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risky college essay subject

ilovebio5ilovebio5 2 replies3 threadsRegistered User New Member
hi! i'm a rising senior planning to apply as a neuroscience major. the reason I am interested in neuroscience is due to the neurological issues I've faced in my family, specifically my brothers drug addiction (an actual hospitalization needing addiction). i wanted to write my common app essay about this and how it changed me etc. but I wasn't sure if it was too risky. please help! :)
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Replies to: risky college essay subject

  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2095 replies31 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    It can work... just make sure the essay is about YOU, not your brother. Not his history, his hospitalization, his addiction, etc.

    Picture the reader as deciding, based on your essay, whether he/she would like you as a roommate, judging whether and how you would contribute to the campus community or greater community, and answer some other unspoken questions. Show, not tell.

    There are other posters on these boards who are real experts at this. Hopefully they will chime in.
    @Lindagaf ?
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  • ilovebio5ilovebio5 2 replies3 threadsRegistered User New Member
    thank you so much for the help!

    additional words: i would say how it peaked my interest in neuroscience and changed me for the better, however i have pretty good stats gpa-4.41 and sat- 1410 but im retaking and sitting at a 34 for the act. i have many neuro ecs and activities and i attend a medical program every other day. im scared that writing my essay on this topic, therefore, may actually hurt my chances. but also it makes me a unique applicant with an actual interesting story- something that some of the more selective colleges look for. thanks again it is deeply appreciated.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 33485 replies363 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 14
    The essay isn't meant to explain an interest in a major. And lots of kids write how a family illness "inspired" them. Groundwork2022 is right that the essay is about you, not events or those details. What strengths will they see in you? (When you have a tippy top in mind, you need an idea of what the traits are that they want to find. Best place for that is their web sites.)

    Saying it "changed you for the better" isn't showing how. They need to see it for themselves. That's not just attending a program- but we don't know what this program is or what you actually do.

    And how has this "change" let you have some impact on others? How does it make you a better candidate for the sort of mix of traits they want in the class. HInt: it's about the 4 years there, not future career ideas.

    So, think about it, learn what they're looking for.

    And they won't be looking at weighted GPA. They look at the transcripts, see the coures and grades. The look at the subscores, not just Composite. Make sure you understand the nature of the ECs they want, too. Depth and breadth, and more.
    edited July 14
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  • bobo44bobo44 227 replies0 threadsRegistered User Junior Member
    OP, um, in case you go this route, it's "piqued my interest" not "peaked my interest." Trying to be helpful, not snarky, but spell check might not catch that....
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 6583 replies54 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    im scared that writing my essay on this topic, therefore, may actually hurt my chances.
    What is the base of your worry / makes you think that this is a risky topic? That the AOs will think that if your sib has neurological issues you might as well? It won't.
    but also it makes me a unique applicant with an actual interesting story- something that some of the more selective colleges look for
    Sadly, the fact of having a family member with an addiction issue doesn't make you at all unique: the CDC estimates that In 2017 there were 1.7 million people were struggling with narcotics addictions.

    But the more important thing- and it's worth saying clearly for any other students trying to figure out college essays- is the difference between 'novel' and 'interesting'. AO's *definitely* want an interesting essay- as you would, if you had to read hundreds of essays! but, it's not an arms race to see who can get the most unusual topic.

    At a recent college presentation with 4 or 5 reps from tippy-top colleges an AO was trying to make the point that it's not how unusual the facts are, it's how you tell the story. He gave the example of a student writing an essay about a time in which they clearly and unequivocally, with objective evidence, literally saved a human life/lives at serious risk to themselves. That is a rare and impressive achievement, no doubt! but that AO said that s/he had read similar essays at least a dozen times- and every other AO on the panel agreed that they had as well. The AO went on to say that only a couple of those essays were actually *good* essays, b/c it is so formative an event in the student's life that they don't necessarily have enough perspective yet to know how it has shaped them going forward. It's just too soon.

    Every AO / Admissions Dean I have ever heard, including those from the fanciest of names, has emphasized that totally ordinary topics can be just as compelling essays as dramatic ones.

    So: write the essay you want to write, then go through it and eliminate every mention of your brother. Does the essay still make sense overall? As @Groundwork2022 pointed out: the essay is about you, not your brother.

    The goal is to make sure that the essay shows* something about you, and where you are going. Be sure to think of it in terms of your overall application: the AO will see your ECs, so they will already know the facts of what you are doing. Your essay is where you add dimension, personality, color to the facts: who this person is and how they will fit into the overall class and the school community that the AOs are building. That's why, as @lookingforward pointed out, it is important to know what a given school is looking for in particular.

    *You have probably heard it too many times, but 'show don't tell' is the name of the game.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 9146 replies492 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    You run the risk of writing an essay about your brother and not about yourself. They don't need an essay that explains why you want to major in neuroscience. They want an essay that show shy you'd be a good fit at their college.

    At the end of your essay, you want them to be able to think "I like this kid and I want him at my college." That's what it really comes down to. This is your sales pitch. So I suggest you write about something that makes you feel good about yourself and something that is positive. They will know about your courses, EC's, intended major, and grades and test scores. What don't they know about you? Tell them about that.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 33485 replies363 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    But, the higher the tier, the more relevant that needs to be. Not that you, eg, always loved dogs or help around the house. It needs to speak to what traits they want in their community.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 3951 replies16 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Essays should be unique, personal and interesting. Some will disagree how a 17 year old has all that but I think most do if they search hard enough but interesting is key. As stated mental health essays are a dime a dozen. But how your brothers experience affecting you to go into medicine to be compassionate towards people with mental health issues, might be your turning point.
    Was there "one" experience that you had when the light bulb went off for you? I wouldn't state changing you for the better also. That implies something needed to be changed. Did any of your extra ec work focus on mental health or a tie in?
    Do the schools your applying for have research /medical /mental health programs. Are there clubs /activities that speak to you. Is there courses that you find intriguing?
    Your opening needs to be strong and then circle back to you.
    My daughter did the taboo essay on death. Both her grandmother and great grandmother passed a few days apart. Her opening was incredibly strong and you wanted to learn more. Then it swung to her mother and the attributes that made her who she is as the 4th generation. It all related to her major but I warn you. She is an absolutely great writer 😉. She can make a phone book interesting (are there still phone books)?.
    I would just start writing and see where it takes you. If you have another topic do the same and see which one tells a better story about you.
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  • LindagafLindagaf 9146 replies492 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    @lookingforward , I agree with that. It's entirely possible for a student to portray those attributes in an essay that shows the AO something new about the applicant.
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  • mathmommathmom 32245 replies158 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I always like to give concrete examples, so I'll tell you a little about what my younger son did. He wrote about how he got interested in folding origami. He started with his first exposure being super-bored at a museum in Japan and described in 9 year-old-self. Later in high school he started folding cranes in AP Bio so as not to fall asleep. He got more and more interested in the process and learned that he could follow youtube videos better than books. He learned to make jewelry and enjoyed being able to sell his wares. He taught origami classes at the senior center. He showed how he learned about different aspects of himself as he delved into the subject. He also threw in some self-deprecating humor. Now, no college needs an origami expert, but they do need kids who are self-starters, who go find the resources to learn what they want to know.
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  • EmpireappleEmpireapple 1645 replies25 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Your topic caught my attention. I think it could work. I can see how learning about drug addiction and the brain made you interested in your intended major. Lead your reader down the path of how you arrived there. Good luck!
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  • 4Gulls4Gulls 531 replies0 threadsRegistered User Member
    Key is to tell a story and to write an essay no one but you could have written. It's all in the details you choose. Was there one moment in the whole experience that stood out? Maybe lead with that. Tell the story "in the moment" but reflect on it from a distance. If there's any way to interject humor, do so. (I realize this is NOT a humorous subject - but usually there's a moment or two that are just so absurd or LOL funny that it can provide comic relief.) Remember, it's about YOU - not your brother. All that said, I'd encourage you to try writing about a totally different topic as well. Write two essays. Show both essays to a few people who don't know you (or your brother) that well. See which one they like. A little market research, if you will.

    If this does not end up being your main Common App essay, you can still work in pieces of the experience in many of the supplemental essays you'll be writing for top schools. For example, if you're asked why you're pursuing a specific major or even why X school.
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  • mathmommathmom 32245 replies158 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I agree with the suggestion to write several essays on different topics. Sometimes it's hard to tell which essay really works until it's written The essay my younger son originally was going to use as his main essay he felt didn't work, but it ended up being the perfect answer to another question on the Common Application that year. It complimented his main essay quite well and showed an intellectual side of him that wasn't really apparent in his main essay.
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  • austinmshauriaustinmshauri 8836 replies325 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited July 19
    I don't like essays like these. It's not only your brother's story but his private medical history. I don't think it's appropriate to reveal it to others without his permission.
    edited July 19
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