Applying to university is a difficult task for many prospective students. When English is not your first language, writing a university application can seem even more daunting.
To help you along, we’ve listed some of the most common mistakes made by students so that you can avoid making the same and go on to wow your admissions officer with flawless writing. Enjoy!
Not planning before you write
Your personal statement is your opportunity to explain why you would like to study a particular course. It’s your chance to talk about your skills, ambitions, experience, and personal achievements. Don’t make the mistake of rushing into this.
A good personal statement requires careful planning.
Tip: Before starting, it’s a good idea to create a mind map to help you think about the main topics you want to include. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget all of the amazing things you have done! Then, start thinking about how this links to your chosen course.
Inclusion of random anecdotes
It’s important to structure your experiences and show how your achievements and interests link to the course you are applying for. Don’t include achievements and stories if they cannot be connected to your course in any way!
Tip: To avoid the inclusion of random anecdotes, use the ‘ABC’ writing structure.
Action: What have you done that has helped you learn about the course you are applying for?
Benefit: What were the benefits of taking those actions? What did you learn?
Course: How has what you learned prepared you for taking this course? How will taking this course benefit you in the future?
4000 words or characters? Don’t get these confused!
Universities will usually specify how many words they expect you to write. This is known as the word count. Sometimes they will mention a character count. Spaces, letters of the alphabet, numbers, and punctuation all count toward a character count.
The online Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) undergraduate application form allows you to write 4000 characters, which is about 700 words.
Tip: know the difference between a word count and character count and pay attention to what you are asked for.
The cliché opening paragraph
Learn to story tell. Why are you applying for your course? What happened in your life sparked your interest in the subject?
A lot of students start by saying something like; “I have wanted to study X since I was a child”. This isn’t interesting for the admissions officer as a) they’ve probably read hundreds of other applications saying the same thing and b) the duration of your interest doesn’t tell them much about you.
However, learning about how your interest was born, is another story. This is something they want to hear about and that’ll spark their interest.
Tip: Did you have a specific moment or experience that sparked your interest in your chosen course? Write about it in your opening paragraph!
Overusing the thesaurus
A thesaurus is a very useful tool, and it will come in handy during your time at university, however, it’s important to know when and how to use a thesaurus. Using the wrong synonym disrupts the flow of your writing and causes confusion for the reader.
If you type the adjective ‘hard-working’ into an online thesaurus, you will be presented with words such as “assiduous”, “persevering” and “sedulous”.
Don’t just switch out the word “hardworking” for one of these words, as they carry different nuances. If you use one of these words in the wrong context, you’ll just be showing your admissions officer that you used a complicated word without really understanding what it means. And they won’t be impressed.
Remember, many words have more than one meaning, particularly phrasal verbs!
Tip: Only use words from your thesaurus if you are confident you understand the meaning of the word in context.
Overusing cohesive devices
You want your university application to read and flow naturally. Words that you can use to help join parts of your application together are known as cohesive devices, also known as linkers, linking devices, transitions, transitional phrases, or signposting language.
Can you guess the most common mistake learners make with cohesive devices in their university applications? Yep, like with synonyms, students overuse these words in their writing.
It’s important to use your language purposefully. When writing your university application, only use words or phrases that you understand and that genuinely make your writing easier to read.
Tip: Use the internet to search for model examples of university applications. How many cohesive devices do they use and which of them could you use in your application?
As you are writing for academic purposes, the tone of your writing should be formal.
Tip: Once you have written your application, revise what you have written and make sure you haven’t used any contractions or slang words.
Forgetting to proofread
Don’t rely on grammar and spell-check to spot every mistake. Words that sound the same but have different spelling and meanings are called homophones. ‘Their’ and ‘there’ are good examples of homophones.
They create problems for learners of English in writing because they often forget which spelling is correct for the purpose. Spell check will not detect inaccurate usage of homophones, so it is important to revise your application to check for any spelling and grammar errors yourself where possible.
Tip: Use software such as Grammarly to spot some of the errors that spell check won’t detect.
Not getting help
If you’re serious about writing a university application, you really should think about getting help.
Tip: Get English writing lessons with English Online, General English or IELTS Coach. You’ll learn with expert teachers and take writing classes that focus specifically on writing for academic and professional purposes.
Now go and apply for your dream course!