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?

Eileen Ed.D.
Associate Director Educational Directions, Inc.

Who are you?

The college application essay is all about you. It opens a window into you as a person, and helps admissions folks get to know you. After all, many applicants to their school have similar grades, extra curricular activities, and so on. The essay says "Here I am!" and fills in some needed gaps, especially for international students who may not be able to come to the U.S. to interview. To write an effective interview, think of something you want the admissions folks to know about you. It is not the topic that matters as much as it is the manner in which you convey your ideas. Some essays are serious, some humorous;, some tell about family histories, some about a teacher; some tell about a hobby or area of interest; some tell about a life changing event. You decide first what it is you want the admissions folks to know, and that will drive your topic. And stay focused! Don't stray into other areas once you make your decision about your topic. After writing your essay, you will want someone to read it over to check for errors, but also for consistency.

Jonathan Dunn
Director Creative College Counseling, LLC

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

International students should follow the same guidelines as domestic students when writing college essays. The essay is the one part of an application that is not data driven. It is an opportunity for students to show who they are and what they stand for. Admisssions offices want to hear a story, they want to know about you as an individual. What attributes do you bring to a college coommunity? What are those great traits you have? Why should a college want to choose YOU over someone else with your same grades, courses and SAT scores? Don't just say that you have certain attributes, tell stores about yourself that demonstrate these attributes.

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound

College Admission Essays

Remember that colleges do not read your essays based on your nationality; they read them to get a written picture of you. I do mean a picture in words. Therefore use the approach in your essay known as "show don't tell" rather than telling them the answer to the question which often times can be a simple one liner and leave you feeling like you have to feel the rest of the essay with "fluff", answer the questions using images of what you see or saw and help them to see the same thing. Remember after thousands of essays it is nice to read a compelling decription of unknown exploits and adventures or ideas. Capture their attention, don't merely answer the question.

Patricia Krahnke
President/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

Pay Attention to What they Ask For in an Essay

Short Answer: The same way an American student should write an effective college admissions essay: Pay attention to what the college or university wants to see in your essay...and don't submit one if they don't want one. Detailed Answer: Here’s some background before I get to the answer you are looking for… They are looking at your grades and your language skills. The essay tells them nothing about your language skills, because any student -- international or American -- can have someone else write their essay, or they can purchase it from someone off the Internet, so they know that the essay may not be a very good means of learning about your ability to perform academically. The essay is important only if the institution stresses the importance of it. The fact is, if your grades and board scores are excellent, they probably won’t even look at your essay or letters of recommendation. As a result of this fact and because of financial pressure, many institutions are moving toward automatic “review” of applications. In other words, there is an algorithm on the backend (the same data that enabled the college to automatically begin communicating with you as soon as your PSAT scores became available) that crunches your numbers – SAT/ACT, GPA, RIC) and decides whether you are in or out. This means that your entire relationship with a college has been via a machine; no one knows who you are or that you even exist – except as a number the institution can manipulate to its advantage. Now, if the machine says you are “out,” the admissions staff will begin to look more closely at the eliminated applications and admit/deny these students until the admissions department reaches its enrollment goals. At that point, the admissions officers may be searching for more information about you, such as explanations of grade anomalies. They may find this information in your essay or in your letters or recommendation, or in a letter that you include with your application. The most important point to remember is this: If the institution stresses an essay or a personal statement, pay VERY CLOSE ATTENTION to what they request of that essay or personal statement. In other words, if you write a generic essay to send to all your college search choices, and it is clear to the admissions officer reading your essay that you have not paid attention to what they wanted to see in the essay (subject, length, structure, etc.), your application will be denied simply because it is clear that 1) you cannot follow instructions or 2) you didn’t care enough about applying to their institution to follow their instructions. And they will be right on both counts. For example, if you look at the Purdue application this year, they offer three choices of essay topics, each one carefully considered to allow different types of students to write something that matters to them. This presentation of their essay request shows that they DO value the essay, and if you want to get into Purdue – and especially if your grades and board scores aren’t stellar – then you’d better pay attention to this part of the application. Other institutions, such as Indiana University-Bloomington (which has one of the largest international student bodies in the U.S.), specifically state that they do not want to receive essays – so if you submit an essay, this also shows that you cannot follow directions. The major reason for an institution to not request an essay is that essay-reading slows down the application review process. They don’t want admissions officers reading essays when those officers can simply be crunching through the numbers on applications and making their decisions based solely on a student’s past successes or challenges – which is why it’s so important to do well in high school from 9th grade through 11th grade. The fact is that most admissions decisions are based on 8th-11th grade trends; they only look to senior grades at the end to ensure that you continued strongly and didn’t get “senioritis.” One more point about essays: A seasoned admissions officer can tell if you’ve written the essay yourself; if your Mom or Dad wrote it; or if you bought it off the Internet. We’d rather see errors in the writing of a wonderful and unique essay than perfect writing in a boring, uninformative essay (or in an essay that does not pertain to what has been requested.) But you would be wise to have whatever you’ve written be proofread: Spell check won’t cut it; it has to be a human being.

Dr. Bruce Neimeyer
CEO/Partner Global College Search Associates, LLC

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

Your application essay would be assess no differently than a nationals application essay. However, there would probably be more attention given to your grammar skills than a US student whether the admissions office cares to admit it or not. To write effectively, you should first consider the essay question. Make sure you understand all the parts of the question to that each may be addressed in the essay. Decide on the order in which they should appear or if some of the parts could be combined in your answer. Write an effective paragraph for each part of the essay. Then go back and create an introductory paragraph which introduces your essay and gives a brief scenario of what is to come in the following essay paragraphs. In the final paragraph you would want to conclude with a statement that ties all the pieces of your answer together. Those are the basic steps that I lead students through and it helps to make for a more effective essay.

Ryan John
School Counselor Bethlehem High School

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

You will want to make sure you have it proofread by several sources (i.e. a language teacher, counselor etc.) to ensure you are using the correct punctuation and usage of the language. Your essay should be an interesting read, as you experience as an international student is unique and should naturally offer great depth and intrigue for the admissions staff. If you write about your international experience, carefully plan out which facet of this experience you want to detail (i.e. the cultural adjustments, the language barrier etc.) and make sure you go into great detail so as to best allow the admissions staff visualize your day-to-day experiences.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

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

Tips for writing an effective college admissions essay are essentially the same for all students. You will want to reveal to the admissions officers more about yourself, your interests, your values, and what is important to you than what they can find in the numbers and statistics that make up most of the rest of the application. Remember that admissions officers will be reading large numbers of essays, and you will want to create an essay that will stand out in the interesting way it is formulated, as well as in its unique subject matter. You definitely don't want to put the readers to sleep! As an international student, you will surely have had certain life experiences which will provide interesting material for your essay(s) - even things which you yourself take for granted. Consider how the story you have to tell would be perceived by someone from a different culture or with different life experiences. Write analytically, rather than merely descriptively. Descriptive writing is a factual account of a topic or event, simply telling what happened. Analytical writing will pose or answer questions, make comparisons, or present and defend viewpoints. Rather than just state what happened, an analytical approach will explain and interpret events. Why did they take place? What were their consequences? How did they relate to other developments? What is your interpretation of what transpired? How do/did you feel about the topic about which you are writing? Finally, make sure that the essay does not have glaring errors in spelling, sentence structure, and paragraph formulation. In fact, try to make it as correct as possible. Besides appearing very careless, these kinds of errors can actually interfere with the ability of the reader to understand your point. It will be helpful if you have other people whose opinion you value read the essay to give you feedback on areas that might not be clear or which require further explanation, but make sure that the essay remains in your own "voice".

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

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

For US institutions, content is more important than grammar proficiency in a personal statement. College admission offices seek a unique, authentic perspective of a student. If you would like specific advice for writing your essay, I recommend that you visit the Purdue Online Writing Lab which has a host of resources for brainstorming, writing and revising a personal statement.

Kathleen Harrington
Owner New Jersey College Consulting

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

It is imperative that an applicants essay answers the question that is being asked of him/her in the most authentic way possible. Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, many applicants approach the essay thinking more about what they believe admissions counselors want to hear than the actual question itself. This is the one part of the application that will tell your story. A high school transcript and standardized test scores tell one story. You took these courses, you got these grades. You took this test, you got this score. The essay is your opportunity to share your voice, your vision, your potential. Some things to keep in mind... 1. Follow directions. 500 words means 500 words. 2. Proofread, Proofread, and then when you have time Proofread again 3. Share you essay with a friend and/or teacher and ask for feedback 4. Answer the question thoroughly. For example, ff the essay asks you to write about a person in your life who influenced you and how they did, make sure at the end of the essay, an admissions representative knows more about you than the person you chose to write about. Remember this is YOUR application, not the person who has influenced you. 5. Be sure you type your essay and include any application number that you may have received 6. Keep in mind that your short answer questions(if applicable) are also important components to your application. The short answer questions should be given the same amount of time and attention as your essay. Remember, all parts of your application count!

Claire Law

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

You would write the same way a US student does. Tell the reader something interesting about yourself that isn’t already reflected on your application. International students have the advantage of bringing new and different experiences to the college community. I used to read essays from international students and found that when they wrote about themselves and their country they made a compelling statement. Write about something small, something that you would want someone to know about you.