Get Updates

Polishing Your Essays & Why It May Not Work!

6 Min Read
April 13, 2023

In the past few years, I have personally been mentoring more than 100 eager high school students who want to pursue their post-secondary education overseas and have helped them with everything university admissions-related (kindly refer to our website for more detail). One of the many important things for university admissions includes university application essays.

A common misconception between the university application essay and the chance of admission is that, aside from great/excellent grades, you have a pretty high chance of admissions to top universities as long as your essays are “super-polished.” When I say “super-polished,” I mean essays with perfect English, no grammatical errors, and great content narratives.

Sure, “super-polished” essays do contribute to increasing your admission chances, but that doesn't mean you should overlook your CV/resume as well as other application materials such as letters of recommendations, proof of accomplishments, among others.

So, what happens? There tend to be discrepancies between the essays' contents and everything else in the applications. This raises red flags, lowering admission chances instead of increasing it.

Whenever my students and I begin brainstorming and preparing to write their essays, ONE thing never fails to hinder their essay writing process: identifying their EXPERIENCES.

Based on their experiences, the types of students that I have worked with can simply be categorized into three:

  • Students with rich experiences, but confused which one to be highlighted to strengthen their essay.
  • Students with rich experiences, but forget their experiences.
  • Students with rather less experience during their high-school and feel they have got nothing to write.

Regardless of the type, there is one thing for sure: it is definitely possible to dig through their experiences, find something niche that reflects their unique personality, and guide them on what should (and need to) be highlighted in their essays in order to strengthen their application profile.

What to highlight does NOT have to always be academic-related or school-related per se. It can be something as simple as habits, hobbies, personal interests, or even a specific quirk. The key is to figure out “Why do they do these activities” and this is what I believe would lead to an amazing essay story showcasing the students' experiences that are, of course, aligned with everything else they include in their applications.

The process of university application essay writing (and essay writing in general) is similar to cooking.

In cooking, you need three main elements:

  • Raw materials and spices

The more varied your materials and spices are, the easier you can come up with a variety of unique/interesting menu because you simply have more options.

  • Cooking utensils and skills

The more you have in your arsenal, the more techniques that you can use in cooking your food making it tastier.

  • Presentation

If you are cooking for a gathering event where there are many people that you may or may not know, the better the presentation of your food, the more chances there are for these people to become tempted in reaching out for your cooking.

Now to make a logical comparison between cooking and university application essay writing, the following are the main elements of essay writing:

  • Experiences: Raw materials and spices

The more experiences you've obtained in high school, the more options you'll have in coming up with an essay topic. Thus, the easier it will be for you in starting your essay.

  • Writing skills: Cooking utensils and skills

The more English writing practice you have prior to Year 12, the more variety of sentence structures, word choices, and command of the English language you can use in your essay. This will result in a good quality essay (content and writing)

  • Narration: Presentation

Since you are writing these essays to showcase your unique qualities, you want to make sure that your reader (which are strangers from the university admissions office) is interested in reading your essay. Thus, packaging your story into a unique and interesting narrative will tempt these officers to want to know more about you, imprinting your name into their minds.

In a nutshell, you can obtain all the three elements above and have a much easier time producing great essays ONLY if you are well-prepared by gathering as many experiences as you can starting from your earlier years in high school.

REMEMBER!!! Top universities use a holistic approach in reviewing their student candidates. It means that they not only look at your academics and essays, but they also want to know your personality: passions, interests, quirks, habits, etc. In other words, anything they could find to get to know you better both as an individual and as a student. As such, you need to be able to package your application such that you can back up who you are and what you've done (i.e. experiences) with concrete proof in your CV/Resume as well as other aspects in your university applications. These experiences that you input into your CV/Resume will become your valuable raw materials and spices for your essays.

So, here are a couple of tips for you, especially 10th and 11th graders, to think about:

  1. Engage in as many extracurricular activities as you can as soon as possible.

These activities will not only enrich your experience, but also enable you to explore your true passion and interest useful in determining your future university major down the road.

  1. Do internships or participate in social-impact-rich / volunteering programs/activities once you have determined your passion and interest.

The experiences you'll get from these will strengthen your major focus of study in college and, simultaneously, showcase your unique skill sets that can potentially become a major added value when applying to your target universities.

At the end of the day, your participation and commitment to your selected activities will serve you well throughout your university application journey as well as your self-development and professional development journey.

One more thing, whenever I ask my students about their extracurricular activities, most of them would open up about the difficulties in finding activities that they are truly interested in because they are limited to the ones they have at their respective schools.

Well, I know that ALL-IN EDUSPACE offers a number of experiential and enrichment programs to students like you who are still in the exploration stage. The nearest up-coming program we offer is our Business Immersion Program in January 2020. This program is designed specifically for students who have keen interests in business and entrepreneurship. Click the button below to find out more about the program!

As a reminder, time goes by so fast and you will soon become a high school graduate before you know it. Thus, try to use the time during high school wisely.

If I could turn back time and go back to high school, I would try to optimize my time as much as possible and do more activity exploration. But as it stands now, I am simply excited to see what you can achieve.