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I wanted to study in the US due to the liberal arts curriculum and my broad range of interests. I have the freedom to study whatever interests me without regard for what I did at school....
Meet Michael Gribben
at Harvard University
Probably the most important part of your application package will be the essays. Strong essays can set you apart from other applicants and give you an opportunity to showcase what you as an individual can bring to each university. Applications are looked at in a more holistic manner, with academics, extracurricular activities and your reason for attending the university all important components. See our page on admissions criteria for more information.
You will be asked to respond to two or three essay questions per application. Each university will set its own questions, as well as desired length for your response. However, most universities will ask for similar types of essays (ie one about you as a person, one about your academic interests, etc.), and you will be able to re-use and adapt essays between applications. The typical length is 500-750 words per essay.
American universities will be looking for different admissions criteria than UK universities, and you will apply to the university as a whole, not just the academic department. Therefore, it is advisable to not simply copy and paste your UCAS personal statement into a US application.
University admissions counsellors want to know as much as they can about each applicant. Admissions test scores, marks on your transcript and letters of reference are all important indicators of your academic potential. However, this information does not reveal much about the subjective areas of admissions criteria, such as the student’s character, motivation, future goals or why the applicant is interested in that particular university/programme or field. Essays allow applicants to come alive to the committee, convey something personal about themselves and to convince the selection committee that the applicant is an especially attractive candidate.
There is no set structure for writing admissions essays. You have the opportunity to use the essay as a marketing tool for yourself as an applicant - be imaginative, creative and make yourself stand out. No matter the format you choose for your essay, you will want to ensure your essays collectively address some of the following:
1. Our best tip is for you to stop and think before you put pen to paper – do you know what your short and longer-term goals are? Are you yourself convinced that this university will help you fulfil these? It will be hard to convince a university if you don’t believe so yourself! Have you done enough research into choosing a university or researching the scholarship programme? Are you convinced they are a good fit for you? Do you know what the admissions or selection criteria are? Do you have an up-to-date list of extracurriculars to draw ideas from?
2. After you have all of this necessary information for writing an essay, we encourage you to have a rigorous brainstorming session. Think about your essay as a marketing tool. You want to convey all of your strengths, as they relate to the prompt provided and/or the admissions criteria of the university or selection criteria of the scholarship. We recommend making a list of the criteria and assigning 1-2 examples of how you have demonstrated these. Think of these as your talking points. Like a politician giving a TV interview, no matter what you are asked in the essay prompts you will try to address these in your application package. Cross off those that will be covered in other areas of your application such as references or the transcript or at least note them to avoid overlap.
3. Now you know what you want to say. Consider how you will say it. Keep in mind that the essay is a creative writing piece. You will also want to have an introduction, conclusion and theme connecting your points. Go back to the actual essay prompts and match the selection criteria with examples you'll cover in each essay. Make sure you include a well-rounded view of academics, extracurriculars, motivations and character.
4. Write an introduction. You will notice many American applicants start with a personal anecdote or quote that illustrates their main point. This shows the reader a bit more about yourself and can create a theme connecting paragraphs.
5. Take your talking points from #2 and arrange them into 2-3 supporting paragraphs that go beyond re-hashing your transcript and extracurriculars.
6. Don't forget to write a conclusion. Be sure to wrap up your essay. What is the main message the reader should take away? Can you connect this back to the theme you introduced in the first paragraph? Try to end on a powerful and positive note about the contribution you will make to the university or scholarship programme.
Other important rules of thumb to keep in mind when composing your essays include: