Leverage International Roots for U.S. Grad School Applications

Talk about your home country and culture when applying to grad school as an international student.

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Emphasizing cultural differences is a natural way prospective international graduate students can craft unique applications.

Every college-age individual wants to believe that he or she is special and has something unique to offer the world. The good news is that being from somewhere other than the U.S. automatically provides you with some key talking points for your postsecondary application essays.

You have something that really sets you apart, and I'm not just talking about the ocean or the plane ride.

Schools are interested in influence, primarily the kind of influence their alumni will have on the global village. A student's experience will shape his or her influence on the world – where you come from has a big impact on where you go.

In applying to graduate school in the U.S., I talked about my home country's multicultural perspective. We like to call Canada a mosaic, a piece of art, a coast-to-coast picture made up of a variety of smaller shades and shapes.

As a prospective international student, I talked about how the experience of growing up in Canada shaped me. The Canadian national attitude of inclusion and participation in service has greatly influenced the way in which I view people and interact with them.

Using your status as an international student is an interesting hook for applications, and begins with the influence of country, culture and courage.

[Learn how grad school officials evaluate international applications.]

1. Country: You are from somewhere the school is not. This means you have been exposed to a different government and history and have a unique perspective on international relations. Use these global experiences to distinguish yourself as an academic asset.

To describe my interest in community service, I wrote about a central Alberta youth project where we worked with young immigrant families and provided child care while the parents learned English. This showed the effects of those cultural attitudes of inclusion and service, but also how I was able to exhibit an international interest while still at home.

Not only did this demonstrate that I was a functional and eager team player, but it also revealed that I could see where I stood in terms of others and their experiences, as well as identify and respond to community needs.

Besides that, I proved that I could make the connection between my home and my hopeful future and what impact I could make at Andrews University.

Presenting an issue of global import and discussing your nation's response allows you to state and defend your opinion and talk about what you would like to do about it if you had the education to back up your beliefs.

[Get answers to concerns of international grad school applicants.]

2. Culture: The way you approach, interact and relate to others is fundamentally grounded in your cultural background. For instance, some cultures are more collectivist while others are individualistic.

These aspects of intercultural relations are good to emphasize as you introduce yourself in essays. Referring to your own background and comparing it with what you expect to find in the U.S. will demonstrate two things: You already know how to do research, and you are smart enough to put the pieces together.

In my admissions essay, I wrote that the purpose of my educational pursuit was to leave a better world for future generations. I showed that my goals were aligned with the recent emphasis on ethical, self-sustaining production of goods and services that the U.S. has embraced.

[Explore ways to choose a U.S. graduate school.]

3. Courage: Talking about a risk you have taken or a problem you have solved is a fairly common essay prompt, and as a student contemplating leaving home and loved ones for a foreign land, you have more than enough angles to cover.

In applying for a scholarship on campus, I wrote about the international financing dilemma. The Canadian dollar is close but not equal to the U.S. dollar, and I discussed how student loans from one country did not take into account the currency exchange resulting in less than had been promised. It was an interesting twist that drew attention to the financial plight of international students coming to the States.

You might discuss your choice to study abroad, your appreciation for the challenges of living somewhere new or your doubts about leaving and how you plan to combat them. Being an international student in the U.S. takes courage of the highest caliber.

Learning how to present your past as an advantage will open up possibilities in the U.S. and elsewhere. Celebrate your background even as you begin this new journey. Of all the parts that make up your whole, it is a truly important one.

Katelyn Ruiz, from Canada, is pursuing an interdisciplinary master's degree in communication and English from Andrews University.