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Essay on a sensitive subject?

qmgrtofqmgrtof 2 replies2 threads New Member
I'm applying EA to Yale this fall, and have been working on my common app essay. Right now, it talks about the sexual abuse I've dealt with from my older autistic brother, interspersed between my initial love of nature, the use of STEM as an escape, and my current passions - physics and math. In no way do I want to "cache in" on this or write a sob story, but I think it can show more of my personality/life philosophy than a more basic "I went to a small high school, started clubs, took online classes, participated in programs, and love physics" essay.

As it stands now, the essay has a sort of stream-of-consciousness, raw tone. I'm worried that too much of this could make me look like a lazy writer, but that over-editing will lose the emotion I want to convey. This essay is fairly stylistic but also jumpy (eg abruptly going from talking about my brother to my love of math, meant to show how I used it as an escape..which may not read as I hope). Essentially, there is a fair amount of subtext that I like (I want it to be more abstract and about what I have learned), but am not sure an admissions officer reading it over once would get.

Should I take this risk for a more personal/potentially more interesting essay, try to make it more straightforward + less stylistic, or go with other essays I had in mind?

Thanks for any feedback!
11 replies
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Replies to: Essay on a sensitive subject?

  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35293 replies399 threads Senior Member
    edited October 2019
    It's not about where you went to hs or the clubs. I have to assume you read the prompts by now.

    But nor is it meant to be stream of consciousness about abuse.

    It does need, "Show, not just tell."

    It's not whether the adcoms "get it." It's about whether *you* get what they want to learn about you, how they want to envision you in the campus community.
    edited October 2019
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  • makemesmartmakemesmart 1775 replies14 threads Senior Member
    I would suggest to try a different subject.
    Your idea could be great, but to convey such a complex idea in 600+ words, is extremely hard and delicate. Very very few people could do it well, even for the few who could, I still don’t think this complex and very intimate topic is a good one for college essay.
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  • makemesmartmakemesmart 1775 replies14 threads Senior Member
    No matter what people say about college app essays, most if not all AOs are not editorial genius (far from it, tbh), nor expecting you to be a literary one. Don’t try too hard to be unique, or for the sake of it. The best (or should I say most successful) essays often are not about the edgiest topics, but about everyday experiences, written from a slightly different angle.
    Good luck.
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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2939 replies70 threads Senior Member
    I would avoid the abuse angle. It doesn't "sell" you to the college, it doesn't show a match or a desired trait colleges look for. Obviously it is a significant life-changing event that shouldn't happen to anyone, but a 600 word essay-that's-really-a-sales-brochure may not be the place to discuss it.
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  • happy1happy1 23520 replies2333 threads Senior Member
    The college essay is not a confessional or a soul baring exercise. The purpose of the essay should be: 1) to present something positive about yourself that can't be found elsewhere in the application and 2) to give admissions officers a reason to want you on campus. If you have any doubts about this or any topic, start drafting the essay and see if it achieves both purpose 1 and 2.
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  • qmgrtofqmgrtof 2 replies2 threads New Member
    Yes ty, the whole getting into emotional turmoil for a college essay has been stressful + I think unnecessary
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  • makemesmartmakemesmart 1775 replies14 threads Senior Member
    But do seek parental help and/or professional guidance about the abuses. Whatever your older brother did is WRONG, and his autism cannot be his excuses. Good luck!
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  • qmgrtofqmgrtof 2 replies2 threads New Member
    I wrote another essay that breifly describes some of the difficulties of growing up with my brother (general tantrums, nothing sexually abusive) so I can go into the same growth + discussion of my perspective as in my first essay. Everybody who's read both, except my mother, thinks this essay is solid but that the first is way better, even for college. I agree that the first essay is definitely a better piece of writing, and it is much more powerful + more true to my experience, but I agree with commenters above and do not want to kill my chances by discussing such a topic. My counsellor read the second essay and thought it was great, and I have put much more time into this one.

    The first feels like a big risk, and I'm worried an adult's perspective might be very different from that of the high schoolers and college students who read my essays. I also feel its wrong to submit an inferior essay because the first mentions something people will find vulgar, when it is the largest thing I have overcome and has significantly shaped my outlook on life.

    Both essays are mostly about my curiosity + love of nature, how I began to use math + physics as an escape, how they have become my main passions, how confronting my personal problems made me feel whole, and on the importance of looking within yourself to better yourself, paralleled to the discovery + problem solving to physics (very bad sentence, hopefully makes sense lol). I get this across in both essays, but the personal problems I had and the escapism make much less sense without the abuse angle. This might be fine, but with such low chances anyway, I want it to work as much as possible.

    I only have a few days to submit, the second essay is finished and the first would still need some work, any opinions/advice welcome!
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7422 replies76 threads Senior Member
    @qmgrtof, I think you missed some of the nuance of the point the earlier posters were making.

    It is *not* that "discussion of such a topic" is bad, or that "some people" will find it "vulgar": the AOs have read **plenty** of essays with sexual abuse (and pretty much every other 'sensitive' topic you can think of). Sadly, it is not a novel topic.

    The problem is that while your stream of conscience / jumpy / abstract essay may be a "better" piece of writing from a 'stylistic' point of view, it may not be "better" at achieving your goal- which is getting an admission offer. If the AO speed-reading your essay gets confused by your jumps / doesn't follow your stream of conscience / has to work to hard to figure out your finely crafted abstractions, they may not come away feeling, 'wow, this kid would be great to have here!'. You want to have a clear take-away that, together with your LoRs and the rest of your profile add up to a narrative arc that makes sense to the AdComm.

    Also, the phrase is "cash in on", not "cache in on".
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  • 3SailAway3SailAway 580 replies7 threads Member
    @qmgrtof , I am so sorry about what happened to you. It was wrong and should never happen to anyone. I hope you have had significant professional help to handle the situation.

    As far as writing about it, I would consider your first essay to be a powerful form of self expression, but I do not think that you should submit it to Yale. Living with a person with autism can be quite difficult without abuse, and certainly a desire to escape would be normal. It sounds like your escapes have been very positive and healthy. I would not disclose the sexual abuse as it would be disturbing to read about, and would likely cause admissions officers to worry about your mental health. It also focuses on what was done to you, and not what you are doing.

    Most importantly, I hope that you continue to have support in your family and professionally to handle such a serious violation.
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  • coolguy40coolguy40 2719 replies8 threads Senior Member
    I agree with the above advice. That's not a good topic for a college application essay. Since the essay is a purely subjective part of your application, it could backfire. Your essay really needs to focus more on your dreams and passions, and how the college would be a good fit.
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