Monday, March 14, 2011

All Abroad! Getting (Full Steam) Ahead on Your Study Abroad Essay

By Matthew Decker
I’ve always wanted to explore the charming shops along the Ponte Vecchio.” 

The opportunity to view the Mona Lisa in person would be a dream.”

I simply can’t wait to catch a show at Shakespeare’s Globe in London.”

It’s easy to turn to phrases like these when you start writing a study abroad application essay.  The prospect of leaving home for an exotic locale oceans away not only stirs the imagination, but also calls to mind every story we’ve heard from family and friends about the beauty and history of another country.  We want to see the Eiffel Tower in person, and we crave the chance to eat authentic Italian cuisine, and nothing sounds more relaxing than sunbathing on an Australian beach. 

Unfortunately, these dreams—these hopes for the ideal study abroad experience—aren’t going to guarantee you an automatic spot in your desired study abroad program.  While your GPA and class standing determine your eligibility for study abroad, it is ultimately your explanation of intent that sets you apart from the other applicants.  So, the question your essay needs to answer is not why you want to go abroad but: Why do you want to study abroad?     

Let’s try to revise and develop one of the statements we started out with.  Despite its simplicity, the second statement actually has a lot going for it as a starting point.  The author demonstrates her desire to study abroad in France, as well as her interest in browsing the many famous paintings in the Louvre Museum—one of the central landmarks of Paris. 

However, it's a good idea to be even more explicit about your goals in your application essay.  Try to ask yourself these questions: Why am I interested in the study abroad program in France?  What can this program offer me that I don’t already have access to at American University?  Finally, how will I develop my academic interests while I live and study in France?  If you use these questions to guide your essay, your explanation of intent will be much more powerful and engaging.  Take a look at the revised statement:

As an Art major at American University, I’ve had the opportunity to study artwork in some of the most famous museums in Washington, DC, which provides ample reason for why I’d like to continue my academic interests at Mission Interuniversitaire de Coordination des Echanges Franco-Americains in the spring.  With guided tours of the Louvre Museum and the opportunity to enroll in Art History courses devoted to the Italian Renaissance and French Revolution, the many amenities provided at MICEFA will both contribute to my growing knowledge of art history and inform my research for my senior project.”

Of course, this is only a snippet of what promises to be a solid and engaging study abroad essay, yet it properly showcases the necessary elements of a successful explanation of intent.  First, the author establishes her interest in Art at American University, as well as her desire to pursue the study of Art and Art History at MICEFA.  Then, the author shows that she has done her research by discussing the opportunities available to her through this study abroad program—namely, the guided tours and interesting Art courses.  Finally, the author discusses how this study abroad program will ultimately support the development of her senior project.  With so many strong points of connection evident between their course of study at AU and her plan for study abroad, the author fruitfully revises her initial idea to fashion a strong statement that sets her apart from the crowd. 


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