"Out of this unique environment sprung an industry of counseling services for Japanese applicants. Many are individual Americans who have graduated from reputable western institutions and offer their services through online advertisements or word of mouth. Others are small organi-zations composed of a few application consultants. The most prominent and largest graduate school service provider, which covers close to 80% of the Japanese market, is Princeton Review Japan, providing a compre-hensive offering of test prep as well as application counseling. Every year, on average, 1,600 file into its two-floor Shibuya (Tokyo) office, taking test prep classes and essay classes.
Adam Markus, the Associate Director of Admission Counseling at Princeton Review, also an experienced counselor himself, sees a clear and absolute distinction. “Crafting the essay is a process of looking at someone’s content and analyzing it and telling them honestly whether or not it is effective,” Markus explains. He says that he helps his clients better convey their goals, visions, and their strengths, as well as understand their audience. The typical Japanese did not have the opportunity to express themself in terms of goals, visions and plans. No one has probably ever asked them to really think about, like Stanford does, year after year, what they are most passionate about in life and why, and then expect them to demonstrate that passion in every single stage and aspect of their lives, or like Oxford, ask them to demonstrate their depth of character by talking about a world/current event, a book, or play that has helped form their worldview.
Indeed, for many Japanese applicants, the hardest part of writing the essay is to know what the questions are really asking, or what qualities the admission officer is looking for: “A Japanese applicant does not share the same set of cultural assumptions that an American admission officer does,” Markus explains, “My role as the admission advisor is to give feedback. I help them see their own experience and communicate it in a way that could be impressive to the admission committee.”
Markus gives an example with defining leadership: “Leadership is a fundamental MBA essay question,” he says, “However, Japanese typically have a very narrow definition of leadership as the guy in charge. So helping someone understand that they are a leader, that their leadership came as a result of showing initiative, making a difference, having a new concept that the organization bought into—even if they were not the official leader, can be mind opening. It’s not like I am making up stories at all—they just don’t know how to express that and know that it’s a story of value.” Instead of writing about the genuine achievement story at work that they may have had but did not realize, Markus often gets first drafts of leadership essays about them being leaders of the tennis club because that was when they were officially coined the captain. “Now, that’s a boring story,” he understates.
Another example is helping clients understand the importance of writing about the individual in their essays, “The Japanese tend to have a hard time expressing themselves. So I often read first draft essays, and they are talking about the organization or the group—which is not what the admission is looking for. The admission wants to learn about the person. So, I think it is very legitimate to say to somebody—‘hey, this essay is not focused on you’. I teach them the rules. That is not ghostwriting.”
In fact, helping his clients coming to that realization, Markus believes, is an ethical, legitimate process.
....Besides large thematic problems, counselors also often help clients better convey their ideas through simple changes in language structure. In the Japanese language, the verb comes at the end of the sentence, denoting that the most important idea comes at the very end. This type of narrative structure is often reflected in their essay as well, and they may take a long time to get to the actual point of the story. A counselor’s job also includes telling his/her client to reverse the sentence and narrative structure in order to work well with a western admission officer, “I tell my clients, ‘hey, you take way too long to get to the point—your reader will lose interest,’ ” Markus says. “Or, ‘you need to reverse your sentence so the main idea comes first.’ That is not unethical. It simply makes the essay more logical to a western audience.”
In fact, Princeton Review Japan does not usually edit their clients’ English, because they believe it is not in their interest: “Essays don’t need to be in perfect English because it should reflect the actual English ability of the person,” explains Markus. “We constantly tell our clients not to use rewriting services because it is not in their interest. It should be clear, coherent, and free from spelling errors, but for example, they shouldn’t use big words that they do not understand.”