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Spinning my life events into academic potential - Letter of academic intent

aroundandaround 1 / 4  
Jun 3, 2009   #1
write a letter of academic intent.

Hello group,

I'm trying to write my letter of intent for university and I'm having a bit of trouble getting started. The main problem I'm having is that due to some pretty terrible personal events at the end of highschool, I was not able to attend university on grades alone. I decided to take some time to travel, clear my head and find my passion. While I was away, which was about three years, I discovered that I am very interested in political sciences and current events and that I want to attend university to study poli-sci/history and journalism. What I'm having a hard time with is showing my life experiences as ones that will make me a good student.

I've lived a lot in Africa in the Middle East in the last three years and I think just living there, having friends die in terrorist attacks and being robbed by soldiers is a good political education. It was a great "hands on" education but I am unsure how university admissions officers will view it.

Any advice on how to spin my lifes events into academic potential would be very much appreciated. I've included a list of events and qualifications below. I will of course post my essay once It has been put together.

-lived in Israel for 8 months. Travelled through the entire country, the West Bank and Gaza. Met many amazing people who sometimes do terrible things to those that arent' like them. volunteered on a farm and worked with people from all around the world.

-Decided to go live in Egypt to get the Arab side of the story. Met many more amazing people. Had the town I was living in, Dahab, bombed by terrorists.

-Took part in a humanitarian convoy through the sahara desert to bring education/medical supplies to the impoverished people who live in southern Africa. Got robbed and cheated a lot by the police and those in power. Got robbed by normal citizens.

I went on this trip specifically to meet people and to try and expand my narrow western way of looking at the world and I think I accomplished it. I volunteered and worked at a lot of places and I traveled, but I never took any history classes or political ones, which I know universities care about. I want to make myself come off as academically mature, but again I am worried that this will be hard.

Any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated.

edit: This is my first paragraph so far.
Smoking a cigarette and sitting on the beach, I was having a hard time dealing with the events of the last night. Three bombs had been detonated on the promenade in Dahab and they had done a lot of damage. This was a lot different than living in Israel and experiencing near misses; I had friends living there and some of them had been ushered out of this world. That antipathy that caused it, and many past and future events, is what has lead me to pursue a degree in political science.
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jun 3, 2009   #2
The experiences you describe will make you a very attractive candidate to liberal arts colleges and to universities in general. You may need to tailor your letter to each school, highlighting the ways that what you have and want matches up with what they offer and want from students. Some schools have peace studies programs or cultural studies programs that especially look for students with your kind of curiosity and experience. Any school with a non-traditional program will also find your initiative and courage attractive.

Indeed, these qualities -- curiosity, courage, initiative, real-world experience -- are strengths that you should highlight even when applying to traditional programs. Many students take time off between high school and college. Most drift. Some do career-oriented work that serves only their own self interest. Very few take themselves to war-torn regions or go on humanitarian missions.

I'm particularly struck by your decision to go to Egypt, to get the other side of the story, after living for some time in Israel. This speaks to not only to your intellectual curiosity but also suggests a sincere wish to understand all sides of one of the most vexing disputes of our time. It also shows what kind of person you are. You didn't just take yourself to the library or go online to read about it: You took yourself to Egypt to see for yourself.

See how I've been singing your praises? This is how you want to present yourself. Start your letter with your strong points, and cover any weakness in your high school grades later, giving some reason, however obliquely stated, if they are really much lower than your abilities. By that point, the combination of your writing and your remarkable experiences will make the reader believe that those grades do not reflect your potential.

Good luck, feel free to ask further questions or post drafts for feedback, and don't forget to do your part on the forum by offering your advice to others!
OP aroundandaround 1 / 4  
Jun 3, 2009   #3
Thank you so much for your input! It's great advice that I think has enabled me to focus my thoughts a bit better. How is this for an opening paragraph now?

"Why do you come to Egypt?" That was the question my taxi driver Mohamed asked as we sped down the highway and through the night. I was leaving Israel after eight months and moving to Egypt to gain some insight and experience into another side of the Israeli/Arab conflict. The border left behind the now familiar Star of David and introduced me to a new, poorer world with it's crescent moon of Islam. At nineteen years old it was scary, but I knew that the best way to find my answers was to go out into the world and ask my questions. Through my time in Egypt I found answers to most of my questions but the most elusive one remained; how can these people, Israeli and Arab, find peace and finally live their dreams without the spectre of death hanging over them? After I left Egypt I spent more time traveling through much of west Africa pondering the answers to life. Finding near chaos, brainwashed people and cruel governments it became clear that Africa was not the place one went to find clarity. To find the answers to my questions and to better myself I now seek admission to the program of political science at U
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jun 3, 2009   #4
Very good! You're leading with your strength and also drawing the reader in with dialogue.

Just a couple comments:

it's = it is

"At nineteen years old it was scary" would mean that "it" (the experience) was 19 years old. Instead say, "At nineteen years old, I felt scared, but..."
OP aroundandaround 1 / 4  
Jun 4, 2009   #5
Write a letter of academic intent.

EF_Simone, thank you very much for the advice you gave me earlier. I've done my best to sell myself in my letter of intent and would very much appreciate your further input on this more complete draft (and the input of any others kind enough to give it)

I really like the first paragraph and feel that it is a true representation of what happened in my life and what led me to pursue a degree.

The second leaves me with kind of a weird feeling just because it seems to insular and lacks some personalisation(?). I'm not too sure what I can do to fix it.

For the third I do have some academic shortcomings that have forced me to apply as a mature student, but I think that saying my shortcomings were the products of a poor environment and my successes were unrealized potentional during that time sets me up well for future academic success.

Any comments are very appreciated.

"Why do you come to Egypt?" That was the question my taxi driver Mohamed asked as we sped down the highway and through the night. I was leaving Israel after eight months and moving to Egypt to gain some insight and experience into another side of the Israeli/Arab conflict. The border left behind the now familiar Star of David and introduced me to a new, poorer world of the crescent moon of Islam. At nineteen years old, I felt scared, but I knew that the best way to find my answers was to go out into the world and ask my questions. Through my time in Egypt I found answers to most of my questions but the most elusive one remained; why cannot people who want the same things find peace? Upon leaving Egypt I returned to Canada for a summer before heading to western Africa. I went to do humanitarian work because I felt that the problems of the Middle East were ones that a young Canadian couldn't help solve, but bringing aid directly to those in need was something I could do. My efforts in Africa along with those of many devoted people resulted in our organisation raising nearly $200,000 for charity in 2007. Working and aiding people is something I wish to continue with and work at on a more far reaching level. Studying under those with more years of wisdom than myself is how I now wish to learn and enable myself to create positive change in the world. With this in mind I am humbly submitting my application to the University of British Columbia so I may pursue an undergraduate degree in political science.

UBC is a place I can make a long term commitment to because of the programs it offers. I am seeking an undergraduate degree in political science because it will "help [me] develop the analytical and communication skills that are so important to a successful career and an informed and rewarding life." I am particularily impressed with the co-op programs UBC offers and look forward to taking part in the undergraduate journalism co-op, which is a field I aspire to work in. With UBC publishing it's own student newspaper, The Ubyssey, and offering the first international reporting course in Canada I know I will be comfortable and confident in pursuing the dreams of academic excellence and of my future career at this institution. Being located in such a diverse city as Vancouver and having an equally diverse student body are added incentives to someone pursuing a degree with the hope of working internationally.

My academic past shows some low points which reflect a very difficult time in my life. Being passed off to three homes in two years and dealing with some very painful personal issues I let my academics slip to concentrate on my welfare. Despite this bad period in my life I was able to score high marks on some provincial examinations and in classes which are good examples of my academic potential. Now being in a place where I am sound in mind and body I know nothing can hold me back from excelling in academics and achieving the goals I put forth for myself.

I have spent nearly three years of my life searching for answers, sometimes being from questions brought forth by the Israeli-Palestinian, other wars, famine, hunger and humanity. Pushing myself to find answers from people who live through terrible things every day has taught me that if I can put my mind to something I can do so much. The drive that I have has led me into Gaza against the better my better judgement and that of those close to me, but I know that I need and can do whatever it takes to get the job done. The job I want to do right now is earn a university degree at the University of British Columbia.

EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jun 4, 2009   #6
This is very strong. To add credibility, be sure -- in the real version, not here -- to name the organization with which you worked in Africa.

When I was reading the second paragraph, I was thinking, "Journalism? That's perfect!" Journalists do what you did when going to Egypt -- go out to find out. So, to personalize that paragraph, I'd tie it to the first and maybe talk a bit about how your personal characteristics and desires suit you well for the endeavor of journalism.

In the third paragraph, I'm thinking that not only "sound mind and body" but basic stability are necessary for academic success. I like how you take responsibility for your past difficulties, saying that you let your academics slip, but I think it would also be okay to state that the kind of chaos associated with three homes in two years is not conducive to academic success, no matter how dedicated the student. Or, even if you don't say it, know it: It's remarkable that you got through school at all under such circumstances. To then go on to do good works for others was indeed an achievement, perhaps more substantial than any academic success might have been. I feel certain that admissions officers will feel the same way.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Jun 4, 2009   #7
I agree with Simone -- this a very strong and well-written essay. Is it meant as a stand-alone letter, or is it part of a larger application? If the former, then you are in good shape. If the latter, then I wouldn't mention your past academic difficulties at all here. Usually, an application package offers students a chance to explain that sort of thing in a separate essay. This allows students to put themselves in as positive a light as possible in the other essays and letters they include. Writing about your academic troubles in high school in its own essay also allows you to go into specifics about the reasons for your low grades without getting off-topic, whereas here it would be inappropriate and weaken an essay that focuses, extremely effectively, on your experiences in the Middle East.
OP aroundandaround 1 / 4  
Jun 4, 2009   #8
Hi Simone and Sean,

Thank you very much for the constructive comments. This essay is meant to stand-alone and after making the corrections you've suggested I feel confident that it will present myself and my intentions wells.

I felt it important to touch on my past academic failings because I'm applying as a mature student. There is a reason for that! Wish my luck!

Thank you so much for the help.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Jun 4, 2009   #9
As I said, the essay works well if it is meant as a standalone piece. In your case, you have no choice but to mention your weakness as well as your strengths, as I assume the letter is meant to accomplish what you fear a standard application wouldn't as a result of that weakness. I'd say you have a good chance of getting in despite your grades. Your writing is strong, and your real-world experiences have clearly taught you a great deal. Good luck.
OP aroundandaround 1 / 4  
Jun 18, 2009   #10
Hi everyone,

I've made a few final edits to my essay and will be dropping it off at the university tomorrow morning. Any last minutes edits that you feel need to be made or comments would be extremely appreciated. Thank you.
EF_Simone 2 / 1,986  
Jun 18, 2009   #11
Add the leading quotation mark to the quote that starts the piece.
EF_Sean 6 / 3,491  
Jun 18, 2009   #12
"but I knew that the best way to find answers in life was to go out into the world and ask questions through my time in Egypt I found answers to most of my questions but the most elusive one remained; why can people who want the same things not find peace?" This is a run-on sentence.

Generally, though, your essay is ready for submission.

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