There are so many names for supplementary applications required by Canadian Universities.

Waterloo calls theirs the “Admission Information Form (AIF)”; Queen’s coined its nearly universal term as the “Personal Statement of Experience (PSE)“;  Western and Laurier chose to simply things with “Experience Profile“; but my all-time favourite is  Trent’sEquity Admissions Application Form“.

Whatever the name, supplementary essays and applications are critically important to getting accepted to top Canadian University programs. Queen’s Commerce, for instance, places 100% weight on your “PSE” once you’ve hit their grade cut-off.

It’s a great tool to leverage. The admissions committee can decide on the questions that will provide them with the best insights about their prospective students… and some of them can be really blue sky and interesting! I particularly love McMaster’s “Use up to 1,500 characters for whatever you think is appropriate.”

We read a lot of supplementary essays and applications – time and time again we see the same improvement areas, so we’re here to share those with you now.

1. Answer the question 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised how many first drafts we read where the student hasn’t specifically answered the question. For example, in the famous ‘goals essay’ by Queen’s, it simply asks “What are your goals at Queen’s and beyond”. We either see responses that don’t explicitly mention anything to do with goals or answers that focus completely on goals at Queen’s, and nothing on ‘beyond’.

Oftentimes, I also read essays where students constantly self-pitch why they are perfect for the program while indirectly answering the essay question. As a reader, what happens is that we drift off, or get frustrated and think “When is this person going to answer the question!”

2. Run on sentences / sentence structure

The high school curriculum focuses far too much on book reports and analyzing poetry, rather than fixing the fundamental issue of improving student writing. Only one in ten students we see writes clear, compelling, and concise (3 C’s!) prose.

Run-on sentences are one of the biggest problems we see. Remember, the admissions committee isn’t just evaluating you for your content, writing style is definitely an important factor. If they see too many run-on sentences, you can kiss your admission chances goodbye.

Remember that scene from the movie Wedding Crashers? Rachel McAdams’ character was going to give a wedding speech at her sister’s ceremony. She pitched it to Owen Wilson’s character before going up on stage and he said, “I think you’re better off going with something from the heart … you’re going to hear crickets!”.

Nevertheless, she delivered the same speech, opening up with this infamous line:

“I never thought my sister would find someone who cared about what other people thought as much as she did – until I met Craig.”

Remember the reaction of the audience in the movie? Readers of university applications react the exact same way to sentences like this. I usually shake my head, re-read the sentence, try to fathom what it means, re-read it again, then move on. We want to avoid this as much as possible.

Please, please, please review your essays for run-on sentences – I guarantee you have at least one.

3. Proper grammar

Similar to the previous point, scrutinize your essay for use of proper grammar – especially the basics we are told time and time again. One of these ‘basics’ is ending a sentence with a preposition. Who knows if you’re admissions reader will care or not, but it’s better to de-risk the situation and go with proper grammar. Here’s an example of poor preposition use, found on www.grammar-monster.com (great site btw):

  • BAD: “She is a person I cannot cope with”
  • GOOD, but sounds not authentic: “She is a person with whom I cannot cope”
  • BEST: “It is behaviour I will not tolerate”

The ‘best’ example has the same message, just used a different way to get rid of the preposition.

4. Informal, non-intellectual writing

You want your essays to be authentic, and maybe even a bit colloquial, but too informal is a definite no-go. “My goal is to earn a good job” is not a sentence from a Canadian-educated 18 year-old… it’s a sentence from a toddler. Push yourself to sound intellectual, while still sounding ‘yourself’. Maybe something more like “I am determined to obtain a challenging and rewarding career”. Much better 🙂

5. Be creative, people

Sir Ken Robinson’s famous point around schools ‘killing’ kids’ creativity is quite widely-seen amongst our clients. We see the same answers time and time again. Be different, while still being comfortable with the essay you are writing (i.e. make sure it’s authentic). There isn’t an ‘answer’ these people are looking for. They’re looking for your answer.

For admissions support on your supplementary essays, we recommend contacting the folks at AdmissionsConsulting.ca. We don’t recommend ‘answers’ for you, and we certainly don’t write the essays for you (unlike what one client thought this year).

Rather, what we try to help you with is structuring the essay, encouraging creativity, and pushing you to think deeper about yourself, your goals, and what it is that you specifically want to get out of university.

One of our past clients describes what we do best: “you played a huge role in pulling out all in intricate details of my life that I never would have thought were important.” That’s what we do. 

5 Supplementary Essay Tips for Queen’s, McMaster, UBC, etc.