Ace your Application Essays with these Four Tips


Forget about pumpkin spice lattes and colourful foliage—for the team at Options, fall is university application season. 

Our grade 12 students know what we mean: they’re busy researching their prospective university programs, brainstorming the perfect essay topic, and beginning their writing process. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to write about, though, there’s the question of how. How will you write about your experiences? What language will you use? What tone are you trying to achieve?

Read on for our top tips for writing essays that do what they should: let admissions committees get to know you. 

Tip #1: Sound like yourself, not like the thesaurus

It’s understandable to want to sound fancy and smart, but admissions committees want to read your work and hear your voice! You want to come off as approachable, not standoffish, so use language that allows you to tell your story with clarity and warmth. 

Tip #2: Use the active voice to talk about your experiences, values, and interests

The passive voice puts all the emphasis on the action being performed. For instance, “This blog post was written by me.” As you can see, it’s wordy and awkward sounding. The active voice, on the other hand, puts the emphasis on the person or thing performing the action. “Hey,” I might write, “I wrote this blog post!” Active voice is more direct and lets the reader know who did what. Since your application essays are often about describing your actions, it only makes sense to use the active voice.

Tip #3: Ditch the laundry list of accomplishments and focus on depth

You might be tempted to use every last word of your essay to describe your many accomplishments. Sure, you won Best Math Student in grade 10, became captain of your field hockey team a year later, and recently founded the Air Guitar Club at school. You also work a part-time job at a local cafe and babysit the neighbourhood kids and maintain excellent marks. Oh, and you volunteer with the seniors residence once a month and started your own recycling program. All good stuff! However, if you include all this, you won’t have room to elaborate or explore any of them. Instead, your reader will feel overwhelmed, and while they might be impressed, they won’t have learned who you are. Instead, focus on one story or experience. 

Tip #4: Think about your reader’s experience

Remember that reading anything new can be a bit disorienting. Therefore, as you write, think about how your reader is experiencing your words. Have you explained everything enough? Could they use an example? Once you have a first draft, read through your work again with your reader in mind. 


As always, if you need help with your university application essays, we can help! We have a series of university supplement writing workshops, scheduled from September to January, where you can receive guidance and editing support from experienced writing coaches. You can also book one-on-one appointments with a writing coach at any of our office locations.

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