Five Ways to Make Your Application Stand Out

December 18, 2020

by Shuang Yin Cheryl Ng, MA student in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology

The time has finally come when people start writing their applications and worry about if they will get what they want and when will they know? In addition to that, there is the pressing question of: ‘’How do I make myself stand out?’’

I suppose different departments and universities will have distinct application procedures and varying word counts for your research proposal. Here, I hope to give some helpful tips and advice on how to get your application to stand out and capture the attention of the department for the highly competitive spot you desire. So, take a breath, make a tea, sit back and read the rest because my first tip is...

1. Don’t Stress Too Much Over It

Sure, a little bit of stress could be a good motivator but too much stress could sometimes translate into a messy application. One way not to stress about it is to break your application down into different sections (especially if you are doing multiple applications at a time) and work on them on different days. This could mean creating an account on SITS and filling in all your details in one day, write a draft of your proposal another day, plan your faculty research on a different day, so on and so forth. And remember to also plan time for a few people you trust to read it through for you.

Besides, at this point, you have probably already completed at least your bachelor's or are on your way to completing it. You know you have made it this far, you have written many different assignments up to this date, so writing the application is just another thing you will have to write to keep pursuing your goals. Furthermore, good time-management and planning is going to help you during your master’s.

2. What to Write?

Many people worry about what to write for their research proposal and what they should include and how it is going to stand out. I am going to let you in on an open secret. Almost all of us change our research interests after enrolment. Sometimes due to personal reasons, sometimes due to the relevance of the world around us and sometimes, if you are like me, it is simply because you wrote what was easiest to you at the time - the extension of work you were already doing. It is important to know what sparks your interests and keeps your interests going. It can be obvious when people write about things that they find utterly dull themselves. It does come through in your writing.

So, firstly, map out a research question using the 5W 1H – Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. Who do you care about? Depending on the nature of your course, this might not appear in your research question and proposal but surely, everything that happens in the world affects someone or something, so who is it that you care about? What in this vast world do you care about? What do you want to know? What questions do you already have? Where- are you picking a locality? Are you looking at a specific position of a group of people? Where is your interest located? Why is it that you care about this issue? Why is it important? Why should other people care? How are you intending to find answers to your questions? Are there sub-questions to your questions?

Secondly, draft it out, think critically about these issues and try to read widely for it. Essentially, you should write what you genuinely care about or it will be a tough effort trying to convince the department to care about your proposal if you find it hard to care about it yourself. So do not stress about making it the most intellectually interesting piece of work but focus on how you can demonstrate your critical thinking regarding the issues you care about and support it with statements on how the department can support you.

3. Research the Department

That leads me to the next point. Research the department. Know how they can support you. Look at their courses, look at the faculty and mention them in your application. Map out and understand how the experiences of the faculty and the courses taught are in-line with your research interests and personal learning interests. Not everything you enjoy in the department must be related to your research. Sometimes, it is also good to expand your knowledge circle. So, look it all up and state in your application what drew you to the department.

It is important not only to situate your research proposal but also yourself into the department. Bring in topics you have studied before and your own personal experiences to explain how they tie into the department’s epistemological landscape and how you can potentially contribute to the academic environment of the department you are applying for. This will make you stand out as it also shows ways you contribute through your diverse knowledge background.

4. Your Writing Sample

Many people worry over what a writing sample is and what they should write. It can be vague and confusing so I will share some advice based on what I have learned the purpose of the writing sample is. A writing sample is for the department to understand three main things about you. Your writing style, English language ability and the way you think.

When looking at your command of English and writing style, the only thing I can advise you to do is have it read over by a few people and make edits based on their suggestions. A second pair of eyes (or even a third or fourth) can sometimes shed more clarity on grammatical and phrasing mistakes that could easily be missed.

As for displaying your critical thinking skills and your ability to work within academic confines, what I chose to do was to pull out one of my best essays, look at the feedback, edit it accordingly and then submit it. If you don’t have something of the sort, create a little essay question for yourself or e-mail someone from the department for advice on what they are looking for in a candidate. They might give you some inspiration to get started. As long as you can display your ability to think critically and write academically in English, there should not be any problems.

5. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help!

Unibuddy is full of students who are happy to help you. So is the university and department. If there is anything unclear to you about the application process, shoot an e-mail and ask a question. It will not affect the consideration of your application. Besides, many of the professors I have interacted with enjoy being able to answer questions. Furthermore, do not just seek help from the people at CEU. If you have people in your life who can look over your application for you, to give you a dose of encourage or even just to help you connect to the right people to be your references, do not be afraid to ask for their help too!