An admissions or application essay, sometimes also called a personal statement or a statement of purpose, is an essay or other written statement written by an applicant, often a prospective student applying to some college, university, or graduate school. The application essay is a common part of the university and college admissions process.
Some applications may require one or more essays to be completed, while others make essays optional or supplementary. Essay topics range from very specific to open-ended.
The University of Chicago is known for its unusual essay prompts in its undergraduate admissions application, including "What would you do with a foot-and-a-half-tall jar of mustard"?
The Common Application, used for undergraduate admissions by many American colleges and universities, requires a general admissions essay, in addition to any supplemental admissions essays required by member institutions. The Common Application offers students six admissions essay prompts from which to choose. All of the essays – and even the way you put things in order throughout the application – should be directed towards getting one "big idea", a personal thesis that will be remembered after the entire package is read. According to Uni in the USA, the Common Application essay is intended as a chance to describe "things that are unique, interesting and informative about yourself".
The application process for All Souls College, Oxford, has the reputation of being the hardest examination in the world. It consists of several specialist papers and, until 2010, also required candidates to write an essay upon a topic suggested by a single word such as Possessions, which was the topic of successful Fellow, A. L. Rowse.
Essays are used to learn more about your reasons for applying to the course, university or company and your ability to benefit from and contribute to it. Your answers will let you state your case more fully than other sections of the application, and provide the evaluator with better insight about you and how you differ from the other applicants. In marginal cases, the essays are used to decide whether an applicant will be selected. The purpose of the admissions essay is to convey a sense of your unique character to the admissions committee. The essay also demonstrates your writing skills as well as your ability to organize your thoughts coherently.
Sample admission essay topics
There are hundreds of possible topics that you can be asked to write an essay on. Given below are some of the more common ones.
- What events, activities or achievements have contributed to your own self-development?
- Describe a situation in which you had significant responsibility and what you learned from it.
- Describe your strengths and weaknesses in two areas: setting and achieving goals, and working with other people.
- Your career aspirations and factors leading you to apply to this course at this time. Describe a challenge to which you have successfully responded. What did you learn about yourself as you responded to this challenge? Describe a challenge you anticipate facing in any aspect of college life. On the basis of what you learned from your earlier response, how do you expect to deal with this challenge?
- Describe and evaluate one experience that significantly influenced your academic interests. The experience might be a high school course, a job, a relationship, or an extracurricular activity. Be sure to explain how this experience led to your setting the goals you now have for yourself, and why you think the academic program for which you are applying will help you to reach those goals.
- Describe your educational, personal or career goals.
- Role Model - If you could meet/be/have dinner with anyone in history, who would it be and why?
- Past Experience - Describe an event that has had a great impact on you and why?
- What was your most important activity/course in high school and why?
- Forecast important issues in the next decade, century - nationally, globally.
- Why do you want to study at this university?
- Tell us something about yourself, your most important activities?
- How would your room, computer or car describe you?
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List all your activities for the past four years. Include school activities; awards, honors, and offices held; community services; jobs; and travel. Record major travel experiences. Note your strongest impressions and how they affected you. If you loved the Grand Canyon, for example, write down three specific reasons why, aside from the grandeur and beauty that everyone loves. Describe an accomplishment that you had to struggle to achieve. Include what it was, how you tackled it, and how it changed you.
Think of one or two sayings that you've heard again and again around your house since childhood. How have they shaped your life? What personality traits do you value most in yourself? Choose a few and jot down examples of how each has helped you. Think of things that other people often say about you. Write about whether or not you agree with their assessments and how they make you feel.
Brainstorm "top ten" lists in a few selected categories: favorite books, plays, movies, sports, eras in history, famous people, etc. Review your list to see which items stand out and describe what they've added to your life. Describe "regular people" who have motivated you in different ways throughout your life. It could be someone you only met once, a third-grade teacher, or a family member or friend.
Starting your essay
The most common topic--particularly if only one essay is required--is the first, "tell us about yourself." Since this kind of essay has no specific focus, applicants sometimes have trouble deciding which part of their lives to write about. Beware of the chronological list of events that produces dull reading. Remember, also, to accent the positive rather than the negative side of an experience. If you write about the effect of a death, divorce, or illness on your life, tell about but don't dwell on your bad luck and disappointments.
Instead, emphasize what you have learned from the experience, and how coping with adversity has strengthened you as an individual.
- Tie yourself to the college: Why are you interested in attending, and what can the institution do for you? Be specific. Go beyond "XYZ College will best allow me to realize my academic potential.
- Read the directions carefully and follow them to the letter. In other words, if the essay is supposed to be 500 words or less, don't submit 1000 words.
- Consider the unique features of the institution, e.g., a liberal arts college will be impressed with the variety of academic and personal interests you might have, while an art institute would be most interested in your creative abilities.
- Be positive, upbeat and avoid the negatives, e.g. I am applying to your school because I won't be required to take physical education or a foreign language.
- Emphasize what you have learned, e.g. provide more than a narration when recounting an experience.
- Write about something you know, something only you could write.
- Make certain you understand the question or the topic. Your essay should answer the question or speak directly to the given topic.
- List all ideas. Be creative. Brainstorm without censoring.
- Sort through ideas and prioritize. You cannot tell them everything, Be selective.
- Choose information and ideas which are not reflected in other parts of your application. This is your chance to supplement your application with information you want them to know.
- Be persuasive in showing the reader you are deserving of admission. Remember your audience.
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