3 College Application Essay Tips for International Students

Try pretending to talk to a student at your dream U.S. college to get application essay ideas.

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As you write your U.S. college application essay, think outside of traditional writing techniques that can hinder your creativity.
As you write your U.S. college application essay, think outside of traditional writing techniques that can hinder your creativity.

An international student writing an essay for a U.S. college application might feel pressured to include global opinions or demonstrate cross-cultural understanding to amaze the admissions staff.

But think about it this way: Your essay topic does not need to be a once in a-lifetime story. The way you tell it and reflect on it could be unique. 

It takes time to write a great application essay and you should enjoy this time in order to write it well and make it outstanding. To do so, try some of the following tips. 

[Avoid these common U.S. college admissions mistakes.] 

1. Imagine that you are speaking with or writing a letter to a future classmate or roommate: If you are stuck on what to write about in the college application essay, stop writing for a while and pretend that you are talking to or writing a letter to your new roommate

You may tell your future friend about your hobbies, explain to him or her your daily routines, discuss your favorite books written by a famous author from your country, disclose your fear of cultural differences and talk about your passions. 

You will realize that what you want your future roommate to know about you could be things you want the admissions staff to be aware of as well. Focusing and reflecting on one of these topics could inspire you to write a distinctive essay.

[Think about the cost of U.S. schools before you apply.] 

2. Remember that the first sentence does not have to be written first: Students are often taught to make an outline, with the introduction first, then the body of the essay and the conclusion last, step by step. 

Sometimes, the first sentence of the essay can block your inspiration, no matter how fantastic your outline. If this is where you struggle, just leave the first sentence or paragraph blank. 

Start from anywhere in the essay. Do not be afraid to ramble about a small idea that just popped up in your head. You never know where a small idea could lead you, or more importantly, how it will inspire the flow of your writing. 

[Get more tips on writing a personal statement.]

3. Take a break, but don't postpone the task: An essay won't sound fresh and thorough if it is written under too much pressure, whether that's time pressure of a deadline, pressure from your parents' expectations or the pressure you put on yourself to pursue the American dream. 

Take a break from writing the application essay and refresh your brain by looking at an English-language children's book or by translating a short journal paragraph from English to your native language. 

You can also try translating the piece of the application essay you have so far to your native tongue. I did that and then discussed it with my sister, who always makes funny comments about what I write. The ultimate goal is for you to feel comfortable writing and to allow yourself to think creatively. 

I would not, however, recommend starting application essays in your native language and then translating them to English. Your essay will not be the same and could be worse when it is lost in translation. 

The more you write, the better you express your thinking in English. Start early and give yourself time to grow, academically and beyond, with your college application essay. 

Mai-Linh Bui, from Vietnam, is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in communications and corporate public relations and Master of Science in communications, culture and media at Drexel University.