The key to gaining admission to the college of your choice is to successfully package your accomplishments, your interests, and your personality and background into a fascinating narrative that makes you more than "a number". The application (with all of its integrated parts) is about selling yourself as the ideal candidate for a particular program. Your goal is to make an admissions officer say, “Wow, we need to admit this candidate!”


About College Admissions

Virtually all schools (undergraduate or graduate school) request a basic application, school transcript, and standardized test scores. While the actual numbers may vary, these basic elements look very similar among applicants.


The unique part of the college essay that admissions officers actually “read” are the narratives provided in the personal statement, school-specific questions, recommendations, and the personal résumé. Many companies offer services to help people improve these documents.


Admissions to elite colleges and graduate schools in the United States have become increasingly more competitive. The problem is countries like China and India have a limited number of institutions of higher learning relative to their populations, and cannot meet demand. Improvements in the economy and the rise of the “middle class” in these countries have led parents and students to look elsewhere for a university education.


This reflects a simple economic principle: an increase in demand without a commensurate increase in supply leads to admissions becoming exponentially more difficult. Remember: admissions is about competition. You need not just to show you are a good candidate, but that you are better than other candidates that applied. Once you are ready to apply to a college, your counselor is often your first point of reference. The problem is most school counselors are overwhelmed with students who need assistance, and cannot often provide individualized attention.


For foreign students, counselors may be quite willing to help, but lack information about admission requirements and expectations from elite schools in other countries like the United States.


Writing your Admissions Essay

While your application essays should effectively portray your interests, goals, and reason for applying to a specific program and school, you should also prominently feature some, if not all of the following characteristics:


1.  Leadership – How have you assumed a leadership role in working with other students or co-workers?

2.  Initiative – How do you go beyond the required assignment, and pursue your own ideas and interest?

3.  Teamwork – This is different from leadership; it's how you interact with other students, especially those from other backgrounds and cultures.

4.  Diligence – Demonstrate your passion, and work ethic to give the admissions committee a clear understanding that you will succeed in their program.

5.  Creativity – What makes your thinking (not just your background) unique? Show you have ideas that are original and do more than just “follow directions.”

6.  Multi-cultural Approaches – Especially for social sciences: How do you incorporate ideas from other cultures, ethnicities and countries?

7.  Analytical Abilities – How do you integrate different theories and concepts, and blend them to create a unique solution to a problem?

8.  Commitment – Show how you are committed to your field, and your eventual career.

Unfortunately, it is often the case that students feel their college admission essays are powerful and unique, but actually, admissions committees see similar ideas presented by other students. Applicants do not have the benefit of reading hundreds of other essays to see how theirs compare.


Here are 10 quick tips to improve your writing, and stand out from the crowd:


1.Dynamic opening sentence The opening sentence and even paragraph needs to immediately grab the reader’s attention. Details are important, but it is best to present an exciting vision or problem that you intend to solve.

2. Focus on what you learned – Do you provide a list of experiences or activities or jobs? You must let the reader know how they influenced you, what you learned, and how you applied the knowledge to other areas of your life.

3. Dynamic descriptions – You should use exciting action words like: managed, directed, transformed, pioneered, created, assisted, marketed, encouraged, as well as leadership.

4.  Benefit others – While the essay is about yourself, you need to show how your work will benefit society, your field, and your community.

5.  Knowledge of your field – While showing you received an “A” in Physics 101 is good – it is important to show that you are aware of recent trends, and the future of your field of interest.

6. Do not focus too much on your family – remember, the essay is about you.

7. Focus on what is NOT in your transcript – Do not focus too much on information that can be found in other parts of your application like your grades, your courses, and your degrees.

8. Be specific, and give specific examples – Do not rely on bland or general statements like: “I really want to benefit my field, and benefit society.” Be specific as to the contributions you expect to make, and how this will improve society.

9. Be careful about using quotes – if you do – make sure they are integrated and relevant to your essay. Generally, admissions committees are interested in YOUR ideas – not in the quotations of others.

10. Relevant experiences – If your major is science, you should not spend the majority of your essay talking about your stamp collecting hobby. Extracurricular activities need to be relevant to your field, or feature another attribute you want to emphasize like leadership, organization or management.


If you are struggling with the application process, you can bring your questions to an italki teacher or search for a company that can help you with the entire process. If you want to see examples of good writing for inspiration, you can also view sample personal statements or college essay samples at TopAdmit.


Even better, once you are admitted, your italki teacher can help you prepare for moving to a new country and making the most out of your time in college!


Good luck with your application journey!


Image by TopAdmit

Image and article published in partnership, and with permission of italki.