The Dos and Dont’s of Writing the Best University Admissions Essays

Mexicali Dunbar Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness By Bryan Ide, Education Directory KEY Admissions Strategy & Learning Enrichment Before you submit your US university applications, ask yourself if you are truly happy with your essays. Do they capture the reader’s attention? Do they articulate your compelling and interesting story? And most importantly, do they make you […]
Mexicali
Dunbar Earthquake and Emergency Preparedness

By Bryan Ide, Education Directory KEY Admissions Strategy & Learning Enrichment

Before you submit your US university applications, ask yourself if you are truly happy with your essays. Do they capture the reader’s attention? Do they articulate your compelling and interesting story? And most importantly, do they make you stand out? To help you answer these questions, here are some important dos and don’ts to writing outstanding university admissions essays.

Do be genuine and passionate
The number one rule to writing a great personal statement is to be yourself. Think of the essay as a fun exercise where you get to write about what you are passionate and to show your real self. When you focus on something that is genuinely you, you’re much more likely to write a unique personal essay.

Don’t be opportunistic
Be careful if you write about the sick relative in the hospital or all the hardships you have faced in life in order to gain the sympathy of the reader. That doesn’t work. Also, if you talk about saving the environment you but your application doesn’t show that you even are involved with your school’s environmental club, you will look opportunistic. In other words, don’t write what you think will appeal to the reader. Rather, stay true to yourself.

Do connect with your reader quickly
As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous articles, one exercise that I do with my students I call the two-sentence rule where I read the first two sentences of their essays. If my students haven’t caught my attention, they need to rewrite their essays. Remember that admissions officers are going through your application so quickly that you need to be able to catch their attention as soon as possible. Also, the more effective essays use humour, wit, and self-deprecation to connect with the reader.

Don’t be clichéd
I noted in a previous article that one of the common themes I saw as an interviewer for Cornell University went something like this: the applicant moved to Canada from China a few years ago not knowing any English and not having any friends. Through perseverance and determination he overcame the language barrier and fully integrated himself into Canadian society. If your essays sound very similar, then I can guarantee you that many other applicants will have written the exact same essay. So, it’s important not to be clichéd and write something that many others will also have written.

Do show how you think differently
One effective way to stand out among the crowd is to show how you think differently. Take for example my own essay that I wrote when I applied to Cornell University. My topic was McDonald’s, yes McDonald’s fast food restaurant! For one week I went to McDonald’s every day and sat there watching people. I noticed certain things and particular patterns. For example, the average time it took for someone to enter, eat, and leave was about seven minutes. Also, do you know why the seats at McDonald’s are so hard and uncomfortable? It’s so that McDonald’s can cycle more customers through at a faster rate thereby increasing profits. Writing about my observations at McDonald’s showed how I think differently about something which most people wouldn’t even think or notice.

Don’t write fiction
A couple of years ago, I reviewed the essays from a couple of students from one of Vancouver’s top private schools. To my shock, the students had written fictional stories! I guess they thought that writing fiction was their way of being creative. However, admissions officers aren’t interested in reading about things that never happened. Rather, they want to get to know the real you, so how are they supposed to do that by reading a fictional story?

As you strive to write the best essay you can, remember these helpful hints. And always stay true to yourself. You’ll find that it’ll make writing your essay so much easier and so much more pleasant.