You only need to make one mistake to have your application rejected. Here are some common mistakes and ways to avoid them:
The Personal Statement or ‘letter of intent’ is the most important part of your application. This is especially so for foreigners, whose applications cannot be dismissed as easily as those of resident citizens. Resident citizen applications are mostly measured by means of test scores, while the grades and backgrounds of foreigners require more interpretation.
After your Personal Statement and essays (if required), the next most important documents are Letters of Recommendation. The rule with Letters of Recommendation is simple: the more established the academic or the more senior or important the person writing the letter, the greater its credibility.
Not only does the quality of the English matter, but also what you choose to include or omit in the small space you are given. Applicants will often include scholarships or experiences that do not fit the dominant narrative of the letter. This mistake can result in a fragmented application, cognitive dissonance for the evaluator, and ultimately a negative outcome.
Virtually all candidates fall into one of two camps:
- They believe they are ‘natural choices’ and don’t perceive the arrogance embedded in their applications, which displeases admissions committees.
- They perceive themselves as being weaker than they really are, and downplay their redeeming qualities, which also displeases admissions committees.
When you find someone who knows what admissions personnel are looking for, they can position your strengths—and the challenges you face—in order to make you even more appealing a candidate than your grades alone are capable of doing.
Friends and family will rarely give you objective feedback about your application or your narrative assets—your life experiences, achievements, capabilities, or the challenges that you face. We all know that friends and family don’t want to offend us by being too critical, even if constructive criticism is exactly what we need. They can also downplay our strengths out of sheer blindness, jealousy, or excessive criticism.
We are rarely objective about our own life narratives. We cannot correctly decide which of our narrative assets fit best into an application and how they should be framed.
An objective critic can be of tremendous help in improving your application. Your ideal critic is someone who is not scared of offending you, speaks and writes English at a native level, and has submitted a successful application to a university abroad. The perfect critic also has experience in evaluating dozens or hundreds of academic applications and communicates regularly with university admissions teams. A true guide knows what to look for, what questions to ask, and how to order and frame your narrative assets for maximum effect.
Excellence is not enough. Character, aspirations, the life challenges that you faced or continue to face, as well as specific, non-academic accomplishments, can enrich your Personal Statement and motivate acceptance committees even more than a student who has a perfect academic record. In particular, a detailed desire to help your country or the world in some way – especially if consonant with your experiences or background – can vastly improve your chances of standing out from a crowded field of candidates.
Your narrative assets are your experiences, your victories, your talents, or your challenges. In order to build a truly exceptional application, you must choose those narrative assets that are going to depict you as an integral character, complement your academic record, and help you stand out as an exceptional person and not simply as an exceptional student. Demonstrating the desire or experience of doing good and helping others in a specific manner, for example, has a much stronger impact on an application than you might think.