Webinar Stem Is Fem: How to Write the Perfect Admission Essay
The Ukrainian and Western education systems are significantly different. Therefore, Ukrainian teenagers who are planning to enter a foreign university, participate in volunteer or educational projects, apply for exchange programs, receive a scholarship or grant, or find a job in an international company, may have to do some tasks they are much less experienced with comparing to Western applicants. It obviously reduces the chances to get the desired result. Mainly, such tasks are writing essays and cover letters. Such texts are a common form of study in Western schools, but in our higher education, they gradually start implementing it only now.
That is why the charity educational project Stem is Fem held a free webinar "How to write essays and cover letters: tips and life hacks." Yulia Kondrushenko, Chevening Programme and Policy Officer at U.K. Embassy in Ukraine, became a lecturer. She told the students how to write an essay or cover letter that will grab the jury's attention. Here are the life hacks that Yulia offered to the webinar listeners:
- Your essay will have only 10 seconds to make the first impression
You should keep in mind this information when writing the text. This affects the structure of the essay and all the other parameters. During these 10 seconds, a reader should see something that will make them look at you better instead of putting the essay away. After all, sometimes there can be thousands of applications, and you need to stand out from them in order to be noticed. The first question you need to ask yourself before writing is what in my story is there to intrigue a person, to encourage them to read the text further. This information should be placed at the beginning of the text.
- The essay structure: an introduction, a discussion, and a conclusion
Unlike school works, the most interesting and most important in the essay and cover letter should be at the beginning. The main point should be given immediately to interest a reader. It should make the reader get curious about how the applicant wants to do it, or how they achieved it, or why they think this way. It can motivate one to get back to your text to learn more. Often when writing an essay, we get to the most interesting part at the end of the text and only then we understand what we really wanted to write about. In this case, you should use this thought to start your new essay with it. Writing several variants of the text will improve the result. An essay should not be just a list of your achievements, it should be a story that explicates the information written at the beginning.
- Unique character, clear text structure, perspicuity, originality, and intrigue
These are the criteria for a good essay or cover letter. Avoid clichés as they do not help you stand out from others and take up extra space in your text. Avoid descriptions. Instead of describing yourself as stress-resistant, give an example of how you deal with a stressful situation. After completing the essay, put it away for at least a few days, and then edit it. Let other people read your essay so that they can ask you questions about it. If there is no specified size of the essay or cover letter, do not write it larger than one A4 page (12 font with 1.5 space or 14 font with 1 space). Pay attention to how the task is set. If there are required certain font, word number, and certain design, then the text style should be formal and serious. If you are asked not to pay attention to the formalities, you can afford more jargon or slang. However, an essay is not a biography, so unless it is stated in the task, do not make your text look like a CV.
- You can write anything, the main thing is how to write it
There can be various suggested topics for cover letters. Usually, they are: standard "who is the leader", value-related "the greatest tragedy of your life", focused on competencies "how I work in a team", creative "give 10 unlikely facts about yourself", complex "how I became who I am" (they can be large, for example, 2000 words, so it becomes extremely difficult to hold the reader's attention), thematic "why I chose this direction." It is a good idea to show your attitude to the problem, how it affects you as a person. Such people are passionate about the idea, inspire others and can cause social change, that is why they are desired to be part of any projects. It is a good idea to write about your own negative experiences and mistakes. You need to show how you coped with this obstacle, what you learned through this experience and how it made you who you are now.
- Preparatory work is important
Before writing an essay or cover letter, you need to do "homework," i.e. research the opportunities you want to apply for. You need to reply to a few questions: "What do I want to get?", "What are my limitations?" and "Who am I expected to tell?" The more you know about the organization you are applying to, the better you can answer these questions. Also think about the purpose of your participation, your requirements for the chosen opportunity, and the program's requirements for an applicant, and why they should choose you among others. If you have started preparing in advance, then sometimes you can even adjust your own experience to certain needs by gaining volunteering experience or language certificates. The main thing is to know exactly whom are they looking for in this program. Prioritize the opportunities you are considering for yourself: a dream program that has little chance of enrollment but should be tried anyway; good and worth-trying program with good chances to be chosen; a program that you can definitely get to. To do this, evaluate the strengths / weaknesses of the selected program, pros and cons. Make plans with deadlines so you don't miss them.
- You will need not only an essay or cover letter
Essay and cover letter the main part, but there is also a package of other documents that you are required to apply for any opportunity. The package of documents must be unique, complete, and substantiated. It includes biographical documents (passport, diploma, etc.), essays (or cover letter, video essay, resume, or study), and related documents, such as test results and recommendations. Write a unique essay for each program. It is more likely that an essay that you have submitted in 8 programs will be denied by all 8 jury panels while creating 8 different essays essentially increases your chances. In addition, it will allow you to hone your skills, try different styles, and adapt your essay to the requirements of a specific program. It is worth avoid sending your publications on the plant cell structure, if you are looking for a job as a marketing manager, or sending school competition diplomas if you have already graduated from university. All the documents in your package must be relevant. However, it is always appropriate to tell about your soft skills development, as leaders and negotiators are needed in all areas. Collect recommendations from previous jobs or internships in advance. If you are allowed to write a few essays, then each of them must be self-sufficient, because they can be read by different people. They should reveal you as a personality. In your essay, if needed, you can explain some of the features of your story, for instance, why you missed a certain period at school, why you changed countries or took tests a few times.
Not all opportunities require essays or cover letters. Sometimes, these are videos or special tasks, but their purpose is the same: to provide an image of a candidate, so the basic principles are the same for all the required documents. Yulia Kondrushenko also advises asking the jury for feedback for your work in case you can't get to the dream program. Such comments are very valuable for creating a new text better. She also warned against using the services of intermediaries who promise to write the perfect essay for an applicant. After all, other people do not have all the information about you. And during the interview, which will take place after the document submission, the difference in style or language of writing will be obvious. Essay writing is a great opportunity not only to get your dream place of study or work but also to understand yourself and your desires.