Jul 31, 2017 at 08:46

If there is one part of the college application process that most people dread, it’s the writing aspect. Urvashi Malik explains

Unlike the traditional colleges in India which tend to focus on cutoffs (Above 97%? You’re in! Below? You’re out.), the overseas admissions process tends to be more holistic. More holistic implies that they look at more than just your grades and so, they very often want a piece of writing to understand you as an applicant more.

These pieces of writing tend to break down into two big pieces – Statement of Purpose and Application Essay. While these are used interchangeably quite often, there are key differences and similarities.

Difference: INTENT

Statement of Purpose:

Countries – Undergrad: UK, Hong Kong. Graduate: Nearly All Countries

As the name suggests, this is a document conveying your purpose of applying to the college. The students need to keep their focus narrow and describe their reason for applying, their intended major or concentration, long term and short term goals and connect any coursework or extracurricular activities related to the major specifically.

Admissions Essays:

Countries Required – Undergrad: USA, Canada, Singapore. Graduate: Rarely required though sometimes part of MBA applications. Changes from college to college.

Admission Essays / Application Essays / Personal Essays are used interchangeably. Another title also used sometimes is, Personal Statement. The focus of these essays changes by the topic. However, largely, they want to figure out the person you are, your motivations and experiences. The topic may be, “Tell us why you’re applying to Columbia University”, hoping to understand your personal motivations and how you would want to make the most of the opportunities at Columbia. Or it could be, “Tell us about a time you failed”, hoping to gain an understanding of how you manage when things don’t go your way. It could also be something really quirky like, “What’s so odd about odd numbers?”, where the college is trying to gauge how you think, and if you can step out of the box.

Similarities: WRITING

While the intent may be different, there are some rules to always keep in mind, no matter what.

Word limit

The US Common Application Essay has a word limit of 650 words. The UK Statement of Purpose has a limit of 4000 characters. Both limits are hard limits and now that most applications are online, the system will cut you off after you’ve met the limit. So please don’t go overboard. Tip:Don’t type directly in the application. Always use Word to check your word limits and make corrections as needed. Then input the information in the form and check again to make sure nothing is cut off.

No Quotes and No Clichés

  1. No Mahatma Gandhi quotes. He’s relevant on your rupee notes. He’s not applying to the college, so he’s not relevant on your essay
  2. No To Be or Not to Be. Shakespeare is a god in the world of literature. But Hamlet has been quoted so often that if he wasn’t dead, he’d wish he was.
  3. No Caterpillars or Cocoons. Not all creatures on Gods’ green earth are meant to be written about. Besides, everyone writes about them and this is a really unoriginal idea. Note: Caterpillars coming out of cocoons and becoming butterflies, is still not original.

This ‘No That’ list summarizes to one thing – No Quotes and No Clichés. Why? Because you’re hoping to stand out with your essay and quotes and clichés do the exact opposite. Don’t use quotes of famous people to start your essays. This is unoriginal and very often has nothing to do with the rest of the document. More than that, someone else could have also used that quote in their essay / SOP – maybe it was very bad and your admissions officer starts thinking of that or it was good and your admissions officer begins thinking about that other essay. Either way, please use your own writing and your own words – that’s why they want to see the essay / SOP any way.

Don’t overuse the Thesaurus or Dictionary

Don’t try and use big words to sound fancy. Instead, express your ideas clearly. We don’t mean use slang here but, “A tear rolled down my cheek” is not improved by “The spherical drop of H2O trundled down the epithelial tissues of my face”. You could use the words incorrectly, and that would do more harm than good.And of course, be careful of spellings, grammar and punctuations and always review and re-read before submission.

For further questions and queries, reach out to CollegeCore Education at


In Defence of Mediocrity
Somebody has to start speaking up for us, and rather urgently at that!

Mansi Tikko