Undergraduate Applicants: Tips for Writing Your Three Admissions Essays

Are you applying to Sciences Po for your bachelor’s degree? Start your application now! For the 2021 undergraduate intake, all applications now include three short “personal essays.” These essays are one of the four evaluations of the procedure. Here are some useful tips and tricks to guide you before you start writing!

Goodbye cover letter, hello essays! Here is what is expected of you:

The new undergraduate admissions procedure emphasises the importance of writing in the application. There is no longer a cover letter but three short essays, in which you should show off your best writing skills! You will write three essays on three different subjects:

  • 1 - Your personal background, activities and interests
  • 2 - Your reasons for choosing Sciences Po and your professional goals
  • 3 - A personal statement, with one prompt among five from which to choose

These essays are an essential part of the application that you will complete and submit, via Parcoursup for candidates from a French high school (FR) (in France or abroad), or on the Sciences Po admissions portal for candidates graduating from a foreign secondary school. But no need to wait for applications to open to start thinking about them! You can already brainstorm and begin drafting the first two essays. Only the personal statement prompts will be revealed once applications are open. Finally, remember that these three essays must complement each other: if you follow the guidelines, you should not repeat yourself.

1. Your personal journey: once upon a time there was... you!

In this first essay, you will share "your activities, areas of interest and professional experiences according to your background." In other words, think concretely! The four sections you have to develop are the following:

  • your animation or management or teamwork experiences, 
  • your civic or voluntary engagement (charity organisations or other context), 
  • your professional experiences (work placements or internships)
  • sports, cultural activities, experiences abroad or additional languages spoken besides those studied at school

You should mention such elements within 1500 characters (including spaces), which may seem long to some, short to others. If you have a lot of experiences to share, sort through them and choose the most significant. If you think you have fewer experiences, take the opportunity to explain why. Either way, it is not the quantity that makes the difference, but what the experience says about you. What makes you want to make an impact on the world? Through this story, you should demonstrate your commitment and contextualise your decision to apply to Sciences Po. This essay should pave the way for the second essay…

2. Why Sciences Po? You are not applying by chance...

For the second essay, you will be asked to demonstrate your motivation for Sciences Po by answering three questions, and to articulate for each of them a clear and considered answer:

  • Explain your interest in studying social sciences and humanities at Sciences Po. How do these studies respond to your curiosity and questions you are currently asking yourself? (2500-3000 including spaces)
  • The Bachelor of Arts Degree at Sciences Po is offered on several campuses and proposes different specializations. Please specify your two choices and your specific interest in each of them. (1500-2000 including spaces). Read our guide about Parcoursup. 
  • Over the course of your secondary studies, what classes or workshops have motivated or supported you in your application to Sciences Po? (1500-2000 including spaces)

We want to hear about your academic motivation and how you envision the next three years of your life (at least!). We ask you to do your research: take the time to get to know us, stay updated on our news, follow our social media channels, immerse yourself in our courses via the Prof. series, ask our current students questions thanks to the SOS Sciences Po association, for example. And don't miss our online open house days: the next one will be on February 6th, 2021!

3. The personal statement: free writing on a given theme

The third written exercise must answer one question and only one among five choices:

  • Amongst the texts you have studied in secondary school, which would you recommend to a friend and why?
  • Which of your accomplishments are you most proud of and why?
  • For what cause would you refuse to take a stand and why?  
  • If you had the opportunity to talk to an important political leader in your country, who would you choose, what would you tell her/him and why?
  • What brings you joy? Explain and elaborate.

Take the time to carefully select the question you will answer. This is not a test of knowledge: there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Rather, you must choose the prompt that will allow you to engage in the most personal and authentic reflection, to present your writing in all its uniqueness. Once you have chosen a theme, you will have to stick to it! And, of course, apply the highest standards of writing and thinking to it.

Three tips for writing a strong and convincing essay

  • Your essays are yours and no one else’s. Of course, it is always beneficial to seek outside advice on your writing. But be careful when multiplying the number of proofreaders or revisions. Whereas a few adjustments can improve the whole, too many changes can distort your essays and ultimately compromise their authenticity. Also, you are in the best position to know and talk about your talents, motivations, and personality. You should recognise yourself in the final version of the essays and be proud of them.
  • “Sell yourself” but stay humble: a question of balance. Don't be afraid to show off your strengths and your achievements. Yet, a word of caution: make sure that they are relevant to your academic goals. And, remember to put them into context by giving specific examples that illustrate what you want to convey. This allows you to present your strengths in a justified and thoughtful way without falling victim to arrogance.
  • Don't send the first draft and don't wait until the last minute. You cannot reach the final version of your essays in one sitting. Do not go about them the day before the deadline: you need time to think, build your arguments, and proofread with a fresh pair of eyes to improve where necessary and check that each essay checks all the boxes of the requirements. You will need time to integrate edits and advice from another proofreader, and of course, make any spelling and syntax corrections! Do you have a formal or more personal style? It does not matter, so long as you stay consistent and sincere. Try to write essays that are pleasant to read, with clear and relevant ideas. Aim for simplicity and efficiency! And stick to the required length, which also takes time. As 17th century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote in his famous commentary on one of his letters: "I only made this one longer because I didn't have time to make it shorter."

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