Exam Writing Tips

College application essay makeover

I came across this personal statement on the website of a mainland college prep agency that specializes in writing such documents on behalf of university applicants. Since the company displayed the piece to give prospective clients an idea of what they can offer, they must have thought of it as well-written. I found it severely lacking in style and voice, though. I’ve come up with a better version, one that is 20% lengthier but packed with much more personality and content.

The student had to respond to the following question as part of his/her application to a university in the US:

Malcolm Forbes stated that, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” Discuss what this quotation means to you.

Original version

First of all, I agree with this quotation. In my opinion, education is vitally important for a person’s career development. My father is my idol. He holds a PhD degree. With his efforts, he became a senior manager in a big company in China. He used to further his study in the United States. He gained an in-depth understanding of the quality of American education. As a result, he always tells me that America is an ideal place for ambitious youth to pursue higher education. He specifically suggested that I pursue my studies in the US. Naturally, with his encouragement, I made up my mind to study in America. 

Since 2011, I have been studying at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas. So far I have taken courses on American history and art. I could not study either of those subjects in China. Thus, I have gained a better understanding of American history and culture. In addition, I have not only enhanced my independent living skills, but also improved my problem-solving ability. What I like best about America is the constant encouragement from my teachers. I rarely experienced that in China. My experience as an international student has enabled me to understand America. More importantly, it has helped me get accustomed to American studying methods. I am confident this will enhance my undergraduate studies and help me attain my career goals. 

My rewrite (to come up with a more full-bodied narrative, I incorporated some plot elements I invented myself)

Ask any mainland Chinese student currently studying at highschool level in the US to enumerate the pleasant surprises they’ve encountered in the land of the free, and they are bound to cite the following: teachers speak to you as their equals; eccentricity is not only not frowned upon but positively encouraged; the humanities are taught with the same care as the sciences. 

In my case, this process of (to paraphrase Malcolm Forbes) “replacing my empty mind with an open one” has also opened up a new communication channel between me and my normally taciturn father, who’s a senior executive at a large Chinese state-owned company. It was he who – having earned a doctorate at Rice University himself – got me enrolled at Allen Academy in Bryan, Texas in 2011. Since I’ve headed off to the US, he has initiated contact with me more often, quizzing me about my books, my teachers, my classmates, my trips to the theatre, and my opinion on world events. I’ve told him I’ve developed a taste for David Foster Wallace, steak fajita, and the modernist single-story house the young Philip Johnson built for the de Menils in a Houston neighborhood populated by palatial old-style mansions. Each time I hang up the phone after chatting with my father, I get the distinct impression that his school days in the US must have been happy and he is trying to relive them through me.

It’s due to this discovery – that there’s joy in seeing others make their own discoveries – that I’m now seeking to read a degree in education at your university. For I know as a teaching professional, I can relive this kind of joy many times over.

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