Welcome to the fifth in our series of posts on applying to American colleges and universities! If you’ve read our earlier posts on this topic, you’ve learned about choosing a degree and major, finding the best schools for you to apply to, identifying required exams, and delivering transcripts from your previous studies. Today, we’ll look at the application essay. Later, you’ll learn about letters of recommendation and other application paperwork.

Many (but not all) American colleges and universities ask applicants to submit an essay with their application. This gives the admissions staff an example of your ability to write clearly. It also helps them to know more about you as a person; it gives insight beyond the information on the application form about the real person who might become one of their students.

Here are some tips to help you prepare your application essays:

  • Don’t wait until the last minute. Give yourself lots of time to write and revise your essays. A last-minute essay is less likely to make a good impression.
  • Read the instructions. Some schools will ask you to answer one or more specific questions to answer in essay form. Read the question(s) closely, as well as instructions about word count and formatting. If the application asks for a 500-word essay, don’t write 1000 words. Other schools will ask for a personal statement. This is an essay in which you introduce what makes you a unique applicant. You might describe what life experiences makes you interested in the degree program that you’re applying for. You could describe obstacles you have overcome, personal achievements, work experience, career goals, and/or special skills. Again, read all instructions carefully for personal statements. Different schools that you apply to might have different instructions.
  • Brainstorm. Think about the different approaches you could take to answer the question(s). If you’re writing a personal statement, make a list of your unique qualities and experiences. Talk to friends, family, and teachers to get other perspectives on what makes you an outstanding applicant.
  • Be specific and descriptive. If you’re applying to a business program, don’t just say that you want to be a good businessperson. What field do you want to work in? What’s your dream job? Exactly what qualities and skills do you hope to develop that will make you a good businessperson?
  • Write a rough draft. Get your ideas down, even if they’re not perfect. After you finish your draft, “sleep on it”; that is, put it away until the next day. Reread your draft with fresh eyes and make revisions to strengthen it.
  • Get feedback. Any of your teachers at IEI would be happy to read your essay and give you suggestions to improve it. We want you to succeed!
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread! Don’t rely on your computer to catch every spelling and grammar mistake. Before you submit your essay, read it more than once. Try reading the last sentence, then the next-to-last sentence, and so on. This is a useful trick for catching grammar mistakes. Of course, your teachers can also help you to proofread your essay.

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We hope that this series has been useful to you. Applying to a college or university in your second language is not always easy, but we’ve helped hundreds of students to achieve their dreams of earning a degree in the U.S. Read a few of their stories here, and if you’re ready to take the first step in preparing to reach your goal, find out how we can help you!