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Ultimate Guide to Writing a Compelling Study Abroad Essay

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Ultimate Guide to Writing a Compelling Study Abroad Essay

Dina Indelicato

Studying abroad begins with a thought. It might be something like, “I think I might like to study in (country, region) for a semester. I wonder how I can do that?”

Thus begins the process of exploration. Most students will find information about studying abroad on their own campuses. And there are several organizations with online presences that facilitate international studies for students all over the globe.

At some point, a decision is made to make application to an institution. A part of that application process will normally involve an essay, often called a “statement of purpose,” in which a student is expected to include two things:

1.    Express personal, academic, and professional reasons for wanting to study abroad. Here you will want to look a bit into the future and explain what goals you have that will be met by your program of study.

2.    The reason for choosing that specific institution. What does this school offer that will move you toward your goals?

The Process for Creating the Essay

Think about all of the essays you have written during your college career. You know the process, and, if you have received good scores on those essays, you can construct them well.

So, the first thing you need to do is relax and understand that, while there is a lot riding on this essay, it is not something you cannot do well.

Let’s take a look at the process, along with some strategies/tips that will make your essay engaging and compelling.

1.    Start with Some Brainstorming

What exactly are your personal, academic, and professional goals that will relate to your study abroad?  Make a list in each of these categories, because they can form the body paragraphs of your essay.

Don’t be in a hurry. Give it a week or so, because new thoughts will come to you when you least expect them.

Once you have your lists, you can refine them, until you have the important points in each category.

2.    Read and Read Again the Instructions/Requirements You Have Been Given

Some statement of purpose essays will have prompts, and you may have options. Read these options carefully and identify the one that will be the best fit for you. You already have the points you know you want to include, so choose the prompt that will be the best fit for those points.

Sometimes, an essay prompt will be something like, “What do you believe that your study abroad will contribute to your future career?” In this case, obviously, you will only be writing about your career goals. You may be able to weave some of your personal and academic goals into this essay, but the focus must be on those points you have listed for your professional goals.

3.    Craft Your Outline

Nothing has changed from the structure of the essays you have always written – an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

It is the body paragraphs that will require your attention at this point. Each goal or major point you are making will be a paragraph, and each paragraph should be included as a separate item in your outline, followed by the details that you will include.

The outline is critical, if you intend to submit a well-organized, coherent essay, so do not skip this part.

Put the outline aside for a day or two, and then go back to it. Have you addressed the prompt? Are there any details you left out?

4.    Write Each Body Paragraph

As you know, each paragraph must have a strong topic sentence. In most cases, this comes at the beginning of the paragraph, supported by detail. You do not have to stick to this structure, however. If you are going to relate a personal experience to make a point, for example, you may want to begin with that story, as it will be far more engaging to a reader. In this case, your topic sentence can come at the end of the paragraph, showing how your story relates to a goal.

5.    Ready for the Introduction

Now that you have the “meat” of your essay written, you are ready for that critical introduction.

Remember this: it is the introduction that will grab a reader’s attention. You cannot be boring, and you cannot just provide your thesis statement.

The opening sentence of your introduction must engage immediately. Perhaps begin with a startling statistic about your career goal or your major field of study. Or, better, begin with a short anecdote from your life that has lead you to seek study abroad. Readers love little snippets of stories.

Your thesis statement, which is a short summary of what your essay will cover, should come at the end of the introduction. It gives your reader the “map” for what follows.

6.    The Conclusion – An Easy Strategy

Your conclusion should give a summary of what you have said to the reader. And this is also the place where you can include a statement that this specific program at this specific institution has what you need to further your goals. Flattery is always good, as long as it is subtle.

You Are Not Finished

You still have some tasks ahead of you:

1.    Never submit a statement of purpose essay without getting a “second opinion.” Have someone you trust review your essay. Does it engage them? Is the flow logical? Are there issues with grammar or punctuation?  You should not review you own piece – you are too emotionally “attached” to it.

2.    If you are applying to an institution in a country/region in which your native language is not theirs, consider having the piece translated into that language. You want the translation to preserve your “personality” and the engagement that you have imbedded into the essay. Here are some website translation services that you may want to consider. They have the expertise and can assign a translator who will work personally with you. What this will demonstrate to admissions decision-makers is that you have gone beyond the basic requirements and have taken some initiative that others have not. Good for you.

Statement of purpose essays can be the difference that results in acceptance of you over your “competition.” While others may take them lightly, you will not. When you get that acceptance, you will be glad you took the time to craft an essay that has been impressive. 

Dina Indelicato is a blogger enthusiast and freelance writer. She is always open to research about new topics and gain new experiences to share with her readers. You can find her on Twitter @DinaIndelicato and Facebook.