Every year, many international students get into their dream U.S. schools or are accepted to colleges and offered decent financial aid packages. This is not solely because of their academic performance or the extracurricular activities they have participated in, but also because of the way they presented themselves in their personal statements.
With that in mind, here are five tips that will help you create a better personal statement.
1. Start the process very early: This is not your typical homework assignment or school project. It can be a turning point of your life. A decent essay can help get you into a prestigious institution and change your future.
What I mean by early is that you need to start writing at least three months in advance of college application deadlines. Only by doing so can you have the chance to change topics, revise your essay, read it over, have someone criticize it and polish every word.
Moreover, for those applying to multiple schools, there may be supplemental essays depending on where you apply, which also require a substantial amount of time. In addition, many high school seniors around the world will be overwhelmed by all sorts of pressure, including graduation exams, so tackling essays early will give you a great advantage.
2. Write many drafts and try a number of topics:
The majority of successful applicants that I know wrote multiple essay drafts before submitting their favorite. The reason behind this is that doing something new, like playing a new sport, requires you to put in a tremendous amount of practice until you are good enough to compete.
It is very much the same with writing an essay. For most international students, this is the first time they have put serious thought into writing a paper, let alone one in a foreign language. The first few drafts will be very rough, and you should write until your essay is flawless.
Remember, each draft is not necessarily about one particular topic. You can write two or three drafts on the same topic if it has good potential, or switch topics if necessary. In my case, I wrote seven different drafts on four different topics before submitting my personal statement to the Common Application.
3. Find a trustworthy person to proofread each draft: This is the stage where you know that there is likely something wrong with your drafts and you want help uncovering these issues. I strongly advise you to find people who are very experienced with English writing, and – this is most important – are genuinely willing to give you criticism.
These readers should be people who have an in-depth knowledge about the application process, such as U.S. college alumni or retired or current college admissions counselors, or educators who have had years of experience in English writing.
Once they let you know that there is something you need to fix, either about your essay or topic, you need to fix it or write it again immediately. When you come up with an essay that receives nods from your professional readers, you know that you are ready to submit it to a college.
4. Read successful application essays: This is not meant to encourage you to take someone else’s ideas. But reading essays of successful college applicants can help you get an idea of what admissions counselors are looking for.
Before my friend started her personal statement, she had a hard time finding something that might impress admissions counselors. When she finished reading a set of essays written by students who were accepted by Ivy League schools – which she found online via a Google search – she learned that they expressed the unique personalities of the writers, but were based on very simple, personal anecdotes.
She then chose a very simple yet meaningful topic to write about: taking care of her ill grandfather. Her essay was so touching that she received handwritten letters from admissions readers, complimenting her writing and offering her a spot in their class of 2017 at Washington and Lee University.
5. Follow the structure of a story: As the writer, you need to realize that a quality essay is built upon the general story structure of rising action, conflict and resolution.
The college application essay does not have to be like an action movie, but it has to lead the readers through the stages of curiosity, wonderment and satisfaction. Moreover, the readers will need to be so engaged in your story that they will not be distracted by any unnecessary details or redundancy.
It is best that you cut out sentences or scenes that may make the story confusing. Remember that each admissions counselor has to deal with a large pile of essays, so telling an intriguing story can make you stand out.