On education in Europe and the USA

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How to Enrich Your University Application

United States

We are people and we were not meant to be perfect. Every single one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses, fears and hopes. But in the competitive world that we live in, it is important to be able to represent yourself in the best light, in order to climb the mountain top that you are dreaming of. Good news - US and UK university applications certainly allow you to do so! However, it is essential to draw a line between the ways to complete a successful application for those two countries, as the requirements are different. In this article I will try to summarise factors that can potentially make it a “yes” for you, in the eyes of the university application commission.
I think we can all agree that academic achievements may not be enough for the elite colleges of the United States. This is why their university applications allow you to be more creative and add some personal touch to stand out. I would suggest treating your application as your personal art exhibition to display your identity. Even though the creation of a competitive application is an effort requiring process, it can be fun and enjoyable, if you choose to work smart, not hard.
Firstly, I want to talk about the role of essays in your application. Unfortunately, some international students underestimate it. Yet, it is a perfect way to show the university you are a right fit for them. When it comes to writing the common app essay, do yourself and the admission committee a favour, and don't try to fit your entire personality into 650 words, but think thoroughly. If someone didn’t have a chance to meet you, what are the few things you would want to tell them about yourself? Write about something deeply personal, which will help you to build a special connection with the admission professional reading the essay. What were the turning points in your personality? Here you are looking for a moment that can be used to convey who you are. Moreover, details are the key. Be descriptive while telling your story, so the admission officers will be able to smell it, feel it and see it. To see more advice on how to write the Common App essay, click here.
Secondly, you have to tell your story right.
The admission committees are holistic in a sense that they usually look at the candidates as a whole.
They want to understand your background, your academic results, what you do besides school, and how well the story that you tell reflects what you wish to study in university. Start by figuring out what your main passions are today and create a narrative, which you will follow through your application, essays, interviews and so on. It might seem artificial, but it is a great way to focus attention on the predominant factors that can help you to get into your dream college. When you more or less have an idea from which sides to present yourself - develop in the interests connected to your major and show them how committed you are. For instance, if your desired major is Biology, participate in research, olympiads, organisations connected to your area of interest.
Advance in the area of your interest as far as possible. The more devoted you are, the more appealing candidate you become.
The activities you participate in don’t have to be professional pursuits, it can be a social media account, school projects, etcetera. What truly matters is the time you have spent doing this activity. Display that you can commit to something long term, if it fascinates you. But don't try to be successful in everything, rather choose a few fields that you would be ready to pursue for years.
Thirdly, write all of the “optional essays”. Sadly, they are NOT optional if you want to get accepted. Here is why; the admission committee has a very limited knowledge about you, and when making a decision can only relate to the information provided in the application. As I mentioned earlier, a Common App essay is not enough to exhibit your whole personality. The optional essays are perfect to tell your narrative, experience, essentially anything that helped you to choose a major. Think about the supplementary essays as a chance to present yourself as a multifaceted individual.
Fourthly, maximise your summers! It is a fantastic strategy to increase your admission success. Some students choose to do activities exclusively for college applications, and it is definitely a wrong path to proceed. My suggestion when selecting your summer activity would be relying on intrinsic motivation, meaning your motivation is the main passion in a particular area, and not an external reward. What’s more, your summer activities should reflect the narrative that you decided to follow; your values, goals and interests. Pursue something that will help you develop as a person and as a future professional. For example, starting a passion project that supports your narrative. It can be independent work such as research, a business start up, a blog, - potentially anything that reflects what’s important to you. Moreover, participation in a summer program is another way to go. Multiple colleges and organisations have courses connected to your preferred major. It is not only a perfect way to enrich your resume, but also to create a network of people that can assist in your future beginnings (such as the aforementioned passion project).
Another great way to make yourself a distinguishable candidate is to make contact with the university you are applying to. This can be anything, but the more the better. You can call the university for an update on the application, contact a professor of a course you’re interested in, go to university’s open day or to a prospective students weekend, join an on-campus club. It is a perfect chance to show that the values of the desired university are similar to yours.

United Kingdom

The process of applying to universities in the United Kingdom is quite different from the one in the United States.
The biggest differences are: 1) greater focus on academic results 2) less opportunity to add personal touch. There isn’t much you can do unless you are successful academically.
But let’s get over the points.
In order to apply to the UK universities, there is no need to write multiple essays, but just one - Personal Statement, which is only about 620 words. It is good news for some, and bad for others. Personal Statement is a perfect opportunity to show your skills of being short and precise. I would recommend the following structure: Introduction, inspiration for choosing a particular course (work experience, literature, art, historical character), academics, extracurricular activities, conclusion. Similar to the US application, it is highly recommended to select activities and internships connected to your future field of study. Show the admission committee that you surely know what you wish to pursue in life.
Moreover, many students make the mistake of applying to multiple courses at the same time, only being able to write just one Personal Statement. Usually these applications get rejected, because it is extremely difficult to smoothly connect your motivation to study two courses in one essay, especially if they are completely different. Therefore I suggest you choose just one area of study. For more information on Personal Statement click here.
When it comes to academics, it is the other 50% of success. Attempt to find the best studying method for yourself, and don’t forget to take breaks in between your studies, so you won’t burn out. UK Universities not only evaluate candidates by their A-Levels, but also consider GCSEs.
The last point - watch college youtubers. It might sound basic, but when I was applying to colleges, I found a lot of inspiration in other students’ advice. You don’t know how to begin your essay or are struggling with something else in the application? Youtube has data about all sorts of college experiences. It is a universal resource that can definitely give you a hand, whether you are applying to the US or the UK university.