Application essay writing: know your audience

Application essays are our introduction to a respective institution. They represent the first point of contact between you and, in many cases, your future. As in all introductions, first impressions are lasting, and of the utmost importance. In order to make a good impression, we must, of course, know to whom we are introducing ourselves!


Each institution that you apply to will pride itself on the service it provides. You must demonstrate an awareness of the particular, specific aspects of your target institution’s self-identity. Think of trying to flatter or compliment another person with generic terms of endearment; they would simply come across as insincere. Research your institution’s strengths. You need to be able to articulate why you have chosen this institution.


After you have identified precisely how to pitch your institution, by assessing their strengths, you must then perform the same process with the subject. What is it about this subject that appeals to you, above others? In order to do this, you must understand the subject, and understand how that subject is explored and taught by your given institution. For example, if you think you understand psychology and apply in a generic fashion to psychology departments, you will fail to distinguish between many different aspects of a complex field, in this case, between Clinical Psychology and Experimental Psychology.

Admissions Tutors

After you have identified the specific merits of the institution, and those of the subject, you can begin thinking about how to compose the essay. Remember, the admissions tutors might not be an expert in the area that you yourself are particularly interested in. For example, because a person writes about and researches ‘history’, they may not be an expert on, say, 18thc French history. You need to key your essay in such a way that it demonstrates your knowledge, but that does so in a way that a non-specialist can understand.

In conclusion, your audience is a function of several sets of related concerns; you must appeal to the institution by understanding precisely what they do, and precisely what they can offer you. Also, you are a potential representative of the institution, and they will want to know what you will bring to them. So, sell yourself to an audience that you understand!