In today’s increasingly competitive world of college admissions, you need your personal essay to stand out. Fortunately, your high school study abroad experience at SYA will help you do just that. In this blog post, you'll read advice from SYA alums, college counselors and English teachers on how to approach your essay and incorporate elements of your SYA experience.
Preparing Your College Application
In the spring, high school juniors at SYA begin to prepare their applications for college admissions. There are many reasons why SYA students tend to be very successful in standing out in college application pools that are overflowing with qualified students.Click here to view the top colleges and universities SYA alums have gone on to attend. For starters, they begin the essay writing process early and with help from their SYA college counselor, advisor, English teacher and senior classmates who’ve already gone through the process. Many SYA students also differentiate themselves from their peers back home by using their study abroad experience as the focal point of their essay.
Advice From Admissions Officers
College admissions officers will tell you that the essay is the part of the application they scrutinize most closely. The prompts vary from school to school but they all strive to achieve the same purpose; to draw out your personality and your particular story that sets you apart from other students in terms of what you offer to a college community. Your response is your chance to make an impression beyond your grades and test scores.
According to William Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Harvard College, "Many students write about their SYA experiences in their essays or talk about them in interviews and there is no question that the added perspective and maturity gained from SYA can be a real plus to some candidates."
Advice from SYA Alums
A common element that emerges in many SYA students’ essays is a story that shows how they, through a combination of classroom and experiential learning, learned the language and culture of their host country in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of themselves.
Current Assistant Director of Admissions, SYA Spain '09 alum and a graduate of Lewis and Clark College, Tonada Koch, wrote her college essay on her experiences at SYA. Said Tonada, "When it came time to write my college essay I was surprisingly confident. I had just returned from my year with SYA Spain, and I was fueled with inspiration and confidence in what I wanted from my college education. I wrote about a trip I had taken with SYA to the north of Spain, visiting little towns tucked away in the mountains." Said Tonada, "I was speaking, eating, laughing, and breathing in Spanish. I understood and connected with the history of the places we visited, and spoke about my host family’s ancestry in these places. I know that my SYA experience influenced the college process because I had several interviews and meetings with admissions staff on the phone and in person that all brought up my essay, diving into the unique perspective I offered.”
A good essay could demonstrate how you’ve grown and learned about how you learn. Carolyn Hilles-Pilant, a former college counselor at SYA China, says, "‘Sincerity and Clarity’ are my watchwords, usually showing something you have learned from an experience or challenge." Colleges are looking for evidence of your self-knowledge.
The best advice, however, has to do with the process of writing the college essay, not its content. Spend time on it! Write several drafts, allow some time between them and have trusted readers edit them. Take time to really reflect on your experiences and turn those into an interesting and unique essay. Steve Allen,a former English teacher at SYA Italy, advises, “If anyone is looking for the greatest tricks, starting early, revising just a little bit each time out, being honest, and not pretending to be honest seem the best procedures to me."
Watch Briana H., France '15 alum and our 2014-15 Halsey Scholar, speak about her decision to attend SYA France, and her experience applying to colleges from abroad in the video below. For more information on how SYA helps boost student's college essays visit the website here.