APPLYING to study abroad is a tricky thing, especially when it comes to answering that all-important essay question: why do you want to study abroad?
It sounds like a simple enough query, but try to write an answer and you’ll quickly realise how difficult it is. You may want to study abroad so you can ‘broaden your horizons’ and ‘see the world’, but with so many millennials yearning to travel, these have become clichés. In this article, we’re going to give you some tips on how to write your personal statement, and cogently explain exactly why you want to study abroad to your new university.
1. Jot down ideas – and be honest
Write down every genuine reason you can think of as to why you are studying abroad – no matter how silly or generic they sound. Is it because you want to travel and have fun, to work in a city connected with your industry, or simply because you want to escape? Maybe you want to re-discover a culture or family roots, or study with a world-renowned academic. The reasons can be professional or personal, big or small. It’s important to know your motivations before you begin, even if you end up dressing them up a bit in the actual essay. If you really don’t know your reasons, it might be worth re-thinking things before you apply – studying abroad is serious business.
2. Root out the most important
Have you ever read something that seemed to be trying to make too many points, or discuss too many topics, at once? It can be confusing to read, and by the end, it doesn’t really feel like you’ve gotten very far. For this reason, it’s a good idea to open your answer with one main reason you have for studying abroad – the thing that really gets you feeling excited and driven – and let this be the thread that ties your whole answer together. If no one reason jumps out at you, try looking at your notes and see if any of them have similar themes: professional success, personal growth, academic discovery, feeling ‘at home’ in a particular culture, wanting to make a difference.
3. Get specific
By now, you’re hopefully feeling passionate about your answer – now it’s time to flesh it out.
Admissions officers already know students like to travel, experience new things and further their careers; they hear this all the time. What they really want to know is what makes this relevant to them. What’s the connection between your desires and their university? Answering this question well will help you stand out from the rest, which is important for popular courses.
For example, many fashion students would love to study in Paris, for obvious reasons. But if your ambition is to become a knitwear designer, and the Parisian university you’re applying for is renowned for its expertise in this area, you can make a specific connection between your ambitions and this unique opportunity. It highlights that you’ll be a good match for the university, and furthermore, that you’ve done your research.
Where you come from can be just as important as where you're going when making these links. For example, our contributor Monserrat draws a comparison between the chaotic cities of her home country, Mexico, and the well-designed cities of the Netherlands, both of which inspired her to study Urban Management & Development in Rotterdam. Again, this demonstrates a specific connection between her ambitions, the course she chose, and the location.
4. Show off
Admissions teams like details – they also like evidence. A student might say they are a knitwear enthusiast, but it’s even more impressive if they have work experience or achievements to back this up. If you have some of these, great! Make a list of any relevant accomplishments so you can weave them in (no pun intended) for added impact. This could include competitions, academic scores, grades, participation in events or exhibitions, work experience, volunteering, special training or even personal milestones. You don’t need to mention every achievement you’ve ever had, but if it reinforces a point you’re making, it makes sense to use it.
5. Put it into paragraphs
Writing your answer in clear, coherent and not-too-long paragraphs is very important. Nobody likes reading dense walls of text, or long-winded essays that take too long to get to the point. Start your essay strongly with a compelling 1-2 sentence introduction that goes straight for the topic in hand: the main reason why you want to study abroad. Then, explain and build your case in the following paragraphs using the notes and ideas you’ve gathered so far.
There is no one way of doing this, but one good piece of advice I’ve learned is this: you don’t have to write things in the right order. If you can’t think of an original opening line straight away, or are having trouble with a paragraph, just come back to it later. By then, you may have a better idea of what you want to say.
6. Draft, re-draft, and proofread!
Hopefully you know by now that it is usually a bad idea to submit a first draft of anything; this definitely applies to your study abroad application. Unless you are a literary prodigy, you will most likely need to re-draft your essay at least once. Get as many people to read it as you can – parents, teachers, friends you trust – and heed their advice. If you’re writing it in a language other than your own, try getting a native speaker to look it over too. And, whatever you do, make 100% sure there are no mistakes at all in your writing. In the age of spellcheck, there really is no excuse.
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