Writing About Your Experiences Abroad

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Ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role other than window-dressing.

You’ve done it – you studied, worked, or volunteered abroad and now you want to include part of this in your personal statement. Maybe you want to show that you’ve experienced a different culture or that you’ve managed to go outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ve had interesting experiences – met people, climbed mountains, or lived without air-conditioning. Or maybe you had the opportunity to help people who genuinely needed it.

But, at this point, you’ve also realized that many other applicants have similar experiences, and you are right. While the experience may have been transformative for you, requiring you to learn how to operate without your usual safety net in a foreign environment, you need to ensure that your study abroad experience serves a role in your essay as something other than window-dressing.

There’s an Onion article which jokes that someone’s short work experience in Africa allowed her to post a better Facebook photo, and, without the proper analysis, descriptions of abroad experiences can feel the same way in an admissions essay. Often, I read essays with lush descriptions of exotic scenery and people who speak different languages, yet you the writer – the most important person – stays the same. Without showing admissions committees why a study abroad experience was transformative, these types of stories simply blend together and give the impression that you were there simply to add another notch to your resume.

So, what should you do? Studying abroad can be a pivotal moment in your personal journey, but a personal statement needs to explain exactly why. If, indeed, gaining experience with other cultures was important to you at that stage, what exactly did you learn? It can’t be enough to just give a story about someone you met while traveling, you have to explain why that person changed you. An admissions committee member once told me that it mattered less what an applicant’s experience was, what mattered was how she talked about it. Even the most seemingly dull experience can be transformative to someone who is really paying attention.

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Jessica PishkoCheck out Jessica Pishko's bio! graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBacc Program and teaches writing at all levels.


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The Most Economically Diverse Colleges in the U.S.

Check out our College Admissions 101 Pages!According to the New York Times recent diversity rankings, the following colleges and universities have made the greatest efforts to admit students from economically diverse backgrounds, meaning, a larger share of low-income families. The schools were chosen based on the number of students receiving Pell Grants (students must be in the bottom 40% of the income distribution to be eligible) and the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.

Top 20 Economically Diverse Colleges

1. Vassar

2. Grinnell

3. UNC – Chapel Hill

4. Smith

5. Amherst

6. Harvard

7. St. Mary’s (Indiana)

8. Pomona

9. Susquehanna

10. Columbia

11. Rice

12. Kalamazoo

13. Wesleyan

14. Denison

15. Barnard

16. Brown

17. Williams

18. Stanford

19. MIT

20. Haverford

The New York Times lead article on these rankings states the importance of the efforts made by these schools:

“This education gap is a problem not only for the teenagers on the wrong end of it. It’s a problem for the American economy. The economic differences between college graduates and everyone else have reached record levels. Yet for many low-income children – even many who get A’s in high school and do well on the SAT – college remains out of reach. No wonder that upward mobility is less common in the United States than in many other rich countries.”

A few more highlights:

 • 23% of students at Vassar’s freshmen received federal Pell grants. In 2007, that number was only at 12%. Lower income students pay roughly $6,000 per year for tuition, much of which is earned through loans and campus jobs.

 • Only 8% of students at Washington University in St. Louis receive Pell grants (compared to 6% and 5% in the last few years), even though this school is ranked as one of the top 25 riches colleges in the U.S. The point: Just because a school has a high endowment, that doesn’t mean that it is more likely to open its doors to lower-income students. In fact, Susquehanna (who has the highest number of Pell-eligible students at 25%) and Wesleyan (at 18%) have relatively small endowments and students from lower-income families make up a rather large part of the student body.

 • In 2008, only one out of three high achieving (top 4%) low-income high school seniors attended a selective college.

An Inside Higher Ed article on the subject offers the following points:

 • To make the list, schools had to have a four-year graduation rate of 75% or higher; therefore, some schools with high Pell-eligible student populations weren’t ranked, in particular, UC Berkeley which has more than 27% of students on Pell Grants. (But only a 71% four year graduation rate.)

 • 46% of students at CUNY Baruch receive Pell Grants, but they too were under the 75% limit (by far, at 39%).

 • The article points out that only three public institutions made it to the list – University of Virginia, the College of William and Mary (also in Virginia), and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.

Accepted.com: Helping You Write Your Best

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College Admissions 101

Georgetown McDonough 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Check out the rest of our 2015 MBA application essay tips!Georgetown McDonough, the top MBA program at the intersection of business and government, takes advantage of its Washington D.C. location, its connections to the greater Georgetown University community, and its Jesuit roots while at the same time time focusing on the global nature of twenty-first century business.  Your application should show that you need the education provided by McDonough to achieve your goals and that you wholeheartedly embrace its values.


Essays should all be double-spaced using 12pt. font. Prepare your attachments offline in separate document files and upload them individually. Please follow the instructions regarding length of each attachment, and label each page with your name.

1. Why You? (Hint: We are looking for an answer that cannot be found from research on our website.) (750 words or fewer)

This question is all about fit. It is an attempt by Georgetown to learn about you and why you think you are a good fit for Georgetown and Georgetown is a good fit for you.  Georgetown wants to see how you think and come to a major decision.

There are lots of different ways to approach this essay. Clearly you shouldn’t spit back the McDonough web site. If you can, talk to current students about the culture and distinctive elements of the program to gain a deeper understanding of it. You also need to reflect on the reasons you personally would choose McDonough. Why is it the best program for you?

You could start with a highly influential experience that influence your decision to pursue an MBA, go into more depth about what you hope to achieve and why you believe Georgetown is the best place for you to achieve it.

Alternatively, you could start with a day in the future where you attain your goal and then circle back to discuss the development of that goal and McDonough’s role in helping you achieve it. You can also discuss how you intend to contribute to McDonought’s community.

In short, why should McDonough accept you? How will you make the school proud that they did?

Optional Essays:

1. If you are not currently employed full-time, use this essay to provide information about your current activities. (250 words or fewer)

Show them that you are using this period to acquire new skills, contribute to your community, or grow in some way.

2. Please provide any information that you would like to add to your application that you have not otherwise included. (500 words or fewer)

Please see The Optional Essay: To Be or Not to Be.

Re-Applicant Essay:

How have you strengthened your candidacy since your last application? We are particularly interested in hearing about how you have grown professionally and personally. (500 words or fewer)

This is a key question (whether asked explicitly or not) for all reapplicants to any MBA program. What has changed? How are you “new and improved” since last year — when you were rejected? Georgetown does you the favor of providing this explicit prompt so you can address this question while retaining the ability to address the main essay.

If you would like professional guidance with your Georgetown McDonough School MBA application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our  MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the Georgetown McDonough MBA application.

Georgetown McDonough 2015 MBA Application Deadlines:

Application Deadline Decision Notification
 Round 1  October 10, 2014  December 20, 2014
 Round 2  January 5, 2015  March 20, 2015
 Round 3  April 1, 2015  May 15, 2015

Linda Abraham By , president and founder of Accepted.com and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.


Get clear, practical guidelines for answering the MBA goals essay question. Click here to download our free report.

Related Resources:

2015 MBA Application Essay Tips
Optional Essays: When and How to Write Them
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your MBA Application Essays

Snag Your Stanford GSB Class of 2017 Seat

If you’re aiming to attend Stanford GSB or another top 10 MBA program in 2015, then you’ll want to view our most recent webinar, Get Accepted to Stanford Graduate School of Business.

stanford 2014 webinar title

In her presentation, Linda Abraham, CEO & Founder of Accepted.com, offers advice on how to apply successfully to Stanford GSB or another top-ranked MBA program.

View Get Accepted to Stanford Graduate School of Business on-demand now!

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Harvard’s School of Public Health Receives $350 Million Gift from Hong Kong Group

Applying to med school? Download your free copy of Navigate the Med School Maze!On Monday, Harvard announced the largest gift in its history, $350 million to the School of Public Health from the Morningside Foundation, a Hong Kong group run by two Hong Kong brothers, Ronnie and Gerald Chan. The school will be renamed for T. H. Chan, the brothers’ father. (Gerald Chan earned degrees from the School of Public Health in the 1970s – a master’s in medical radiological physics and a doctorate in radiation biology.)

This will be the seventh largest donation ever made to an American institution of higher education.

According to Harvard officials, this gift will be used in the following four areas: pandemics (like cancer and obesity); failing health systems; poverty and humanitarian crises; and harmful environments (like pollution or violence). The Ebola outbreak, for example, would hit three of four areas – it’s a pandemic that relates to poverty and highlights a significant health system problem.

Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, says that the gift will give students more financial aid and enable the school to expand its programs. “It’s always been, as the whole field always is, under-resourced,” she said. “It’s overwhelmingly dependent on money from federal grants that are under threat….We’re all realizing how important public health is as we become more global and diseases are shared across boundaries.”

For more info, please check out http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2014/09/largest-gift-to-harvard/.

Download your free special report: Navigate the Med School Maze!

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