edit, edit! Make the essay a smooth ride for the application officer. If there are bumps in the road, your message will be weaker to come across.

Several More Tips

Be concise and simple. If there is a word count, try to avoid exceeding it. You want to say to the admissions officer that you can follow instructions, while giving as much detail as possible about your life experiences.

With this in mind, you need to make yourself a unique individual. Think of how many applicants the universities go through in a day. You need to write about your specific experiences to separate yourself from the pack. Don’t go too overboard with your creativity though. Maintain a formal structure to your essay – keep it a regular 12-point, basic font, for starters.

Your goal is to evoke an emotion, create an image, or leave an impression on the reader. This being the case, your first sentence is very important. Why? Because the first sentence would capture the reader’s interest and generate the desire to read your essay thoroughly.

Last Thoughts

Writing your application essay does not need to be stressful, but it does take time, effort, and planning. Decide what you want to say, then think of your experiences and accomplishments that you can use to support your message. Try to do this in the morning so that throughout the day you can think about ideas and write them down. Develop multiple drafts and edit them. And you know that above all, universities want leaders, innovators, the best and the brightest. So show off your best qualities, and get into the university you want!