Gaining Admission to an American University

A. General Ideas and Suggestions

1. Remember and respect the fact that cultural difference exist between American and Chinese traditions

a.  In all application materials you submit, keep in mind that in America, often, “less is more.” Use the amount of space available to you to provide the complete information requested but no more. Admission officials and faculty members are very busy people, and they will want to see the needed information and will not want to have to search through extra verbiage to find it.

b. Most of the types of information universities require are clear and uncomplicated, and they should be answered that way. Often, a university asks for personal information or perspectives and allows a certain amount of space or KB for you to provide that. In these situations, use the space allowed effectively to provide a complete response, and do not waste your time (and valuable space) or your readers’ time using flowery, excessively formal – but ”empty” language.

2. Begin the application process early – far earlier than you may think necessary

3. Begin your search for the American university or college that best fits your interest and needs at least a year or two before you start writing applications. In part this is because it takes a good deal of research and honest self-assessment to determine the best fit for you.

4. Once you have selected the universities at which you will seek admission, begin the actual application process early enough that you will be able to have all forms and documents finally submitted a week before the deadline at each university. In this process, any open-ended documents you are requested to write, such as personal statements, should be written individually and specifically for each different university in time that you can review the first draft, edit it, and repeat until it is has completely addressed the topics the particular university asks you to cover — and you are certain it accurately states your perspective. This may take several weeks of thought and writing to perfect the statement in each case – although you can certainly be working on several different ones at the same time. The major point is: do not wait until you are so near the deadline for submission that you limit your ability to fine-tune your statements.

5. Be certain that you pay very close attention to each item a particular university requires so that you provide all the required information, concisely but completely. Remember that “one size does not fit all” in this process, and there is no substitute for addressing the specific requirements for each specific university.

6. Select a set of people who are especially knowledgeable about you and about the field to be the best possible references.

7. Notify your references of each university, with address information, to which your will be applying and give them as much lead time as possible, but certainly not less that several weeks. Always remember that they may have been asked by many others to write reference letters at the same time, so be sure to give yourself the advantage that your references have more than enough time to write the best possible reference letter for you. Also, help your references to write the best possible letter by advising them of any key aspects of special importance to each individual university.

B. The Personal Statement

1. General observations.

a. This is an opportunity for you to present yourself as a unique individual with special attributes that make you an excellent candidate for admission to the university. Generally the amount of space allowed for this is limited and you must use all of it as effectively and efficiently as possible.

b. Particular advice for Chinese students. I have met and discussed study in America with many Chinese students, and I am very often impressed with the extraordinary talent and commitment of these students to continue their studies in the United States. These informal conversations are very compelling, and I think to myself what a great potential for huge contributions to the field this person has. However, many times, if I am asked to read and comment on documents (such as a personal statement) these same students write, it seems clear that the opportunity to present themselves effectively has been lost in the written document. This is another place in which the differences between Chinese and American culture hinder the Chinese applicant, in my view. I recommend the following:

i.  Not using the valuable space to flatter the institution, to overly express personal superlatives – without validating the statements with tangible evidence, to offer quotes that are not directly relevant to the story you are writing to show your particular strengths in reference to the specific academic program into which you seek admission, and similar distractions. Generally such verbiage does more harm than help in making your case.

ii. I recommend constructing your personal statement as a story about how well you personally fit the program into which you seek admission. I further recommend using a simple presentation style more similar to what you might employ when speaking directly with another person. Caution: Be certain to use correct grammar and punctuation and avoid slang, just as you avoid the lofty sounding, but empty phrases that are sometimes used in an effort to sound formal in a Chinese setting.

2. Specific Recommendations. I am certain that I cannot improve upon the advice that a number of universities have provided in their webpages, and so I will provide links to these below. I commend these offerings of advice to you enthusiastically,

a. Writing the Personal Statement

b. Examples of Successful Statements

c. Advice from Admissions Representatives

d. Personal Statement: Top 10 Rules and Pitfalls

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