I am an international student applicant, how do I write an effective college admissions essay?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

I am an international student applicant, how do I write an effective college admissions essay?

Steve Peifer
Director of College Guidance Rift Valley Academy

Be Careful and Make Sure to SHOW

The most important part of an essay is to show the college your life. US colleges value diversity; the more you can SHOW them the differences in your culture and the US culture, the better your chances of making a favorable impression. Be descreptive in your essay; the best essay I've read in the past few years was a student explaining the process of buying a pair of jeans in Congo. She is now in her second year at Harvard. Make sure you have someone whose first language is English to read over your essay. I've had international students with a perfect 800 CR SAT score who still had issues with tenses; if you have access to someone like that, it will be helpful in catching errors.

Nina Berler
Founder unCommon Apps

Effective Essays: A Challenge for All Students

Some students are natural writers and welcome the challenge of the college admissions essay. For so many, however, the process can be filled with uncertainty or even anxiety. International students have the benefit of some very interesting experiences and motivation that can add spark to their essays; however, they also face some of the same challenges as writers from any location. Here's what I advise students as they develop their essays. First of all, be yourself. Don't try to write in any type of tone that could be a turnoff to the reader. If you have a topic or experience that is uniquely yours, you have the potential for an interesting and memorable essay. Use active rather than passive language. Grab the reader's interest in the beginning, and leave him or her thinking about you at the close. During your school years, you may have had teachers who discouraged you from writing in the first person; this essay is the absolute exception. As an international students may have had powerful influences and role models in your life who drove you to apply to college in the United States. However, the college essay, known as the Personal Essay on the Common Application, is about you. Colleges don't need to hear too much about someone or something else; what they want to know is the effect on you. One thing I always tell students is that there is no need to have a serious essay; in fact, many admissions officers say how much they welcome something light and fun. If you are are a very strong student, stay away from writing about school.

Francine Schwartz
Founder/ President Pathfinder Counseling LLC

International Students and the College Essay

I think international students face the same issues as other applicants in constructing a solid and effective essay. They should strive to tell a story that no one else can tell, in their own voice and not repeat what is said elsewhere in the application. It is particularly important for them to have a qualified teacher or other person proof read for grammatical errors.

Carita Del Valle
Founder Academic Decisions

Write about yourself but remember the context of whom you are writing for.

International students are vastly different from American students and our universities approach academia within a different context. Make sure to write about something important from your personal experiences, but also make sure you put the school in context that you want to attend. For example, if coming from Korea, how do you see yourself fitting in both academically and socially to a school in the middle of California? Or, is this the reason you wish to attend University X because it is so different? Spell it out. It is important to make sure an Admissions Committee sees that you took the time to understand their university and how you will fit into the campus and academic culture. Ultimately answer this - why you are choosing that school?

Tyler Burton
President Burton College Tours

I am an international student applicant, how do I write an effective college admissions essay?

Admissions officers would like to learn about you as a person. Craft an essay that does not brag. Tell a story about yourself that is personal and descriptive. What do you like to do on a Saturday or how did you learn a great lesson in life when you helped your young neighbor learn how to tie her show? Do not write about your list of accomplishments, you have already made a list on another part of your application. The most important aspect of your personal essay is that it needs to be written by you. If you have someone help you too much with your essay then the admissions officers will know that you did not write the essay. They are experts at spotting essays that are untrue.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

Effective Essays

The same way any other student needs to write--authentically. This is your chance to let your own voice shine through and to liven up your application. Those admissions officers want to feel that they are learning something about how you will contribute to the new freshman class at their school. Don't forget to proofread your essays!

Kristina Dooley
Independent Educational Consultant Estrela Consulting

Think, Be Yourself, Proof...and Proof Again

Writing an effective college admissions essay is one of the most difficult tasks an international students faces when completing their college applications. Not only are you required to write something in your second language (or maybe your third or fourth!), but you also have to do this within character or word-count limitations. These two things often make it difficult for an international student to effectively get their message across in an essay. The important thing to remember is that the purpose of an essay, in most cases, is for the admission committee to get to know you, to hear your voice. Because of this your essay should sound like YOU, not like your English teacher or your parents. Keep in mind that admission committees have many applications to review and limited amounts of time (hence the word-count limits) so you should be concise and to the point in your writing. Finally, make sure you proofread your essay for grammatical errors and also for content. It's alright to have a teacher, parent, or college counselor review your work but keep in mind that they should not make major changes or write any part of your essay.

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

I am an international student applicant, how do I write an effective college admissions essay?

Writing a compelling and memorable college admissions essay is no different for an international student than it is for a U.S. student. Be yourself and tell us a story that only you can tell. While you don't need to reveal any deep, dark secrets, you do need to show admissions officers the human being behind the GPA and the test scores. Basically -- write about the topic in which you are the expert -- that is, YOU! You don't need to search high and low for a totally unique topic -- just tell us something about your feelings, perspectives, and observations in your experience. Use lots of details to draw the reader into your story, and don't worry about using "big" and "fancy" words. A compelling essay that is genuinely from the heart doesn't need to rely on SAT-type vocabulary.

David Allen
Managing Director Global College Counselors Ltd

Big Question

This is a HUGE question. Many applications have specific questions they want answered, choose the one you think you can answer best. It is best here to focus in on a specific thing/event/person in your own life and go into details about how that/they has/have affected your life/character/academics. Write from the heart and make sure that the way you are writing makes the essay sound like you talking- get a friend to read it, not for content but for voice. Never, never, get anything from the net - everyone has similarity detection software nowadays!

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Tell a powerful story, a true, self-written powerful story

Many international students hire people to write their essays. That is a major mistake as colleges can smell adult written essays. So international students need to write an essay that matches their English writing skills as revealed by the TOEFL or SAT. These essays serve to show your writing and your life experiences. More importantly, international students need to reveal some core qualities that will show admissions officers how you will contribute to campuses. So focus on an activity or an experience that enables you to demonstrate your leadership and initiative. Please talk about recent experiences and please tell only stories that are true. Follow our into, through, and beyond approach and tell a story that makes you pop off the page.