5 Essential Steps to Writing Outstanding University Essays!

During high school, I truly believed that to get into competitive Canadian undergraduate programs you’d have to do something as extraordinary as starting a successful business or participating in the Olympics. This isn’t true, what’s really important is how you express and share your experiences.

To help with your applications, here is a five-step process to writing outstanding essays:

1. Research research research 

Use a variety of sources to understand the type of essay(s) each program is looking for. Seek advice on what to do and on what not to do. Some great sources include:

  • Online Forums- Reddit, UThink, Discord, Websites & Blogs
    • Great for: Support from students in your shoes, advice from alumni and current students, and identifying the pros/cons of a program
  • Students & Alumni- Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
    • Great For: One-on-one advice, building connections, getting credible individuals to edit your work, and receiving examples of past applications/success stories.
  • Campus Conferences, Visits, and Events 
    • Great For: Getting to know students in the program, determining if the school is a good fit for you, extracurriculars, student life, etc
  • The School’s Website
    • Great For: Clear and objective explanation of requirements and determining average cutoffs.

Without doing your research, you run the risk of writing an essay that doesn’t include the traits/criteria your program is looking for. Remember that no two programs follow the same “rubric” when assessing applications.

2. Dedicate Time and Choosing a Topic

Don’t just choose the first topic that comes to mind and write your application within a day. Start brainstorming early and come up with creative answers. Narrow down your ideas based on research and the university’s criteria. Pick distinguishing topics, especially when writing about the activities you are involved in. Think of it this way: How many people hold this position in your school? City? Country? That’s everyone you’re potentially competing with. For this reason, it’s recommended to find a way to make your essay unique. While you may choose to focus on traditional clubs like DECA, Model UN, and HOSA, you should try to craft an essay to illustrate how the combination of your experiences truly makes you a unique applicant.

3. Create an Outline

For a well-structured essay, create an outline of the subtopics you want to cover. Here’s an example:

  • The hook: 1-2 sentences that will set you apart from the get-go and give your reader a glimpse of what they are in for.
  • The conclusion: Summarize the message you want to convey and mention how you will implement that lesson/experience at university; be specific. Avoid cheesy transition words like “To Conclude” or “In Conclusion”.

When filling your outline, be mindful of your writing style. A clear, vibrant writing style and well-thought-out outline is equally as important as your topic. Make sure to reflect on your experiences. An essay should be about showing, not telling. Lastly, you want to avoid making these common application mistakes.

4. Self-Edits, Peer-Edits, and Expert-Edits

Brace yourself for the longest step: editing.

  • Step 1: Self-Edits: It goes without saying that self-editing your work is crucial. Read your essay out loud, look for areas of improvement, and be meticulous with every phrase. If a sentence isn’t contributing to the message you want to convey, take it out. You have limited space, so it is important to be clear and avoid unnecessary embellishment. Be your own biggest critic! Don’t be afraid to scrap or rewrite.
  • Step 2: Peer-Edits: Ask trusted friends for suggestions and even encourage them to rip your work apart! You don’t have to agree with every edit, but you should keep an open mind.
  • Step 3: Expert-Edits: This may include teachers, principals, alumni, and current university students. You want to ask experts for deep, insightful edits and comments. Consult with them on any questions or concerns.

5. Submitting Your Application

It is advantageous to submit applications early because most universities read applications in the order they are submitted in. By handing it in early, you increase your chances of getting accepted because you are competing against a smaller pool of applicants. Set aside time to carefully go through everything. Copy and paste work from your document to the university’s portal, then read it over. Double-check that every comma, period, semicolon, and capital letter is in place. These things can often get moved or removed when you paste text on academic portals. Make any small edits, and finally, click submit.

Good luck everyone!

Eesha Kohli is an incoming Commerce student at Queen’s University. She acts on her passion for helping others by volunteering and working towards leadership positions that help spark positive change. She is also a big mental health advocate and founding member of Peerify: a mental health organization in the GTA. Eesha’s curiosity and desire to learn pushes her to stay involved with multiple organizations and activities. In her free time, you can catch her baking cupcakes, watching movies, driving around with her friends, and planning her next vacation!

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