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Essay Tips to Consider

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Replies to: Essay Tips to Consider

  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 30,040 Senior Member
    "how someone overcame their depression through finding something they identify with and focusing it on that identity."

    But in an admissions essay, this so often is just not the relevant focus.

    The college app essay isn't a tell-all for a high school teacher who wants to see how a kid probes and reveals. A teacher who already knows the kid. And very few, even adults, can write about depression or mental illness with the right balance or perspective.

    If the healed life is the triumph, one could focus on that, the good she does. They have to find the right tale. Right for adcoms.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,375 Senior Member
    edited October 2017
    A Columbia admissions officer once said that your essay should be so about you, that if it fell on the floor without a name, a classmate could pick it up and identify the author. If you are all about your mental illness, then write about that. But if you prefer to be identified by some other attribute of your personality, that is probably a better topic.

    I just worked with a student the other day who chose to write about his mental illness. This essay didn't focus on anything positive about the illness. It was downright grim and negative. I asked the student how the essay, as it was, helped his application. He had no answer, and he then understood why it wasn't going to work. However, he felt strongly that he wanted to talk about this issue in some way. We worked on finding a different focus, and he is totally rewriting the essay, making the main topic about how he started meeting people once he was able to get over preconceived notions of people in the same boat as him.

    This student isn't aiming high, and will now have a decent essay. I still don't think he should have chosen to write about the issue, but that isn't my choice to make, and he is aware of why the topic is risky. As @intparent said, and as I explained to the student, they don't want to enrol students who might drop out, because they lose money. They want people who they feel will stick around and generate revenue.

    If you feel compelled to write about your mental health, it really does need to focus on anything positive that can be gleaned from the experience.
  • HerNameisAmazonHerNameisAmazon Registered User Posts: 39 Junior Member
    @lookingforward I disagree. The common application includes a prompt about your identity. Someone could strongly feel that they found their identity through them coping with their mental illness. Coping with the mental illness could be used as an anecdote to introduce the identity they defined.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 30,040 Senior Member
    It's a college app.

    Know what your targets do want to see. Disclosing seems like a big brave step. But it's not the purpose of the CA essay or any writing there or in your supps. Adcoms aren't there to empathize, praise, and encourage, the way friends, families, teachers are.
  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 11,979 Forum Champion
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,370 Senior Member
    This isn't your journal or a memoir you are writing. Colleges spend a lot of money on mental health services for their students, lose a lot of students who drop out due to mental health issues, and do not want to deal with suicidsl students or (worse) students who might harm others on campus. They REALLY prefer to not admit students with past mental health issues for those reasons.

    It may seem like a pure and truthful thing to discuss this in an essay, but it won't help your admission chances, even if you liken yourself to Sylvia Plath or Churchill. It won't change the reality that they'd rather not open themselves up to the possible difficulties it could bring later. Save it for some other writing exercise if you want to talk about it -- not an essay where they are judging your personality for fit with their college.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,370 Senior Member
    edited October 2017
    Students can write about it. But it won't improve their chances of admission. I'm very familiar with mental health issues; I lost a sibling to suicide. But that doesn't mean that a college essay is the right place to discuss those issues.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,375 Senior Member
    Regarding the statement that colleges consider the essay "last," I am not sure what that means. At most selective colleges, the essay is considered as "very important" or "important." Anyone can look at section C7 of a college's common data set to see how strongly essays are considered by admissions officers.
  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,370 Senior Member
    Students can take any advice they like on this forum. I advised my own kids and others to look at the practical side of this. If the goal of their essay is to educate and show their courage, they can go ahead and write about mental health struggles. But most kids just want to get into college. And if that is their goal, then they can take the moral high ground and lower their chances of admission. Why write about something that makes you less attractive to admissions if your goal is to get into college?
  • wisteria100wisteria100 Registered User Posts: 3,893 Senior Member
    Regarding the statement that colleges consider the essay "last," I am not sure what that means. At most selective colleges, the essay is considered as "very important" or "important."

    I think for some schools, if the transcript and scores are not in the ball park and there are no strong hooks in the app, then the essay might never get read. But if you are a candidate who is qualified for the school, the essay becomes important. It's not going to turn a no way into a yes, but it can turn a 'this is a kid we are considering into this is a kid we're going to admit.'
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,375 Senior Member
    @runswimyoga , are we talking about great writers in general? The original post is to give students some guidance. The overwhelming majority of students are not great writers. Sure, a great writer can write about anything. Not sure why this has devolved into thinking that the OP believes people should supress who they are. The problem is that most kids can't write well and if they write about emotionally charged topics, they do not do a good job with it and come across as all the adjectives I described in my previous post.

    I work professionally with students on their college essays. My students have been accepted to all kinds of universities and colleges, inlcuding those with single-digit acceptance rates. I recently worked a girl who wrote a bombshell essay about, amongst other things, how she was approached by a homeless drug addict at the age of 14. Amazing writing. I did not tell her she shouldn't write about a gritty, possibly off-putting topic.

    I worked with another student who wrote an essay about being bullied all through school, and how ashamed and humiliated he was, and the awful things people said to him. I suggested he revise his essay, and he then changed it instead to discuss how his disability led to some unexpected, positive situations. He is not a strong writer. His first essay was, frankly, bad and made him appear to be bitter and resentful. I am currently working with a student whose first draft was so graphic in its description of panic and fear that it nearly made ME feel panicky and frightened. I asked her if that was how she wanted an admissions officer to view her, and how would the essay convey something positive about her. She had to admit that it wouldn't. I helped her find an angle within her essay to work from that would show something positive. Her essay was also not good. She still wants to write about this particualr struggle, and I haven't told her she can't. I have told her that what she writes is how she will be viewed.

    The OP has revealed a deeply personal and sad event and for anyone to be offended by that is taking this whole thing far too seriously. Can we all please remember that this post is to help kids write about the best version of themselves? A student who is a solid writer can write well about anything. But the bottom line is that most kids are not good writers. Writing about mental health is not a great choice, just as writing about politics, abortion, religion, and a first sex experience are also not good topics, UNLESS, maybe, a kid is a great writer.
  • runswimyogarunswimyoga Registered User Posts: 928 Member
    edited October 2017
    @lookingforward His essay was really creatively written so it was BOTH about being gay (one line was something like "I rushed home from school in a whirlwind of thought. I researched until my fingers gave out about what it meant to be gay. Everything about it felt liberating. And taboo...") AND being inspired to actual activism in the school and wider community.

    The entire essay had to do with sexual orientation though and everything a gay teen goes through/ the choices you make along the way.

    I am not a writer so I cant say exactly what- but he used a lot of writing tricks he said to paint pictures, tell a story and come full circle. I think the key difference was the quality of the writing in telling a compelling story that had a lot to do with standing out in a positive way too.

    I think you can talk about anything if you do it well.

  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,370 Senior Member
    edited October 2017
    Except something that makes them say, "That kid is likely to cost our college more to educate" or "that kid is more likely to drop out" or "that kid might self-harm while on our campus" or "that kid might harm someone else on our campus". Those topics will not help. I think you've missed the point. An essay that (1) shows characteristics that could be detrimental to the kid finishing school, and/or (2) that is depressing and/or boring to the reader won't help you get admitted.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 30,040 Senior Member
    edited October 2017
    Yes, YSM, but your son wrote with a larger and very valid message. Top colleges would like the thinking. Sounds like, from that thinking strength, he then took off.

    Most kids write with less to say about what they actially did, that shows attributes the top schools want.

    Someone other than intparent brought up "hiding."

    Having mental illness is not an attribute colleges seek.
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