DISCLAIMER: This article is written based on Shern Lyn’s own experiences, opinions and reflections. When reading her advice or suggestions, please bear in mind that you may not be in the same situation as she had been. Also, what worked or did not work for her application may not apply in your case.
Hello there. I’m Shern Lyn and I am currently in the second semester of my first year at Monash University Malaysia. I applied to colleges in the lovely country of the United States of America for the 2012/2013 intake and was offered places at Drake University and Emerson College. I was waitlisted for Sarah Lawrence College. I applied specifically to do Writing and Language. With Drake University, I was offered a $13,000 scholarship.
Let’s get personal for a bit.
As everyone knows, the essay is the defining feature of your application and that sentiment rang incredibly true for me (in ways which will be revealed later). Here are some tips to consider when writing your essay:
- The first thing that comes to mind is usually the best thing to write about.
- Pour your heart and soul into the essay. If you don’t feel utterly exposed and naked in the midst of writing your essay, it’s not good enough. Remember, only you and the admissions team will see the essay unless you choose to show it other people, of course.
- Honesty is the best policy.
- EDIT EDIT EDIT. I cannot stress this even more.
- Find the most unique thing about yourself and write about it. Forget achievements like president or prefect or class monitor. Everyone and anyone can be these things.
I only had the smallest handful of clubs and no voluntary experience as part of my extra-curricular activities. For ECA in high school, I only included the most important ones such as organising committee for a talent show, prefect and class monitor. I do believe that my clubs in pre-university was my selling point. I was a rather active member of the Model United Nations club back in Taylor’s College Subang Jaya.
Like every student who applies to the United States of America, I had to take the SAT as well as an English proficiency test.
I was lucky enough to have attended a study course on the SAT held by a Ms. Christine Lim in Taylor’s College which greatly helped me with the actual test. Here are some things I learnt from the course that would help:
- Do as many practice questions as possible.
- I personally did not find McGraw-Hill’s SAT questions useful as their answers are sometimes wrong and inconsistent.
- When doing the questions (especially Math), answer smart, not hard. The SAT questions are there to test your ability to think outside the box to achieve the right answer, not to go through complicated thought processes. If you are thinking too hard, you are probably answering the question in the wrong way.
- With the essay question, think back to when you were in primary school with the five paragraph structure. Have an opening, three points and a conclusion.
- Your opening is like a thesis statement. State briefly your stand and what your three points are. Examiners go through hundreds of essays in a day. They might not read the entire essay, just the first paragraph and the opening line of your three points and then your conclusion.
- When answering the essay question, have a firm stand. Your answer is either yes or no. There is no middle ground.
For the English proficiency test, I did IELTS instead of TOEFL. I did IELTS because I missed the test date for TOEFL. It is not advised to do IELTS since universities in the States prefer TOEFL but if you were pressed for time like me, IELTS is sufficient. Just be sure to email/contact the universities you are applying to take let them know that you took IELTS instead of TOEFL and what your score was. If it’s a good score, they usually don’t mind you taking IELTS.
None of my universities required an interview. However, if there are students intending on applying to Hamilton College (I began an application but never completed it), there is an interview but I spoke to the admissions officer and he said that a Skype or phone interview can be arranged (if needed).
I can say with much confidence that the success of my applications lay in my essay. Being extremely personal and talking about my personal growth as a person as well as my passion for writing helped sell my case (as the universities I applied to have amazing writing programmes).
The second point that helped the success of my applications is doing Model United Nations in pre-university. I would encourage all students to join MUN because students who do MUN are more valued (or so they say) and apparently possess qualities like leadership and communication skills.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should rush out and join MUN. Hone the skills that you currently have and show your passion for your current extra-curricular activities.
Now, here’s the part about the colleges I applied to.
With all three colleges, I applied for Regular Decision because I didn’t want to commit to any university and it also gave me extra time to work on my essay.
All three colleges asked me the same “Why do you want to attend…” and “How does your ECA/work experience give you the edge…”, paraphrased in the way I remember it. (I can’t remember the extracurricular questions accurately and I lost my application files when my computer died)
The breakdown of my application to each college will show you why personal essays are the defining component of your application.
Sarah Lawrence College
I was waitlisted, I believe, based solely on my essay. I wouldn’t want anyone to go the way I went and I don’t encourage doing this at all but A) I did not pay the application fee B) I did not complete the supplementary question which was to submit an essay similar to the one that New York University asked for. There was also the usual question of “Why do you want to attend…” and “Why do you think you would fit in…”, if I remember correctly.
I was accepted for the Spring intake (even though I didn’t apply for it) rather than the Fall intake because the quota for Fall was full. The university offered me a place in the Spring intake and even encouraged me to take courses elsewhere first and then transfer to Emerson. The supplementary questions weren’t difficult and again, if I remember correctly, the generic questions were asked.
I was accepted for the Fall intake. I believe that the university accepted me because in my supplementary question on why I wanted to attend Drake, I talked about a component of Drake culture and linked it to my own background. For the question on “What ECA/work experience I had…”, I talked about MUN and once again, linked it back to my background and my personality.
A question that CollegeLAH asked me is “if a student wasn’t too involved in ECA in secondary school, is it too late to start now, and where would be the best place to start?” I believe that if you weren’t too involved in secondary school and you are currently in pre-university, it is vital that you begin now. ECA isn’t a defining point but colleges would like to see a well-rounded student and the best place to start (especially if you’ve graduated pre-university) is with volunteer work or work experience.
I hope that this article will help many applicants out there achieve success and help them get into the universities of their choice. Just remember to be yourself.
Shern Lyn Khuan is a daydreamer pursuing a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in “Most Likely Communications” at Monash University Malaysia. She can often be found hidden behind her laptop, multiple stacks of books or daydreaming about a fictional dystopian society where she reigns supreme.