8 Tips for a Winning US & UK Undergraduate Application Essay

By Gary Keung

(Admissions Consultant at The Edge Learning Center)

8 Tips for a Winning US & UK Undergraduate Application Essay

UK and US universities will come to mind when considering an overseas undergraduate degree. With many universities dominating the table of popular college rankings, such as the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) and Times Higher Education, it’s not hard to see why. With increasing uncertainty in recent years due to the pandemic and geopolitical tensions, many UK-bound students are also looking to the US for undergraduate study and vice-versa. However, if you’re considering applying to universities in both countries this year, there are some fundamental differences between the UK and US university admissions processes that you need to know about; unfortunately, the same application form will not suffice for both. Let’s start by looking at the differences and then pointers for how to approach the essays; you’ll learn things to remember when writing your applications.

Differences Between the US and UK Admissions 

1) In the UK, you apply through the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS), whereas in the US, you apply to each university separately (there is the Common App portal, but you do have to hit submit individually and complete any supplements required by the university).

2)You can apply for up to 5 university courses (or 4 courses in any one of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or veterinary science) in the UK. In the US, there is no limit on the number you can apply for. However, you’ll probably be spreading yourself too thin if you opt for too many universities.

3)Different people will read your application. In the UK, your application will be assessed by admissions tutors alongside academic staff who specialize in the field you’ve applied for. In the US, the decision will be made by the admissions officers at the university. Therefore, in the UK, you need to impress experts in the subject you’re interested in, while US admissions teams want to know how you’d contribute to the university community.

4)UK personal statements should focus on academics and the subject you’re applying for, with extracurriculars being the icing on the cake. US universities are interested in your personality and what has shaped you.

Tips for a Great UK Application Essay

Tip #1 : A strong personal statement for a UK university demonstrates the following key traits.

Tip #2 : It’s subject-focused, showcasing your interest in the subject, academic knowledge, and critical thinking ability.

Tip #3 : It shows what you’ve done to pursue your interest in the subject beyond the classroom.

Tip #4: It explains your desire to study the subject and how it fits your long-term aims.

Tip #5: It avoids humor and clichés.

Tip #6: It does not mention any university name, focusing instead on the subject.

Tips for a Great US Application Essay 

Tip #7: It highlights a student’s personality, background, and non-academic accomplishments, demonstrating the student’s likability and the type of person the university would prefer.

Tip #8: Student essays often contain anecdotes and narratives which reveal the student’s character, motivations, and experiences, as well as their feelings and how they have overcome difficulties. For these stories to be more dramatic, it is essential to include specific details, such as names, places, emotions, etc.

It varies from university to university how much weight this essay is given relative to other aspects of the application (such as academic records and references), but it’s certainly important enough that a good one could swing a decision in your favor, so it’s worth devoting the time to getting it right. The Edge Admissions team is experienced in assisting with both UK and US university applications. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us to perfect your essay.


Still have questions about your university applications? Schedule a 1-on-1 consultation with us now!

About The Edge

Established in 2008, The Edge Learning Center has grown into a premier one-stop provider of educational services for Grade 7 through Grade 12, targeting students who intend to pursue overseas education. Our three departments – Academic Tutoring, Test Preparation, and Admissions Consulting – offer a broad range of educational services spanning from SAT and IB Test Prep to colleges and boarding schools application counseling. The Edge Learning Center operates in multiple regions including Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam.