In the first article of this two-part series, we explored three unique, underutilized advantages of being a Chinese applicant to American universities. Now, we move on to the even more exciting part: how to leverage this untouched gold in your application essays.
1. Leveraging Your Diverse Perspective
How do we use your built-in diversity as an international student? There are three major steps here.
First, reflect: Dig into your background and uncover the nuggets of uniqueness stashed away there. How has your upbringing differed from that of an average American, and what can you learn from each other? How does Chinese culture differ from American culture, and what are the overlaps?
Second, research: Once you’ve identified what makes your perspective unique, research the school you’re applying to and figure out exactly how those aspects of your experience translate to concrete contributions to campus life. What groups will you join or establish, what classes will you add a unique perspective to, what events will you attend, improve, or create?
And third, write: The final piece is communicating to the admissions committee that you have something special to contribute as a Chinese student, that you have a plan for making an impact, and that their school would be gaining something valuable with you as a student.
Reflect, research, write. This can be hard to grasp abstractly, so here’s an example: A Chinese student I worked with in Beijing wanted to study psychology in college. In reflecting on her background, she realized that being in China meant she’d been exposed to very different views on psychology than her American peers, due to Chinese attitudes towards mental health and Chinese internet controls. Leveraging this, she used an NYU essay to show how her background had given her both a more nuanced understanding of how mental health is treated in other parts of the world, and a yearning for accurate, globally-informed university courses on psychology. She would bring her distinct voice to psychology classes, and a deep commitment to opportunities like the HCOP Internship at NYU’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center. Needless to say, this approach worked and earned her admission!
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2. Leveraging Your Unique Stories
We can use the same reflect, research, write approach when writing compelling story-based essays. Start by actively dredging up all the material that you may have overlooked—dig into the stories lurking in the shadows of your experiences, from your childhood and family dynamics to local traditions, and catalog them all. Journal, reflect, brainstorm, and then write them all down, so you have them at your disposal.
Then, ensure that all the precious time you’ve already spent on introspection when deciding to leave China for college gets put to use by digging into what you’ve already learned about yourself, the life you want, and your ideal college experience. Do this by reviewing any past journal entries; replaying past conversations with teachers, friends, and parents about your decision; and reviewing your opinion on study abroad at various points in the past.
Let’s look at another example: A different student we worked with wanted to write her personal statement about her tight-knit, multi-generational family. This is not a unique topic on its own, but she realized that her background gave her an interesting angle: While her family was a big, traditional Chinese family, she had grown up more internationally, which made navigating a fairly universal problem—the deteriorating health of a grandparent—much harder. The health scare exposed cultural differences within her own family, and her reflection on these topics demonstrated her maturity and readiness to grapple with big philosophical questions (i.e., her ability to study at a liberal arts college). She made the narrative more captivating by adding references to Chinese dishes important in her family traditions, and leveraged the introspection she’d already done by incorporating realizations she’d had when discussing her decision to study in the U.S. with her family. What could have been a cliché topic blossomed into a compelling story on identity, family dynamics, and cultural differences.
3. Leveraging Your Understanding of Common Pitfalls
Let’s say you’ve taken our advice, and recognized the danger of cookie-cutter applications, perfect scores with no outside accomplishments, and applications that appear fake or forged. How can you leverage the recognition of those pitfalls? Well, you plan ahead, going out of your way to demonstrate your strength in the areas traditionally seen as weaknesses for Chinese applicants.
One of the Chinese students I worked with started thinking seriously about college his sophomore year of high school. He knew that if he wanted to stand out against the thousands of other Chinese applicants, he needed to develop outstanding accomplishments outside of class, find his own authentic voice, and build strong relationships with teachers who might be able to offer recommendations in the future.
So, he got down to business, starting as a sophomore: he pursued his interest in aerospace engineering by founding a successful model rocket club at his school, he developed a bond with an awesome teacher (also his club advisor), and he started doing regular creative writing exercises to hone his storytelling skills. By addressing the common weaknesses of Chinese applicants as early as possible, he stood out in a big way by the time his application season came around.
By now, we hope you’re feeling more confident about uncovering these hidden gems and using them to advance your application. If you need additional guidance, we’re here for a free consultation.
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