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Writing an Essay for a Study Abroad Program

If your university abroad requires you to write a personal essay or statement for your application (some don't!), doing so isn't as big a deal as those essays you wrote for admission to college — unless it must be written in a foreign language. The host school usually merely wants to find out more about you, why you want to study abroad, and whether you can intelligently think and express yourself in writing. The length requirement for these essays is typically less than two typed pages.

Whenever you need to write your essay in a foreign language, make sure to have a professor or student who's proficient in the language review it for major errors before sending it off.

Examples of short-answer/essay questions and imperatives include the following:

  • Have you traveled or studied abroad before? Where?
  • Describe your family.
  • Tell us about your personal interests and hobbies.
  • Why are you a good candidate for studying abroad?
  • Why do you want to study in this country? At this institution?
  • How does a semester or year of studying and living abroad fit into your overall educational goals?
  • What do you want to achieve during your experience?

If your program doesn't ask a particular question but requests a study abroad statement, then address why you want to study abroad and what you want to study.

Although you need not stress too much over this essay, it nevertheless can make you or break you. Students with excellent personal statements have been admitted to programs even when they've fallen short of the program's grade-point average (GPA) requirements. Your essay can be the deciding factor, especially when you're a borderline case. Because the essay can be a good indicator of your personality, make sure that you communicate your enthusiasm for studying at the host university and let officials there know about your unique qualities.

Here's a quick list of do's (mixed with a few don'ts) for effective essay writing:

  • Do stay upbeat. Admissions committees generally like positive, lively students. Don't belabor any of the three Ds: Divorce, Disease, Death.
  • Do make sure that your essay shows your creative side, whenever possible.
  • Do proofread! Have others proofread! Don't rely on the computer's spelling and grammar checker.
  • Do make sure your essay has a point. Don't make it a laundry list of everything you've ever done or a chronology of your life. Make sure to say something meaningful.

A quick list of don'ts (spiced up with a few crucial to do's) for effective essay writing includes:

  • Don't focus on quantity. Quality is preferable. Say what you need to say in as few words as possible. Concise, well thought out essays are the best.
  • Don't exceed the page or word limit.
  • Don't overuse the thesaurus. Clear and direct writing in your own words is more impressive than writing tangled up topics with big words.
  • Don't use trite phases. In other words: "I hope that by learning more about Africa, I can save the world someday." Unless, of course, you can back it up.
  • Don't aim for a polished, PR statement. Make sure your essay reveals something about you.
  • Don't brag that being a student at your home university makes you more qualified for admission. Your home university may be well known in your state or region, but the U.S. has thousands of colleges, and it's quite possible that the person reviewing your application has never heard of it.

Gimmicks don't work. When your program is particularly competitive and you're concerned about being admitted, don't resort to using gimmicks to help you stand out and get accepted. The quality of your application gets you in, not stunts or flashy paper.

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