The Writing Center @ The University of Wisconsin - Madison
The Writer's Handbook
Writing Application Essays

Before you begin: useful tips for writing your essay

Before you start writing, keep these principles in mind:

Less is more

That is, you have a lot you could say, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you should try to say everything.

Be selective. Organize your essay around a unifying theme rather than merely listing your accomplishments.

Give good examples and explanations

Try to avoid making statements that could be cut and pasted out of your essay and into someone else's with little difficulty. One detail is worth a thousand cliches.

For example, "I have always wanted to be a doctor because I enjoy helping people," is a sentiment with which almost anyone applying to medical school might agree.

Make this idea meaningful by giving an example of something that inspired your interest. Explain how and why it had an effect on you. These details show your enthusiasm and dedication far more effectively than just saying that you care about something does.

Help your reader

Be sure that at some level, you are helping your reader understand how the information you are providing demonstrates your potential for this kind of advanced study as well as the soundness of your reasons for pursuing it.

Follow instructions carefully

Make sure that your essay is responding to the question(s).

Cover your bases

Make sure that you've called attention to your successes and relevant experience and that you've explained any discrepancies in your record.

Proofread your essay!

Spelling, typographical, and grammatical errors are the written equivalent of having wrinkled clothes and bad breath on a job interview.

They immediately suggest a lack of professionalism to a reader who has to make quick judgements about potentially hundreds of candidates.

Leave yourself time to proofread and enlist the help of others to make sure that your essay is immaculate.

Take a look at these frequently asked questions about application essays for more information before you start writing.