The International Students Guide to US College Application Letters

How to write the perfect US college application essay

If you want to study in the US as an international student, you should probably start thinking about your college application letter.

Wait, what is a US college application letter?

In the US, it’s common for colleges and universities to request applicants to submit a personal essay or letter.

Don’t worry if this is new to you – the Sprintax team is here to help you write an essay that’s guaranteed to get you a place in the US college of your dreams.


But first, what is the aim of a US college application essay?

Colleges want to find out more about who you are. Your essay should tell the university about you, and convince them that you’re the kind of person who they need at their college. These schools accept students who they believe will contribute something special.

This might be a challenge, especially if English isn’t your first language, but it’s a positive thing because they’re giving you an opportunity to say something and make a statement about yourself. This is your chance to share your personality with them and impress them beyond your grades.


How to write the perfect US college application essay

What kind of essay will I be expected to write?

This will depend on the colleges that you’re applying to, but we’re going to talk about the three most common types of college application essay; The Common Application, The Universal Application and the Individual Institution Application.

  1. The Common Application

This system allows students to complete one application for multiple colleges. A student may send this single application to any college that is a Common Application member. There around 700 member colleges in the US.

For the essay part of this application, you will choose one of five prompts. A prompt is a title or a topic that you must write about. Think carefully about each prompt. Write down ideas related to each one and decide which topic you believe will result in the most interesting and engaging essay.

Consider your own personal skills and life experiences and how they relate to the topic. If you’re having trouble choosing, ask people who are close to you for advice, they may think of something that you have overlooked or forgotten about.

  1. The Universal Application

The Universal application is not very common, in fact, there are currently only around 30 colleges currently accepting this form of application. Much like the Common Application, students only need to complete this application once for all participating colleges.

For this application, you will be given an essay title and topic to write about.

  1. Individual Institution Application

Some colleges, especially private colleges, request applicants to submit an application that is specific to their institution. This form of application may require you to answer a question or write an essay on why you would like to attend their college.

What should I write about in my US college application essay?

Once you’ve chosen a suitable topic you should do what is known in the US as ‘brainstorming’. This is where you take the time to come up with as many ideas as possible around a topic. Sit down somewhere quiet with a pen and paper, or your computer and see what you come up with. It doesn’t matter how silly an idea might seem, write it down anyway. This process is about coming up with as many ideas as you can.

To get started, think about the following subjects and how they relate to your life. Write down a few sentences for each subject.

  • Sports, school clubs, after school activities.
  • Hobbies and interests (for example; music, art, sports, reading)
  • Vacation, travel and times you’ve been abroad
  • Work experience if you have any
  • People who are close to you like family and friends
  • Special occasions
  • Experiences and events in your life that had a lasting effect on who you are


How do I write an introduction?

Once you have made a decision about what you will discuss in your essay, you’ll need to write an introduction. The introduction is important because you need to grab the reader’s attention straight away. An exciting or meaningful opening sentence is very important as it will set the tone for your essay.

Imagine that you are the individual on the admissions faculty. You are reading thousands of application essays every day. It’s important that your letter stands out. You want this person to think ‘yes, this is someone interesting and we would be lucky to have them in our college.’

It’s recommended that you write the introduction last when you know exactly what you will cover in your essay. Don’t waste the introduction describing what you’re going to talk about. Use it as an opportunity to show them that you’re a unique and interesting person.

How to write the perfect US college application essay

Make sure your essay flows well

Your essay should flow well, meaning it should be consistent and each paragraph should be in an order that makes sense to the reader.

For example, if you’re writing about an event like ‘The first time I travelled to a new place without my parents’. You could have a paragraph for each of the following:

  • How your parents felt about your trip and the promises or compromises that you had to make with them in order for them to give you permission to go.
  • How did you plan or prepare for the trip? Did you need a visa? Flights? New clothes?
  • How did you pay for the trip? Did you spend pocket money? Save from an after school job?
  • What did the experience teach you? – how to save money, how to be organised, etc.
  • How did the experience improve your understanding of adult life, what skills did you gain from the experience, what happened when you went?

There will be a limit on how many words you may use. Make sure you don’t go too far over or under the word count. It’s important that you read the guidelines carefully because it will show that you can follow instructions.

Tell a story

It’s a good idea to write the same story two or three different ways. Choose the most important points you want to get across and have a strong, clear idea of what you would like to say and write it in 3 different styles. You might find that one way is way more interesting or engaging than another.

Don’t be afraid to write about yourself in an unflattering light

Nobody’s perfect! In fact, sometimes it shows courage to write about a time when you failed, when you struggled or even a time when you were embarrassed. Just make sure that you show that you learned from the experience or how it made you stronger. Everyone has their flaws and everyone makes mistakes, the important part is showing that you’ve learned from it in some way.

Writing a conclusion

The end of your essay should leave a good impression on the reader. It should summarise what you learned from the experience and how it has made you the person you are today.

Explain how your experience will help you succeed with the college course and how it has made you a valuable asset to the university.

It’s a good idea to include a couple of sentences about what your plans for the future are. Do you have a specific career in mind? Is there anything you’re looking forward to learning during your time in university? How will getting into this college help you to achieve your life goals? This will show that you have thought about how you will use your degree after you finish college.

This exercise is as much about being an interesting person as it is about being an interested person. And what we mean by that is, show some real enthusiasm for the course, the college and even your own hobbies.

Editing and improving your essay

No matter how great your essay is, you should always ask friends, family, even teachers to read it and give you feedback. You can use the advice of others to improve your essay and make it the very best it can be.

It’s also not a good idea to rely on spellcheck and grammar checks that are built into the computer program you’re using. A human can often spot small errors and typos that the spellchecker may have missed. Your essay should be as perfect as possible when it comes to grammar and spelling.

It is especially important to check if English isn’t your first language. Do you know someone who is particularly good at English or who has English as a first language? Ask them to take a look at what you’ve written and see if it can be improved. A well written, polished essay could be your ticket to studying at the university of your choice in the US.

In summary, be sure to read the application guidelines carefully, brainstorm and think a lot about what you will write about, edit your essay and ask other people to check it. We hope this helps you write an excellent college application and best of luck from the Sprintax team!

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