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Avoid These 4 Common Mistakes In Your College Applications 精选

已有 8053 次阅读 2018-11-6 09:54 |个人分类:生活点滴|系统分类:海外观察

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It is that time for the year again – for applying admission to US colleges. I have written about this issue before Chinese students on US Campuses http://blog.sciencenet.cn/blog-1565-1042211.html About Getting Admitted Into Ivy League Colleges http://blog.sciencenet.cn/home.php?mod=space&uid=1565&do=blog&id=621163 . Here below is an article written by one of my grandchildren, Melody Kim, who personally works in this field helping foreign student gaining admission to US colleges. As someone who had sat on the other side deciding on admissions for students applying to Harvard, the advice below is worth its weight in gold. Chinese applicants and their parents read it carefully! (By the way, two other of my grandchildren have also written about  their experiences on the subject in these pages. You can do a little detective work and search for them)

Avoid These 4 Common Mistakes In Your College Application Essays by Melody Kim


For the past five years, I've been volunteering for a Brazilian education foundation as a college coach and mentor. I work with Brazilian high school students on their college applications essays (also known as the personal statement and supplemental essays) as they apply to schools in the United States.


So, does a college essay really make a difference if you already have good grades, high SAT scores, shining letters of recommendation, and spectacular extracurricular awards?


Yes, it does! While not as important as good grades or a high SAT score, an essay can set you apart from the crowd and make your application more memorable. A meaningful personal statement can put you over the edge from another applicant who has the exact same grades/scores/activities as you.


Here are some of the most common mistakes I see in college essays, and how you can avoid them:


1.) It doesn't tell me about you.

Writing about yourself is awkward. Most people don't have a lot of practice with self-reflective writing, and if you're in high school, you're probably used to writing analytical or persuasive essays, where you have to include facts, cite your sources, and reference external ideas. This is great for a persuasive essay, but not for a personal statement. The personal statement is just that - personal. 


Instead of stating a fact about your town's local steel mill and its reliance on immigrant workers, talk about how growing up in that community shaped your view on human rights, labor rights, and equality.


Instead of saying how many students attended the international physics Olympiad, where it took place, or how many questions you answered, try talking about a meaningful conversation you had with a student from another country, or how hard you prepared for it, what you learned about working with other people, or what it felt like when you won/lost. 


Remember, the reader wants to learn more about you as a person. The best way to do this is to share a personal, authentic story that shows your thought process and how you grew or changed as a person.


2.) It tries to address too many ideas.


What is the one thing you want your reader to know about you after reading your essay? That's one (1) thing, not multiple things. There are some tough word limits on the essays (650 words for the personal statement, 100-300 words on the supplemental essays), so your essay needs to be incredibly precise and laser-focused on one concept. 


One of MIT's essay questions is: 
At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world's biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)


It may be tempting to talk about multiple ways you've given back to society to make your essay seem more impressive, but don't do it. Pick one that's most important to you and go deep. Don't bother wasting words on other activities. Pretend they don't exist. There will be other parts of the application where you can elaborate on your other activities.


In the personal statement, you may want to talk about different aspects of your personality, but you just don't have the space. Pick one thing that is quintessential to you, or the one story that captures your personality or values. Remove any sentence that doesn’t relate to that idea. Your essay will be much more organized and memorable.


The personal statement questions on the Common App are purposefully vague, but that doesn't mean your essay should be. Choose the one idea you want to get across, and then ensure every single sentence supports that idea. Yes, you'll be leaving out other aspects of your personality. But it will make your essay more memorable.


3.) It doesn't answer the question.


If you're a good writer, you're already a step ahead. But relevant writing always trumps good writing. I've read plenty of beautiful, meaningful personal stories that are incredibly well-written, but they don't answer the question. 

One of the hardest questions to answer is "Why [College X]?" First, do your research. Learn about the school and its programs and opportunities. Then, make sure that you answer the question. Don't list a bunch of facts about Brown and why it's an impressive school. The question isn't "Why is Brown great?" Rather, they really want to know "Why is Brown great for you?"


To answer this question, pick out specific programs, professors, labs, projects, opportunities, or curricula that appeal to you, and tie them to your specific interests, background, and experiences. Instead of talking about Brown's Open Curriculum, say specifically how it will allow you to simultaneously explore both of your interests in architecture and biology. If you're interested in political science, mention a specific conference or event that the school hosts every year that you want to get involved in. With such limited space, it's critical that every sentence relate to the original question.


4.) It doesn't show the reader what you learned, how you grew, or how you changed.


Related to the points above, your essay needs to show reflection, authenticity, and personal growth. Instead of writing about how often you went to judo practice, write about how judo taught you how to fall properly, which made you less afraid of failure, and encouraged you to take more risks.


One of the Caltech essay questions is:
Members of the Caltech community live, learn, and work within an Honor System with one simple guideline; 'No member shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.' While seemingly simple, questions of ethics, honesty and integrity are sometimes puzzling. Share a difficult situation that has challenged you. What was your response, and how did you arrive at a solution? (200 words)


This is a perfect example of a tough question that is begging for an authentic response. Start with the story, explain your choice of action, and reflect on what you learned. Maybe in this case you don't have some heroic story to tell - maybe you were a bystander to a difficult situation and didn't take action. If that's the case, think about how it felt to be a witness, how you felt at the time, and how the incident changed the way you dealt with future events. Or, pick an incident in which you did respond more actively, and how it felt to speak up. An authentic and honest story will be more memorable than a cliche or impersonal one, even if it's well-written.


Admissions officers read hundreds of essays every day. They can tell if you're stretching the truth or faking an emotion or writing about a story that isn't actually that important to you. It's better to just be real.



The American college application process surprises many international students. Instead of a single test score that determines your acceptance to university, the American application is holistic and includes seemingly superfluous components like letters of recommendation and personal essays. But when you are applying to a competitive school and everyone has the same scores as you, you need something that will make your reader remember you.


The personal statement is not the time to include impressive facts or figures about your activities. The admissions officers will glean all of that information from your SAT scores, resume, and letters of recommendation. 


Instead, this is your one opportunity to show them what's important to you, and why you belong at that school. Writing your essays should make you feel a little bit awkward or vulnerable. If they don't, try digging a little deeper or choosing a more personal topic. It will pay off.


Good luck!



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