How to Write a Unique Study Abroad Essay
Sometimes, the process of studying abroad can feel almost as difficult as applying for college. You have to choose the country you want to study in, compare and contrast programs (hint: MyGoAbroad), collect your transcripts and references and, inevitably, you will have to write a personal statement and study abroad essay for your application.
When applying for a study abroad program – especially a competitive one – your personal statement and/or study abroad essay can make or break your application. After all, your program wants to know who it is exactly that will be representing their program in another country! They want to know exactly why you’ve decided to make the life-changing decision to spend a summer, semester, or even a year abroad.
Sound intimidating? Don’t you fret. We’re here to give you 10 study abroad essay tips so you can WOW your study abroad program with your application.
Most study abroad applications will ask you something along the lines of, “Tell us about yourself,” and “Why do you want to study abroad?” Simple questions, right? Actually, these can be pretty tough, when you consider how many ideas you need to narrow down to fit into a 500 word response. Remember that writing is a process. And, the best first step to streamline your study abroad essay-writing process is to just scribble some ideas down and do some good ol’ fashioned brainstorming.
Write down the things you’re excited to see, do, eat while abroad. Think about what intimidates you or what will be challenging in a new country. Doodle some of your goals for your summer/semester/year abroad, and really think about what it is that has made studying abroad so important to you. Is it the idea of finally exploring that country you’ve been reading about since you were seven? Is it because this will be your first time living independently and far away from home? Are you just over the moon to be learning about your favorite subject in a place that is relevant to your studies? Whatever it is, write it, draw it, sing it— but get those ideas out there, so you can plan out the best essay you can possibly write.
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2. Outlines, Outlines, Outlines
Yeah, yeah, we know: since day one, your teachers and professors have pushed the idea of an essay outline. You’ve done about a billion of them, but breaking down your study abroad essay and knowing exactly where you’re going to go in your writing can help you have a more concise argument as to why your chosen study abroad program should choose you. We repeat: writing. Is. A. Process.
3. First Impressions Matter
You always want to have that eye-grabbing introduction: who are you as a student, a person, and a traveler? In just one to two sentences, try to summarize and explain exactly who you are and why you want to study abroad (easy-peasy, right?). Don’t be afraid to get personal and really let your true colors fly — this is how you’ll stand out to the admissions counselors who are reading hundreds of personal statements and essays!
[How to master study abroad scholarships for international students]
For example: “My grandparents emigrated from Argentina at the ripe, young age of 20 years-old, and throughout my entire life, I have been taught to love a country I have never met. My passion for studying the Spanish language, and gaining a deeper understanding of where my family comes from, has inspired me to apply to ______ study abroad program in Buenos Aires, Argentina.”
4. Supporting Statements
Up next in our study abroad essay tips: support your statement on why you want to study abroad by expanding on the ideas you presented in your introduction. This is where your brainstorming comes in! What has brought you to this point? What subjects studied, projects completed, or passions followed have made you choose to not only study abroad, but study abroad with this particular program?
Be honest and sincere. It’s okay if the main reason why you want to study literature in England is because you spent your childhood reading Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s perfectly acceptable if your love of the ocean comes from an obsession with sea turtles, which is why you’ve decided to study marine conservation in Costa Rica. Maybe you want to study in Germany because you’ve always had the goal of working in international business! These are the things that make you a unique and interesting prospective study abroad student!
Just be sure to always tie your passions, goals, and dreams back to how this study abroad experience will help you expand on these things and carry them with you through the rest of your life.
5. Get Detailed
When you’re describing the who, what, when, and why of your decision to study abroad, be sure to state your goals clearly. Passion is one thing, but your study abroad program also wants to know what it is exactly that you plan on gaining from this experience. How will this summer, semester, or year abroad bring you closer to your academic or career goals in the future?
Example: “Through this study abroad program in Israel, I will expand my worldview and understanding of Middle Eastern cultures, which will, in turn, prepare me for my plans to pursue a graduate degree in Global Peace and Conflict Studies. With this, I hope to eventually utilize my experience and passion to work for the United Nations. Studying abroad will help me achieve these goals.”
[Get custom program advice to study abroad]
6. Be Yourself!
In the world of academia, being formal and professional is key, but in the world of study abroad, it’s all about making those human connections beyond the borders of your own country! That’s why it’s so important to be yourself when writing your study abroad essay. Of course, always put in the time and effort so that your writing sounds smart, but don’t be afraid to add a little pizzaz and let your personality shine through! This will set you apart from other study abroad applications, and will give your study abroad program a much clearer sense of who you are as a student and a person.
7. A Two-Way Street
Ask not what you can do for your study abroad program, but what your study abroad program can do for you! Studying abroad isn’t just about what your study abroad program can provide you — you also need to prove your worth to the program’s officials. After all, you’ll be serving as an ambassador of your home country and this program in a completely different country. They want to be sure that they’re accepting dedicated and deserving students into their program, so that years from now, when you’re a famous scientist or a world-leading politician, they can point to you and say: “See that person? They studied abroad on our program!”
A study abroad program’s reputation is dependent not only on the opportunities they build for their students, but also on the caliber of students that they bring in. So when writing your personal essay, be sure to highlight what you bring to the table and how you look forward to continuing your study abroad program’s mission.
Example: “As a participant in this program, I know that I could expand my worldview and continue <Insert Study Abroad Program Provider’s Namer>’s mission of creating global citizens by creating bridges between myself and other cultures.”
8. A Solid Sprint to the Finish Line
As you conclude your study abroad essay, be sure to nail the point home and finish with a strong conclusion. You’ll have to tie together your original introduction, the reasons for studying abroad, and your goals for the future all together in a nice, clean, concluding two to three sentences. Don’t repeat yourself, but be sure that these final sentences pack a punch, and leave your study abroad program admissions officers ready to buy you your plane ticket outta here.
9. Edits & Revisions
Never hit submit without first revising and editing your essay two or three times! You might notice typos or awkward sentences at second glance, and you might also think of an exciting new idea you want to add in after your third look-over! It’s also always a good idea to have someone else to look at your essay, to get a fresh pair of eyes on your writing.
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10. Submit! (on time)
Once you’ve cleaned up your essay, upload that application and click submit! But, don’t forget to pay attention to all of the application deadlines, and be sure to get all of your relevant documents to the study abroad program on time! There’s no worse feeling in the world than having spent weeks perfecting an essay and application, only to have missed the deadline.
A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Study Abroad Essay
With all of these study abroad essay tips, you might as well start packing! You’re well on your way to your grand adventure abroad, and by investing so much time and effort into your writing, your chosen study abroad program will be sure to accept you! Applying to study abroad can seem like a lot of work, but the minute you step off that plane and into your new home, you’ll realize that it was all worth it.
Find a study abroad program & get writing!
You’ve taken the tests, requested the recommendations, completed the common app, and now it’s finally time to refocus on what you’ve been putting off: the essay.
While most students spend days, sometimes weeks, perfecting their personal statements, admissions officers only spend about three to five minutes actually reading them, according to Jim Rawlins, director of admissions at the University of Oregon.
High school seniors are faced with the challenge of summarizing the last 17 years into 600 words, all while showcasing their “unique” personality against thousands of other candidates.
“It’s hard to find a balance between sounding professional and smart without using all of those long words,” says Lily Klass, a senior at Milford High School in Milford, Mass. “I’m having trouble reflect myself without sounding arrogant or rude or anything like that.”
The following tips will help applicants make the leap from ‘average’ to ‘accepted’:
1. Open with an anecdote.
Since the admissions officers only spend a brief amount of time reviewing stories, it’s pivotal that you engage them from the very beginning.
“Instead of trying to come up with gimmicky, catchy first lines, start by sharing a moment,” says Janine Robinson, writing coach and founder of Essay Hell. “These mini stories naturally grab the reader … it’s the best way to really involve them in the story.”
Let the moment you choose be revealing of your personality and character. Describe how it shaped who you are today and who you will be tomorrow.
2. Put yourself in the school’s position.
At the end of the day, colleges want to accept someone who is going to graduate, be successful in the world and have the university associated with that success. In your essay, it is vital that you present yourself as someone who loves to learn, can think critically and has a passion for things—anything.
“Colleges always say to show your intellectual vitality and curiosity,” Robinson says. “They want kids who are going to hit the ground running—zoom to class and straight out into the world. They want them hungry and self-aware.
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3. Stop trying so hard.
“One of the biggest mistakes students make is trying too hard to impress,” Robinson says. “Trust that it is those every day, specific subjects that are much more interesting to read about.”
Colleges are tired of reading about that time you had a come-from-behind- win in the state championship game or the time you built houses in Ecuador, according to Robinson. Get creative!
Furthermore, you’re writing doesn’t have to sound like Shakespeare. “These essays should read like smart, interesting 17-year-olds wrote them,” says Lacy Crawford, former independent college application counselor and author of Early Decision. “A sense of perspective and self-awareness is what’s interesting.
4. Ditch the thesaurus. Swap sophistication for self-awareness
There is a designated portion of the application section designated to show off your repertoire of words. Leave it there.
On the personal essay, write how you would speak. Using “SAT words” in your personal statement sounds unnatural and distances the reader from you.
“I think most students are torn between a pathway dividing a diary entry and a press release. It’s supposed to be marketing document of the self,” Crawford says.
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5. Write about what matters to you, not what matters to them
Crawford recommends students begin by answering the question, “if you had 10 minutes to talk to them in person, what would you say?” The admissions teams are looking for authenticity and quality of thinking.
“Theoretically, I think anything could be ‘the perfect topic, as long as you demonstrate how well you think, your logic and ability to hold readers’ attention,” Crawford says.
6. Read the success stories.
“The best advice is to read essays that have worked,” Robinson says. “You’ll be surprised to see that they’re not winning Pulitzers; they are pieces of someone. You want your story to be the one she doesn’t put down.”
Once you find a topic you like, sit down and write for an hour or so. It shouldn’t take longer than that. When you write from your heart, words should come easily.
Rawlins recommends showing the essay to a family member or friend and ask if it sounds like the student. “Take a few days and come back to it. But only do that once,” Rawlins says. “Reading it over and over again will only drive you nuts.”
7. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not.
While colleges tend to nod to disadvantaged students, roughing up your background won’t help your cause.
“It’s less about the topic and more about how you frame it and what you have to say about it, Robinson says. “The better essay is has the most interesting thing to say, regardless of a topic that involves a crisis or the mundane.”
The essays serve as a glimpse into how your mind works, how you view the world and provides perspective. If you have never had some earth shattering experience that rocked your world, don’t pretend you did. Your insights will be forced and disingenuous.
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8. Follow the instructions.
While the directions on the applications may sound generic, and even repetitive after applying to a variety of schools, Rawlins points out that every rhyme has a reason.
“They have to know that college put a lot of thought into the instructions we give them—so please follow them!” he says. “We’ve given a lot of thought to the words we use. We want what we ask for.”
9. Use this space to tell them what your application can’t.
Most colleges don’t have the time or bandwidth to research each individual applicant. They only know what you put in front of them. “If they don’t tell us something, we can’t connect the dots,” Rawlins says. “We’re just another person reading their material.”
Like Crawford, he recommends students imagining they are sitting next to him in his office and responding to the question, “What else do I need to know?” And their essays should reflect how they would respond.
At the end of the day, however, Rawlins wants students to know that the personal essay is just another piece of the larger puzzle. “They prescribe way too much importance to the essay,” Rawlins says. “It makes a massive difference—good or bad—to very few out there, so keep it in context.”
Paige Carlotti is a senior at Syracuse University.
admissions essay, college applications, Paige Carlotti, writing, VOICES FROM CAMPUS