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5 Ways ESL Students Can Leverage Their Life Story in College Applications

College admissions essays succeed when they tell the student’s unique story. Unlike the much more technically oriented academic paper, the admissions essay is more along the lines of the personal-essay genre than the five paragraph essay.

Rather than an introduction, thesis, supporting paragraphs, evidence citations, and a summation, the college essay relies on the expression of a personal experience that relates to the student’s desire to attend the school. Through the expression of these personal experiences, students convey their dreams, interests, and characters. They show why they will succeed at the school.

ESL students have a built-in story. Because they came to the United States from another country and put in the extra work needed to learn English while also mastering history, science, math, and elective subjects, the story of their journey through life so far has a natural relation to academic success in college. It shows they are driven, attentive, and willing to put in the study time.

To leverage these natural stories, here are some important tips for ESL college applicants:

Make Your Story Unique and Personal

The last thing any college applicant wants is for their essay to sound generic. That is not to say that all stories of coming to America and learning the language are the same. Quite the contrary, they are all as unique as their authors.

Most star athletes include their sports experiences in their essays. Ditto for debate team stars, chess players, dancers, and thespians. Each thespian has to tell their own unique story about the theatre experience. Each athlete has to convey what their sport means to them on a personal level.

When crafting an ESL related story, students can make them compelling when they really dig deep inside of themselves and find the personal meaning of their experience and how it developed their character, how it made them a stronger person and student.

Only Include the Most Compelling Events and Thoughts

College essays usually include both descriptions of specific events and introspective writing. They are also limited by a relatively small word count. Because of this, editing the essay to include only the most compelling pieces is a must.

High school English teacher Justin Nevin recommends students choose one or two narrative moments and tell them in the moment. Narration of too many events detracts from focus. Nevin recommends choosing a moment or two that is representative of the story the student wishes to tell. He also notes the importance of accepting that the essay is not an exact retelling of events. Events are a representation that relate to the student’s narrative.

Take the Time to Edit and Proofread

Though all students should heed this advice, there are some specifics to which ESL students need to pay close attention. Grammar should be reviewed carefully. Using your school’s writing center and having others read the essay helps a great deal.

Also, always be on the lookout for inappropriate vocabulary. Having a writing center tutor, teacher, or other native speaker review the essay for any out of place words can help the essay be in tip top shape upon submission.

Use College Preparation Opportunities at Your School

College essays should never be written under pressure. They are an expression of individual experience. It takes time for students to decide what they really want to say and to work that into a tightly written format. Many high schools offer college preparation help.. These resources help students work through the college essay process.

ESL students have compelling narratives to share on their college admissions essays. These stories provide a framework by which students can share their unique story and how it has prepared them for college life. When ESL students take the time to craft well-written, personalized stories, the results are tremendous.

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