Essays

US university application essays are much more personal than UCAS statements. Strong essays can set you apart from other applicants, bring your application to life and showcase who you really are as a person.

As well as the Common App essay (if applicable), universities might ask you to write two or three supplemental essays.

Although some universities vary, the essays are typically 500-750 words long, and universities usually ask questions covering similar themes, such as your:

  • Personal identity
  • Academic interests
  • Extracurricular activities

Some real examples of essay questions include:

  • "What makes you happy?"
  • "Which aspect of our curriculum or undergraduate experience prompted your application?"
  • "How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics linguistics and philosophy."
  • "Write about something you love to do."

Content

Because the questions can vary so much, you shouldn't try to force a prepared answer. Respond organically to the question.

But remember your are preparing a well-rounded application package. There should be lots of things you want to highlight across elements of your application, and personal essays are an excellent opportunity to do so. Below are some things to think about, which might also inform how you choose your essays from the prompts given by a university:

  • Connect the dots between your extracurricular activities and your school work
  • How will you contribute to the student life or campus diversity?
  • How are you unique?
  • Describe your academic fit at that particular university
  • Give specific reasons for choosing that university
  • Are you excited about a particular subject concentration or studying under a specific faculty member?
  • What are your short or long-term goals?
  • How does this university fit into your further plans and career goals?
  • What does it really mean to be you?

Essay writing tips

  1. Stop and think. Have you done enough research into choosing this university to fully convince them you are a good fit? Do you have a list of all your extracurricular activities and most important experiences?
  2. Brainstorm your research. Think about your essay as a marketing tool - how do your experiences match up to the personal and academic fit of the university? Note these links down. Remember that some of these can be highlighted in your reference letters, so try to avoid writing about areas you want your referees to talk about.
  3. Think creatively. You don't need to constantly use metaphors and other figurative devices if that's not your personal writing style, but you should have an essay structured with a coherent and interesting theme or narrative.
  4. Write an introduction. This should be your hook, and should pique the reader's interest. It can be as simple as an anecdote or a quote that illustrates your main point.
  5. Answer the question. Use your brainstormed links and arrange them into two to three well-connected paragraphs that adhere to your central theme.
  6. Conclude the essay. What is the reader meant to take away? How will they remember this essay in particular? Try to connect this back to the theme you introduced at the beginning and end on a powerful, impactful note that highlights what unique personal trait you are bringing to their campus.

Other important things to keep in mind:

  • Address the essay question fully
  • Use clear, concise language - say what you mean
  • Avoid vague or empty statements (eg "I love America"), clichés and cultural references unfamiliar to US audiences
  • Make sure all references to university names are correct, especially if you re-use essays across your applications
  • Proofread extensively, read it out loud and ask several people to read it for you
  • Avoid repeating too much information mentioned elsewhere in your application
  • Address any obvious gaps or weaknesses in your application, perhaps turning them into a positive

Example essays

Here are some successful personal essays, for inspiration: