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The Risk Essay

LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,735 Senior Member
edited August 2018 in College Essays
The general rule is that students should avoid controversial topics such as politics, religion, and sex. Put mental illness and family traumas in that category also, for the most part. I've had students successfully write about some of these topics, but they've had professional guidance from me, the goal being to help the student express what they feel is important, without being off-putting and leaving a negative impression.

My student wants to write about converting to a different religion while in middle school, because she didn't like the attitude her previous religion had towards premarital sex and homosexuals. She's decent writer, and at no point does she say she is interested in premarital sex nor that she is homosexual. I am going to help her with the essay. She is very strongly committed to her topic, but I am also going to suggest she come up with an alternative topic to write about, because I think her essay is risky. If you understand the goal of essays and understand college admissions, when do you feel it's okay to write a risk essay?

Replies to: The Risk Essay

  • wisteria100wisteria100 Registered User Posts: 4,052 Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    Think about it in this way. The essay is not about converting to a different religion (or any other ‘risky’ topic per se), the essay is about the applicant and how she/he dealt with something or accomplished something or grew from an experience. Or it’s a way to showcase traits, talents, curiosity etc. So in this case the essay is not about how Religion X didn’t mesh with her belief system, it’s about how she is a compassionate or accepting or open minded or fill in the blank type of person, and the religious conversion becomes the metaphor or pathway by which to showcase that. So if you think about it in those terms, there are few things that would be considered true ‘risk’ topics.
  • suzy100suzy100 Registered User Posts: 5,599 Senior Member
    I think it's not that risky if done well, which I am sure you will help her do. The only real negative I see is that this all happened in middle school.

  • socaldad2002socaldad2002 Registered User Posts: 877 Member
    edited August 2018
    FWIW, D was talking with a UC adcom recently and told my daughter to not write essays about being a “victim” of circumstances and making it a sob story. Focus on the positives and what great assets you will bring to the college.
  • houndmomhoundmom Registered User Posts: 240 Junior Member
    I think kids are in a tough spot with essays ... either it's too controversial (religion, politics) or too mundane (loss of pet, winning big game). My 18 year old struggled with a topic choice because nothing dramatic ever happened to her! She's just a well-adjusted kid doing her "thing"

    Agree with socaldad2002 to keep it positive. And, depending on where she's applying, I believe adcoms 1st read to see if kid can craft a coherent, grammatically correct essay.
  • lookingforwardlookingforward Registered User Posts: 31,172 Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    First, it depends on the tier of college. The higher you go, the more it matters that the attributes show that adcoms want to find. Think of the descriptors readers might use that relate to what the college wants, eg: mature, bridge, flexible, etc. The list goes on.

    But this "compassion" and determination has to show now, not just 3+ years ago. Can she show this in present efforts beyond church? With peers at school and in her community?

    But outside top colleges, it matters less.

  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,735 Senior Member
    edited August 2018
    Thanks for all of your interesting perspectives. @suzy100 and @lookingforward , good points. I will have her be sure to make it relevant to who she is now.

    She mentions the specific religion she converted from, and given that it's a very common religion, I am going to suggest she steer away from mentioning that religion at all. It has potential to offend some readers otherwise.
  • itsgettingreal17itsgettingreal17 Registered User Posts: 3,589 Senior Member
    Changing religion can’t be the topic of the essay. It should only be the backdrop to showcase something about the student. I wouldn’t have her spend much time on the change of religion except to reflect on it it to explain something interesting or special about the student personality wise or that the student has done during high school.
  • MidwestmomofboysMidwestmomofboys Registered User Posts: 3,795 Senior Member
    It could be an anecdote which demonstrates a number of desirable qualities -- critical thinking, action in response to injustice, compassion. Perhaps there are more recent stories/experiences to connect it to, or engagement/activities as a high school student that she was motivated to engage in? Making it the main focus of the essay, without connecting it more deeply to who she is now seems like it would be a missed opportunity for the student.
  • 4MyKidz4MyKidz Registered User Posts: 470 Member
    I don’t know what the essay prompt is, but I sometimes wonder if AO’s feel refreshed when students just answer the essay question. I realize reading essays can be boring, however I wonder if it has become cliche for students to come up with such unique angles. I also wonder if students are sometimes trying too hard to be funny, controversial, unique, etc. Regarding the OP topic, I would definitely advise that the topic be used as an anecdote that further demonstrates what the student brings to the school, but it is difficult to answer without knowing the actual prompt.
  • LindagafLindagaf Registered User Posts: 8,735 Senior Member
    I stumbled on this and thought I would update.

    My student stayed with her topic. We discussed some issues that troubled me: her original phrasing made it seem as though she was "accusing" her previous religion of being against homosexuality and premarital sex. The context was about her family and how they aided her in adopting her new religion. It had a "cheerleading" quality to it that I felt wasn't working.

    Instead, she made the focus of her essay a multifaith experience she had while participating in a church-based service trip to Central America. When she spoke with me about the incident, her eyes lit up and she recalled many vivid memories and details of the experience. Her original topic stayed the same, but it was reframed within a different context. It was positive and uplifting.

    She was much happier with her end result and now has several acceptances.

    Students can write about risky topics, but it is probably best to frame things in a positive way.
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