Writing university applications


A key part of the admissions process is the supplementary applications, which many Canadian university programs have implemented. Many of these supplementary apps did not exist a few years ago. One of the reasons these apps have been added to the application process is due to universities seeking more information from applicants to make informed decisions about admissions as well as the rising the level of competition. With more qualified candidates than ever before, these programs are looking beyond academics to make decisions because they need to find other ways to differentiate applicants who may be similarly academically qualified.

While you cannot change things in your past (such as grades, club involvements, leadership positions etc.), putting together strong apps will only help your chances. If you have strong grades, which you should strive for, these apps are what can ultimately help set you apart from other qualified applicants. So, you should see them as an opportunity to stand out from the pack. On the flip side if you are weaker academically, then these apps area also your chance to show areas of strength in your application. Strong apps which present a convincing image of you as an applicant can make up for weaker academics.

Components of Supplementary Apps:

1. Leadership and Extracurricular Activities:

In this section of the apps, you list out your involvements outside of the classroom. These involvements include being part of student clubs, sports teams, volunteer activities, and part-time work. The key here is to mention the impact you have had in your role on your team and the organization. As stated before, the universities care most about is the impact you have had in your role. They do not just want to see people who have been members of groups just for the sake of involvement. Anyone can do that. They are looking for people who have made an impact. The way to show this is by quantifying this impact by providing facts and figures. For example, don’t just say you helped increase the Yearbook Club budget; instead, say that you conducted 3 fundraisers across the semester that drew over 250 individuals and raised a total of $1,300 for the Yearbook. Or don’t just say that you were Captain of the Volleyball team. Instead say that as Captain of the Volleyball team, you led a team of 5 students in 6 hours of weekly training for a 12-week season and helped the team advance to Regional Finals.

2. Essays:

Essays are a crucial part of the apps. The essays are where you can directly communicate with the admissions office. It is really your unique opportunity to set yourself apart from others. Essay questions vary, but common ones ask about leadership experiences, teamwork, and instances in which you have made an impact on an organization or person. The best way to address an essay question is to first take a step back and reflect. What is it that you really care about and that is reflected in your experiences to date? Are you passionate about global health and have volunteered at hospitals and labs over the years? Or perhaps you’re really passionate about building technology and have demonstrated this through your involvement in the robotics club or through computer programming competitions. Or perhaps you’re really passionate about building a fashion company because you grew up in an artistic household and have been involved with your high school’s fashion and design clubs. Just make sure to take a step back and think about what drives you. To identify this, you have to do some soul searching. You really have to think about what makes you tick and think about “why” it is that you do the things you do. There is a deeper purpose that you must identify.

Once you have found your passion (which hopefully makes an impact on people, your community, or the broader society), then you need pull the supporting evidence from your activities and involvements. You need to have evidence that you really care about this passion. Then, you have to communicate this message in your essays. Since this is “your” passion, combined with your background and experiences, it will be a great way to set yourself apart from others.

Story formats typically work really well in essays because they help take the reader through a journey. By doing so, you can make a very strong emotional impact with the reader that makes them become very engaged.

3. Interviews:

Many programs today, especially business programs, have added video interviews as part of their admissions process. Typically, these are not live interviews (however, in some cases they may be). The questions are usually pre-recorded and you get one shot at recording your response. Of course, you will be presented with practice questions beforehand. You should really see this as an opportunity to get as much practice as possible and prepare yourself for the “real” interview. Many people overlook these practice questions, only to find themselves unprepared during the actual interview. What is more, these questions usually closely resemble the actual questions during the interview and in some cases the questions may actually be the same.

A good way to start of the process is by doing a deep dive on your resume and ensuring that you have a solid understanding of what you have done in the past and be able to talk about them in detail. You should know resume cold going into the interview stage so you can always draw on examples to substantiate your statements.

What is the key to success ? Be professional and speak with confidence, as a first step. The message you communicate is no different than those in your essays. For instance, a question may ask “Tell us about yourself”. Here, you want to state your name, your grade, and then jump into what drives you academically and professionally. Again, it’s about the key message of what drives you, while framing it within both an academic and professional framework. You can and should draw upon supporting evidence from your involvements. Then, you can end off by stating why you want to attended the specific program and what aspects of the academics, extracurricular and social life at the school resonate with you. Hitting these key points will give a clear picture of who you are, what drives you, and why you would be a good fit for the program.

Answering these questions is much more strategic than you may think. And it’s not about just stating as much information as you possibly can. If you have identified your passion and answered the “why” question, you should use that as the driving piece of your answers, use examples from your resume to support it, and reinforce how the school resonates with you, is a good fit, and will help you achieve your goals.

These are some of the general components of supplementary applications.

Stay tuned for our future posts!

All the best,

Prepsmart Team

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