Top Tips for Writing and Editing Your University Apps

Good organization, writing, and editing are important to any college application and admission essay. An international student offers her best advice here!

If you’re an international student applying to university, trust me when I say you have earned your ticket on the brave train. The thought-provoking idea of starting this journey isn’t always enjoyed. We’re so caught up with the thrilling thought of getting into our dream institution and planning how we’ll act or learn in a totally new environment that we forget the panic of having to go through the application process. But no worries, because I’ve got your back! I have a few exceptional tips to help you make your application the best it can be and stand out as the unique talent you are.

Now, being an international applicant isn’t always easy depending on how your schooling system works. Many of the application processes may be difficult for you to understand if you aren’t familiar with them or if English isn’t your first language. It might cause a headache trying to comprehend it all! It's always better to research if you’re new to the process and remember to be careful about where you receive your information. Here’s my best advice for the university application process, from planning and researching to writing and editing.

Filling out your applications

When it comes to completing your university applications, your passions and interests will most likely gain you admission. Universities look for driven individuals who positively stand out from the crowd. Don’t worry if you think you are different; your very uniqueness might be the help you need to get admitted. Submitting a good application will take more than a day’s work—you should expect weeks of active planning, researching, revising, and more. Here are a few strategies you can take to make the process more manageable.

Planning ahead

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”—an excellent quote by Benjamin Franklin. Planning makes everything easier by letting you know what your next steps should be. Make lists of requirements your applications will need and notes on what can be improved, tackling each one after another until you’re satisfied with the final product. This will help you keep all of your work organized and prevent you from missing important deadlines.

Related: International College Application Do's and Don'ts 

Researching universities

Researching your prospective schools is a must, especially if you’re not yet sure what you want to study. It can be informative to research available courses, how they are taught, and the school’s reputation. Understanding what the university is looking for in an applicant can also help you strengthen your application and boost your chances of getting accepted.

Extracurricular activities

Universities want to see that you’ve already taken initiatives toward your specific interests. If you already have a desired major or career field, then take summer programs or internships related to them (international programs are available too) and take any opportunity targeted toward your interests and goals. Competitions are encouraged; if you win a prize or some other kind of honor, you’ll want to mention these on your university applications, so be sure to keep track of them.

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Make Your Résumé Stand Out to Colleges 

Writing your personal essays 

Although not all universities require personal essays, the ones that do usually ask a common question: Why should we accept you? Your application essay should literally state your importance to the university. Universities use these essays to understand what type of person you are and if you’ll bring any relevance to their campus. When writing your personal essays, you want to shine as the most driven individual you can be. Here are some things to remember when writing your personal essay for any university.

Write about yourself

Universities want to know more about you and the kind of person you are. If you spend the majority of your essay talking about your parents’ achievements or superficial people you met, you are not writing about you; you are writing about them. Keep in mind that you need to write about yourself. I’m not saying that you can’t talk about your personal relations and their effects on you, but you should mention your own achievements or traits, what you can do, or what you can bring to campus more than what other people have done or achieved.

Choose a good topic

Essay topics range from personal achievements, extracurricular activities, inspirations, or role models to daily life experiences that impacted how you grew up. With such a broad range to choose from, it's okay to be unsure what to write about. Be sure you pick a topic that showcases your brilliance and worth. If you’re interested in any specific major or career field, consider writing about it. You could say why you’re interested and how you wish to make an impact in your desired career field—and how this university will help you do just that.

The importance of editing

There are always a few errors we make when writing, and editing helps us eradicate them. In other words, editing is very important to your applications. If you’re an international student whose native language is not English, it can be difficult writing an essay in pure English. Whether they are grammatical or punctuation based, mistakes will be made. But it’s important to note that admission officers don’t generally penalize non-native English speakers for those types of errors. All you need to do is get your point across in the most efficient way you can. Still, you want to produce the best work you can, and there are a number of ways to edit your essays. If you wish to self-edit, use reliable apps like Grammarly, ProWritingAid, PlagScan, or Duplichecker. These apps are meant to point out common grammar mistakes and plagiarism, helping you perfect your writing. If you prefer a more personal review, ask an educator or a language teacher to edit your essay. They can point out mistakes you might not see and give you tips on things you can improve upon.

Final step: proofreading

Although proofreading might not sound like much, it’s the ultimate step before submitting any written piece. You may get blinded by your own errors, go past the word count requirement, or get off track with the writing prompt, all of which are important to pay attention to for a superior application. Proofreading finds the tiny mistakes you didn’t see, which is why it should mainly be done by a second person and not yourself. If you’re unsure who to ask to give a final proofread to your application essays, I’d recommend someone who can be professional in informing you where you went wrong and how you can improve—someone who knows you well and can help point out a personal trait or achievement you missed. They can also help you get your point across if you’re confused or not sure how to word something. With this step, you can revise your work and be confident that you’re submitting the best final draft possible.

Related: Mastering the Application Essay: Advice for International Students

English-language tips

If you’re an international student whose native language isn’t English, this could be difficult to get around if you’re applying to US universities. But English is considered to be one of the easiest languages to learn, as it has a simple grammar system. There are a vast number of places that offer help to learn the language better, as well as apps like Duolingo, Babbel, Rosetta Stone, and many others. If you wish to practice speaking in English, apps like Tandem, italki, and HelloTalk can help you connect with teachers and partners interested in tutoring you.

As an international student, universities abroad will require you to show your proficiency to the language instruction you’re planning to study in, especially if the language isn’t your first language. Universities in the UK and America usually require an ILETS or TOFEL English proficiency test, but there are a number of other tests available, like the PTE test. These also come with test scores, and you’ll need to pass the minimum requirements that your university sets in order to be accepted. However, some schools may offer conditional admission in which you have to enroll in their own English-language course before you start classes. Check the university’s English proficiency test score requirements and the type of tests they accept. You can find all this information on a university’s website.

Related: Which Admission Tests Should International Students Take? 

I will conclude with one last piece of advice: be confident. Confidence is a requirement when completing any application. You have to believe that you are good enough and have faith in your efforts. You should take pride in your accomplishments, but do not exaggerate or give the wrong impression of being too prideful or arrogant; many students are unaware of this, as it’s a simple mistake to make. If you sound confident and tell the admission board exactly why they need you at their school, you may find yourself on their campus in the very near future. Good luck!

Find more application advice and learn about schools that are looking for international students with the CollegeXpress International Colleges & Universities magazine! 

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