How Not to Write a University Application Essay | Top Universities

How Not to Write a University Application Essay

By Vickie Chiu

Updated March 18, 2021 Updated March 18, 2021

Your grades and extracurricular activities are good, teachers gave you stellar references, but what about the other 10,000 applicants with similar credentials?

A carefully crafted university application essay can tip the balance in your favor if you have somehow landed yourself in the admissions officer’s ‘maybe’ pile. Here’s what you shouldn’t do with your application essay if you want your application to move closer to the ‘definite yes’ pile rather than the recycling bin.

1) Exaggerate, exaggerate and exaggerate

Did you used to play a sport for your country or your county? It’s only a letter’s difference after all, but "oops, I made a typo" is not going to cut it if you get found out. By all means, be proud of your achievements and talk about your experiences openly, but if you feel the need to stray from the absolute truth, then don’t blame me if admissions officers use a little invention called Google to verify any ‘reality embellishments’, otherwise known as lies.

2) Clichés are your new best friends

Delete anything resembling the following sentences from your essay:

  • “And that was the most important lesson of all.”
  • “That is what makes me the person I am today.”

All very cute if you’re five, and just discovered that Santa Claus is not… never mind.

Admissions officers have to sift through thousands of applications a year. An application essay should bring your unique personality to life; do you want to be known as cliché number 736 of the day or as someone with more to offer than an overused turn of phrase?

3) Spell checks are for (whimps) wimps

Spelling errors simply scream ‘lack of attention to detail’ or ‘I don’t care about this university enough to get this proof read’ to an admissions officer. Now which one is it? No matter how many times you’ve read your own application essay over, you will not be able to spot a mistake as easily as a fresh pair of eyes. Ask a friend to triple check before you click ‘send’. Trust me, your future is worth the hassle.

4) Google search “Best university application essay template”

Believe it or not, there are programs which can detect the faintest bit of plagiarism and admissions officers already know about all the ‘cheating the application essay’-type websites out there. If you wanted to take a shortcut by simply filling out a tried and tested template (bear in mind, this will probably cost you financially as well as your chances of admission), then be my guest, but don’t be surprised when the thin envelope of rejection comes through the door.

5) Panic

A bit of pressure can be good to make sure you’re taking the process seriously but don’t procrastinate until the last minute just so you can ‘feel the adrenaline’. You’re taking a big gamble and may end up panicking and writing something ridiculous, or worse, you could be selling yourself short.

This article was originally published in March 2012 . It was last updated in March 2021

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