How To Write A Great Study Abroad Application Essay

If you’re applying to study abroad, many programs require that you write a letter of intent– a one-page essay that introduces who you are, why you want to study abroad, and how you will enhance your future plans by studying abroad.

For more competitive study abroad programs, the letter of intent is an integral part of your application. It gives the selection committee a chance to see who you are as a student and a person. Sometimes, a well-written letter of intent will separate who gets accepted and who doesn’t.

To write a good letter of intent, you need to know the purpose of your letter and the audience you’re writing to. With those two important ideas in mind, you’re essentially writing a business letter. Here are some tips on how to begin writing your letter of intent.


  • Be direct. Don’t begin with a long-winded, confusing intro. Introduce yourself and state what you are applying for. Include the most important information in the beginning, however obvious it seems.
  • Organize your thoughts. The person reading your letter does not want to read a giant wall of unformatted text. Break up your letter into 3-5 small paragraphs. Each paragraph should begin with a strong topic sentence that encapsulates the rest of the paragraph. Address each question directly.
  • Show your personality. Give the reader a sense of who you are. Provide specific (yet relevant) details about your life, include an anecdote if appropriate, and be honest about why you want to study abroad. If you’re passionate about travel, for example, tell them.
  • Write well. Follow the principles of good, effective writing. Eliminate any grammatical errors, favour the active voice over the passive, and use concrete and specific language. If you enjoy waxing poetic, try to keep it to a minimum.
  • Keep it short. Many letters of intent are restricted to one page in length. The reader’s time is valuable, so only state the important things. The more concise you are, the better. Unless told otherwise, keep your letter between 300-500 words.

These letters are important, so don’t be afraid to write several drafts, or seek help from a trusted friend or professor. To give you an idea of what a letter of intent looks like, I’ve provided an example: the letter of intent that I wrote for my international exchange.

Dear Members of the Selection Committee:

My name is Abroad Guide and my dream is to travel abroad as part of a study exchange. A proud Vike, I’m very excited about the opportunity to study abroad with UVic and broaden my own horizons. I am applying to study in Spain and particularly interested in attending the University of Alcala next fall. I believe that as a driven learner, cultural sponge and adventurous spirit, I am an ideal exchange student and perfect for this program.

Travel has always been a part of my life. I remember moving to the Dominican Republic when I was ten. It was an enormous change compared to my hometown in Florida. I was eating things I had never heard of, and I learned that electricity and running water are luxuries for most. During that time, I was introduced to the Spanish language and my love for my Hispanic roots. Studying in Spain—the birthplace of Latin American culture—would help me further explore my heritage.

Studying abroad would give me a chance to continue my studies while experiencing a different culture. While studying English and Professional Writing here at UVic, I used my electives to study Spanish and Hispanic culture. My personal curiosity developed into a scholarly interest, and I have now declared for the Certificate of Spanish Language and Cultural Proficiency. I’m confident that a semester en España would enhance my studies in this field.

The University of Alcala offers the academic and cultural experience that I desire. It offers courses taught in English, along with Spanish classes for non-native speakers. Roughly the size of UVic, the University of Alcala is one of the top schools in the Spanish-speaking world. Located in the hometown of writer Miguel de Cervantes, the school has a rich tradition in humanities and a main campus that dates back to the sixteenth century. It would be a privilege to attend such a world-class institution on behalf of UVic.

As an English student, I have learned that literature plays many roles in our lives. Opening a book is like opening a door into another world full of characters, ideas and perspectives that are otherwise unreachable. I believe that traveling does the same thing. The last four years at UVic have enriched my life with experiences I’ll never forget. With only a few short semesters left here at UVic, my experience as an undergraduate is coming to a close. But I have applied to go on exchange because I think there’s time for one last adventure.


Abroad Guide

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Home > Students > How to Write an Outstanding Study Abroad Application Essay

For some students who wish to study abroad, the statement of purpose can be one of the most daunting components of the program application. The good news: it’s not as difficult as it may seem at first! After all, you’ve come this far in the study abroad research process, so chances are you’ve already given thought to what the essay requires you to write about. As long as you don’t rush and take the time to create a solid outline, your study abroad application statement of purpose will truly shine.

Common statement of purpose requirements

Although each program application may have program-specific essay requirements to address, most will ask students to address the following two components:

  1. Goals for studying abroad (i.e. academic, career, and personal) – Most likely, you will have to briefly describe your goals, outlining specific ways in which studying abroad will help you achieve these goals.
  2. Reason you chose this program/location – This aspect of the statement of purpose is more specific to why, out of all the programs and locations on Earth to study, you’re applying to this one.

Creating an outline

Before rushing into writing out your statement of purpose, make sure you’ve carefully read the instructions and prompts for the essay. The worst way to sabotage an otherwise excellent essay is to miss a key requirement outlined in the instructions. To help keep essay requirements fresh in your mind, consider copying and pasting the requirements at the top of essay document so that they are there for quick reference.

After you fully understand what points you are required to touch on in your statement of purpose, drafting an outline will help keep your essay organized, clear, and succinct. Consider following the steps below to help make this process easy and straight-forward.

Open up a blank Word document, and get down the general essay components:


Paragraph 1

Paragraph 2

Paragraph 3


Now that you have the foundation laid out, you can complete your outline by creating a couple compelling sentences for each paragraph. Having these sentences drafted will help you quickly move forward after your outline is complete. Let’s take a look at each paragraph, and sample sentences for each.

Introduction – Create a strong thesis sentence that sums up your overall purpose for studying abroad.

  • Example: Studying abroad at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid will be a monumental step in realizing my personal, academic, and career goals to my highest potential.

This thesis sentence portrays to the reader that you have identified personal, academic, and career goals in relation to studying abroad in a specific program, and will describe them below.

Paragraphs 1-3 – Draft a sentence that sums up your response to the each point, then a second sentence that provides a specific outcome that this study abroad program will provide.

Paragraph 1 (e.g. personal reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: My grandfather migrated to the United States from Madrid, and since an early age I’ve wanted to see and experience the city and culture he grew up in. By the end of my study abroad program, I plan to have developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for my family heritage by becoming more fluent in Spanish and familiar with Spanish customs and cultural practices.

Paragraph 2 (e.g. academic reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: As a history major, I plan to utilize my time in Spain to contribute to my overall academic success and focus within the history program at my home university. Throughout my time studying abroad, I will visit historical sites around Spain relevant to my intended topic for my graduate thesis topic: Moorish architectural and cultural influences in modern Spanish society.

Paragraph 3 (e.g. career reason/goal for studying abroad in this program):

  • Example: I plan to one day teach Spanish history and culture at the college level, and this program will give me the first-hand experience I believe necessary to be qualified and successful in this position. By being completely immersed in the Spanish culture, and by having access to a large number of relevant historical sites and resources, I will enter this study abroad experience with my career development in mind.

For the conclusion, come up with a strong sentence to sum-up (again) why this program and location is the best choice.

  • Example: After extensive research of all possible programs, I am convinced that studying history and Spanish culture at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid is an ideal match for my personal, academic, and career goals outlined above.

Drafting suggestions

Now that you have a strong outline, filling in the rest should come easily and naturally. As would be normally expected in college-level essays, it’s important to make sure that each sentence you write relates directly to the main sentences in its respective paragraph you came up with in the outline.

After you’ve written your completed first draft of your study abroad application statement of purpose, save the document and take a break for a week. After you’ve had some time to clear your mind, you’ll likely come back to edit your essay with a fresh perspective and as a result more easily catch mistakes you may not have otherwise caught!

Finally, before you send it off, double (and triple) check to make sure that you haven’t overlooked any requirements for the statement of purpose. Also, consider having at least one other person look at your essay – your campus’s writing center is a great resource you might consider utilizing!

Congratulate yourself

After you’ve sent in your essay, congratulate yourself! You are well on your way to one of the most exciting journeys of your life, and you certainly deserve to be proud of this accomplishment.

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