By Yuki Kondo-Shah, Public Affairs Officer, U.S. Consulate Fukuoka

The essay is the single most important part of your college application, because it's the one part that you can truly control at this moment. The grades on your transcript reflect the last three years of hard work in various courses. Your standardized test scores are a snapshot of your test taking ability on one weekend morning. Teacher recommendation letters are their perspectives about you compared to your classmates.

The essay, on the other hand, will reflect how much effort you put into it right now. You should start the draft early, make edits and rewrite it multiple times, and share it with friends and mentors that you trust. While there may be other students who have great grades, test scores, resumes, and letters, there should be only one personal statement that sounds like you wrote it, and that’s the key to a successful application essay. It's perfectly fine to write it first in Japanese and then translate it into English!

In my experience evaluating Japanese student essays in admissions applications, too many students simply answer the essay question being asked. That seems counterintuitive, I know, but the point of the essay questions is to function as a prompt, a starting off point, from which you can explore your background, history, intellectual interests, and future plans. The goal is to have the admissions officer come away after reading your essay knowing you better as an individual, why you are motivated, and why you would be a great addition to the classroom and campus life at their school.

My specific advice to Japanese students would be to NOT be humble, but to think BIG. This is not a time to be shy, as you are competing with American students who have been educated to express their dreams and articulate their plans in their applications. Ask yourself what is motivating you to study in America, and what you think an education there would allow you to do that you cannot achieve if you were to stay in Japan. If you want to read some sample essays, the New York Times does a series every year on essays that move their editors.

Let's look at a short essay question from my alma mater, Dartmouth College, on this year's application: "In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, ‘The world's troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.’ Which of the world's ‘troubles’ inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare to you to address it?”

There are many inspirational young people setting great examples these days by tackling challenges like climate change or bullying. In writing your 650 words, think about the impact you want to have on the world. What makes you stand out from the rest?

Yuki Kondo-ShahThis article is the second in a five-part series for students and their teachers on how to prepare college applications, in which Consulate Fukuoka Public Affairs Officer Yuki-Kondo Shah shares her observations and expertise from her previous career in admissions as an interviewer at Dartmouth College and an application reader at Stanford University and Harvard University.

Read the other articles in the series:

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