Answer 3 Questions to Write Your Personal Essay for a U.S. College

Start early and think about how your background as a prospective international student sets you apart.

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Prospective international students should focus on the experiences that have influenced their life and growth to write a personal statement.
Prospective international students should focus on the experiences that have influenced their life and growth to write a personal statement.

You might wish you could just close your eyes and the personal statement for college would write itself. But even if it could, it wouldn't sound like you. To avoid having your personal statement sound fake, you'll still need to write it yourself.

Many international students struggle with writing a personal statement. Part of the college application, it is a short essay that asks you to tell the admissions department about yourself.

While that sounds simple, it can be tough to figure out what to write about and how to write it.

Some students tackle these challenges head-on, and they are the ones who are most likely to submit a genuine piece that shows their thorough self-reflection. You can too by asking yourself the following questions.

[Find out which universities draw the most international students.]

1. Are you trying to find the perfect topic? If you are struggling to do so, just stop and think: Do admissions officers look for a perfect topic? Every anecdote is its own precious story, and the way you tell it is what matters.

Your words, expressing your self-reflection combined with your original background, are the ones that admissions officers would like to discover, not a perfect essay similar to thousands of applications they have already read.

Don't worry if yours is not about a volunteer trip to Africa or a journey abroad that changed your life. If you have a great-grandpa whom you admire for his passion for gardening, write about what you learned from him that helped you, a teenager. If you love swimming, write about how the feel of the water helps you think through your difficulties.

As a prospective international student, you can use your home country as inspiration. Showing how your background makes you a good candidate for a U.S. college can strengthen your application and set you apart from your American peers.

Just keep calm and try to add depth to the ideas you have right now.

[Learn how to evaluate your dream U.S. college.]

2. Are you writing about someone else? Don't waste this precious opportunity by imitating a great essay you read somewhere. Writing about an ideal – or someone else – might be easy at first, but you will soon find out that your ideas and inspiration run out quickly.

In the college application package, you have only one chance to tell the admissions officers who you are in your own voice, not through your professors' perspectives or school documents. That chance is your essay.

Self-reflection is not always easy, but it's all about you and it's unique. Be honest and be you. Write, think and then rewrite until you get a true sense of how your piece could sound better.

Ultimately you will be surprised by how much the process of writing this personal statement helps you understand your dreams, your passions and yourself more thoroughly.

[Ask about cost and reputation before applying to a U.S. college.]

3. Are you procrastinating? Another big mistake applicants make is not starting early. It delays your application process, makes you rush unnecessarily at the end of the application season and can lead you to miss deadlines or send your piece to the wrong school.

Many of my friends wish they could have had more time to write and proofread their personal statements more carefully. That would have helped them avoid submitting a statement with lots of grammatical mistakes or that used phrases that only speakers from their native country would understand.

Prospective international students whose first language is not English should plan to take extra time to revise and proofread their essays. It is not always easy to choose the right phrases that can clearly express your ideas. The earlier you start, the more time you have to sharpen your personal statement.

In my own experience, rushing to get the piece finished has never given me a happy feeling, and I was never satisfied with the result.

Rather than writing your personal statement just to get it done, treat the process of writing as a journey to discover yourself. From there, your inspiration should blossom.

Mai-Linh Bui, from Vietnam, is a junior at Drexel University, studying Communications, French and International Area Studies.