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How personal is "too personal" for a college essay?

crackalackincrackalackin Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
Hi, I'm a hs junior and the college app process is right around the corner (yikes!). I have been giving some thought to the subject of my main college essay, and would appreciate any feedback.

Without getting into too many specifics, I have had a lot of medical/health struggles throughout my life, and ending up having a relatively major surgery last summer. Though I would not want to dwell on the nitty gritty med parts in my essay (obvi), I was thinking that I could share my experiences because they make up a significant part of my background, and could be used as a so-called "vehicle" to show some of my traits like perseverance, optimism, determination, learning in any type of environment (not always in a traditional sense), etc. through anecdotes or whatnot.

I haven't really fleshed out any ideas yet, but how does this sounds? I 100% want to stay away from the whole "woe is me" thing, because that's not the way i see myself for that matter. If this is any help, I hopefully will be applying to a broad range of schools (gotta be realistic), but some of my tops (and reaches) are places like Dartmouth, some NESCACs, etc

Thank you in advance!

Replies to: How personal is "too personal" for a college essay?

  • happy1happy1 Forum Champion Parents, Forum Champion Admissions Posts: 21,497 Forum Champion
    edited May 8
    The topic is not as important as how you write about it. Start a draft essay and see how it goes. I completely agree that you must avoid the "woe is me" and focus on what you learned, how you grew etc. from your experiences.
    Glad your health has improved to he point where you can go away to college -- that is the most important thing.
  • bopperbopper Forum Champion CWRU Posts: 10,836 Forum Champion
    1) Colleges want kids who will succeed...decide if emphasizing your health issues is a good idea Will you make it through college?
    2) Essays =/ confessions
    3) Write the essay only you could write: http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/high-school-life/2026961-what-to-do-when-you-arent-doing-well-in-a-hs-class-p1.html
  • crackalackincrackalackin Registered User Posts: 12 New Member
    Thanks for all the comments! Just to clarify, my medical issues haven’t/ aren’t life threatening in any way, so they wouldn’t likely impede me at college (most happened when I was younger, now I mainly just have one)
  • bjkmombjkmom Registered User Posts: 7,008 Senior Member
    I see how this was an important event in your life, and worthy of an essay. And I can see how, if you write it well, this essay could be a great addition to your application.

    BUT (and there's always a "but")-- know that it very likely won't be unique. As sad as it is, any number of kids have had roughly similar experiences and will also write about them for the same reasons. There will be a good number of kids who will write about the concussion they had this year and how it impeded their ability to do school work and read from a screen. There will be the kids who write about radiation and chemo. There will be the kids who missed their Varsity season because of knee or ankle surgery. I can name 4 or 5 of the Seniors I taught this year who could have written an essay roughly similar to yours.

    I'm not saying not to write it. By all means, write it. But then write -- or at least play with-- a few more essays, ones that focus on smaller, less life-altering events. You have a whole summer, and that's a remarkable gift for Juniors in particular. It gives you the time to consider alternatives, to write the essay that has the best chance of "giving them a reason to say yes" to your application.
  • fishsticks4fishsticks4 Registered User Posts: 7 New Member
    Write this, see how it goes, and then write another draft for a completely different essay and compare what you like about the two. I personally wrote like 5 different drafts of the same idea. It's super time-consuming, but worth exploring possibilities to their full potential.
  • Patsfan5xPatsfan5x Registered User Posts: 11 New Member
    I agree with those that say to write it and see how it goes. I also agree that while it is something very personal to you, it is not necessarily a unique topic because it is just another spin on overcoming obstacles. That doesn't necessarily make it a bad topic, but it has the potential to be cliche. You may also find when schools put up their 2018-19 essay prompts that this essay works better as a supplemental, so even if it doesn't end up being your Common App essay, it still may be worth the effort. My son spent the better part of the summer perfecting his Common App essay, and then when it came down to it he decided it just wasn't working as his main essay, but made a great supplement essay to the prompts of at least 3 schools he was applying to. You'll need several different essays so definitely work on this one while exploring other ideas as well.
  • aquaptaquapt Registered User Posts: 1,300 Senior Member
    edited June 12
    This can definitely be a vehicle. Just avoid driving the vehicle on a predictable road. The whole "adversity made me the person I am today" idea can be conveyed subtly along the way, but try to tell a story that is more fresh and surprising. Tell a colorful story about a particular vignette within your larger experience, and embed the background in that story in a way that avoids a chronological, formulaic retelling of the adversity --> growth --> insight trope. Make that stuff implicit rather than explicit.
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