Applying to Colleges in the USA: Common problems for international students
Hi everybody, I’m Kimberly VanderWeert director of World Awaits Academic Consulting, and I am here with you today to share the final two things that I see students kind of struggling with as they go through the application process here in the United States. So today we’re going to talk about problems with the application essay or personal statement, as well as how to secure appropriate letters of recommendation. For those of you who don’t know who I am or what I do, I am a college counselor in the United States, and so I work one-on-one with students to help them through the entire application process. So that typically starts with getting prepared for the standardized tests, taking appropriate classes, and determining the schools that, you know, each of these individuals want to apply to – all the way through being successful on the college campus once you’ve been admitted and you are starting your classes. ss to begin let’s talk about application essays and personal statements. So there are a few problems that international students tend to face as they go through the the application essay situation, and that is with regards largely to style and content. So to begin the content needs to be in narrative form. So I talked about this in previous shows, or I talked about how you need to tell the story of you in your entire application, so that does include, you know, the activities you’re engaged in, the classes you take, and finally in the essay. But the essay is really the most important piece of the story of you that you are presenting, and that’s because this is where you are talking directly to the admissions officers, so the content of this is going to be one intimate story that really exemplifies who you are what you’re interested in – your unique traits, talents, characteristics that you can offer the campus that you’re applying to. And so a couple weeks ago I had you start some journals. Hopefully you guys have been journaling about these things that are unique to you and special about you.So now it’s time to get those journals out, start going through some of these stories and choose the best one that really exemplifies your strengths and what you can offer, and then tell that story. So that is your content piece. And now looking at style, one thing that tends to come up with international students is that the writing style that maybe is used in your home country for an essay is not what you’re expected to use in this situation for the application essay. it’s a lot of other countries, for example, will use very descriptive or flowery or poetic language, and that’s not what you need in this essay. That turns into being a lot of fluff, as they say, or cliches. And it’s not really giving enough information or engaging the reader. So what you want to do here is be sure to use really clear and concise and strong language. So the secret really is to say everything that you want to say in as few words as possible. Ad that will really help you to make sure that you’re using the most precise words that you can. The other thing that you want to do is get on the internet and find some lists of strong adjectives and strong verbs and use those. So you know, for example, students will often say something is is “very this” or “really that” so…I was very afraid of the application process. Instead of saying very afraid you can use a more precise word such as petrified or terrified. Or I was very curious about X Y & Z. Don’t say I was very curious, say I was inquisitive, or this class was very challenging…don’t say it was very challenging, say it was demanding. So go onto the internet and find some words that you can that you can use that are much more precise. And the other thing though is you what you don’t want to do is write your essay out, then get out a thesaurus and then just start swapping words out for big words or SAT vocabulary. It’s very obvious that that’s what you’re doing to your writing and it does not look good. Instead find some strong words that are verbs and adjectives to put in, not SAT vocabulary. You know, another thing that students tend to have a problem with is thinking that there’s going to be a right answer, and the fact of the matter is there is no right answer. It’s not that everyone gets this essay prompt and then you’re expected to tell essentially the same story, and this is really showing off your language skills. It’s not what it is. This is your opportunity to tell your story and so, therefore, every essay is going to be different. And so knowing that students will often then say okay well you know, what happened last year? What essays were successful you know last year? And while that is a good place to start, and it can help you you know learn a little bit about what style you want to be using in your writing, you don’t want to be telling other people’s stories. This is your story and so you know don’t take somebody else’s. If someone’s writing about the challenges that they faced sophomore year and you didn’t face challenges sophomore year, don’t write about that. Write about something that is unique to you that simultaneously shows off your skill sets, your talents, the characteristics that you have to offer. So that’s what I have for you with regards to the application essay. Now let’s talk quickly about letters of recommendation. So letters of recommendation are a requirement in the application – in your applications. And that may mean that you have to submit one letter recommendation or maybe even four. Usually one will come from a counselor, and so this is a problem the international students face because a lot of international students simply don’t have school counselors to write these letters for them. And I talked about this in my common application training, but you know in lieu of a counselor you’re supposed to go to a teacher…You don’t have to; you can also go to coaches or employers or you know people within your church or other people who know you. But a really good place to turn is your teacher because they know you, they know your study habits, they know you know how you perform academically. The problem that comes up is that students will then you know approach their teachers and ask them to write letters of recommendation, and then the teacher you know either doesn’t want to or can’t or for whatever reason will instead ask the student to write the letter of recommendations that they can simply sign and send it off. And the fact of the matter is this is it’s not an honest and truthful letter of recommendation. And colleges and universities know to look for this sort of thing, and they know when they see it. And it’s not good because when they read the letter they can’t trust that this is really reflective of who you are as an individual or as a student. So what I have my clients do is instead have your teachers write a letter of recommendation that shows off your skills and your leadership abilities and your academic skills, but then take that letter and have it translated into English, and then send it off. And that’s just so that, you know, the schools and universities, colleges know that this letter is honest and truthful and really reflective of who you are. So that’s all that I have for you guys. That’s it for the problems that I see international students encountering. So next week I will be back with another topic. I don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll be back next week, same time. You know if you have any questions or concerns that I can address in my next show, please reach out and let me know. Otherwise happy college planning! And I will see you next week.