College essay about death?

So my dad died when I was in 7th grade to cancer. Even though I know its super cliché, I was thinking about writing about him. But I don’t know which application prompt it would apply to. I am between “describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge” or “some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it.” Which one do you guys recommend I do because I’m stuck. Thanks for the help!

It’s really cliche. Unless you have a really unique and personal spin on it, it will just be another one of those sympathy essays. That doesn’t help the reader learn who you are. Unless you’re a strong writer who can find a really unique aspect, I would advise you to avoid.

1 Like

Don’t know what level of colleges you want. But you need to ask yourself how this tale would be relevant to adcoms making a decision on your match for that college… You don’t get in for having had a challenge, but what you show about who you are, the successes, despite. Show, not just tell.

1 Like

Wow…the death of a 7th graders parent is a “another sympathy essay?” That’s a first. A “unique and personal spin on it?” “Unique aspect?” You have got to be kidding me @calicash. That is one of the most callous things I have ever read on CC and have I read plenty of pretty outrageous posts over the years. You are what, 19 and have two parents, correct? Maybe you should have sat this one out…

OP I will send you a pm


@planner03 “Most callous things I have ever read on CC”? That’s one of the greatest exaggerations I’ve ever read on CC. Of course it’s sad. But it is also incredibly cliche.

You have no idea what I have experienced in my life or the hardships that I’ve gone through. However, tragedies are cliche along with essays that talk about athletic achievement, your favorite quote, volunteering, and immigration stories.

Ironically enough, I wrote my college essay about being extremely blunt. It revealed my personality. Perhaps I come off as cold, but admissions counselors read countless essays about death. That would make sense considering that almost everyone experiences death of a loved one during their life.

The reason why I said the OP should find a unique aspect of this tragedy is because having a parent die is a fairly common struggle. If the OP is going to go the tragedy route, it would be wise to try to find a unique impact or find a unique narrative that the thousands of other kids writing tragedy essays cannot use.

HOWEVER, if you are really set on writing a tragedy essay, it doesn’t really matter which prompt you connect it to. They’re really just a launching point but you won’t be penalized if an adcom reads your essay and thinks “Well, this essay would’ve been better had it been linked with X prompt, so we won’t admit him/her.”

I wish you the best.

I would not include ‘death’ in your college essay.

One piece of advice is to not take the prompts quite literally. Remember that they were made up by the Common App people, not your admissions officer. And you want your essay to say, “Yes! We want this student on campus”. I do think essays on death of pets and grandparents are frequent – a parent or a sibling is a different thing, though. I think the real question is how to write the essay to make yourself an appealing applicant. Don’t use your essay for therapy – diaries and therapists are great for that (and I mean that), but your college essay has a different purpose. Death of an immediate family might be an okay topic, but the focus of the essay needs to be on you and helping admissions learn something about your personality.

1 Like

I would not talk about your father’s death, but about his life and how he helped you become the person you are. (you see what I’m aiming at, here.)

OP, I’m very sorry for your loss.

My son was advised by a “pro” not to write an essay based on sad events. Not exactly sure I agree with her. A well written essay that tells the story of you, happy or sad, jubilant or tragic, patterned or chaotic, is what an adcom is looking for. If your well written essay tells the story of you and you are not admitted, then perhaps it was not meant to be. If you see much of your father in yourself, tell that story and how it has shaped you and the person that you are and the person that any college would be lucky to have.

Best of luck to you!

My daughter wrote her essay about helping her cousin cope after the death of the girl’s big brother. My D could empathize, because she felt as if she had lost HER big brother to schizophrenia. I thought she handled a difficult subject really well. I don’t think I could have pulled it off.

So sorry to hear of your loss. My husband died of pancreas cancer 10 years ago, my son included that information in some of his college essays. He talked about how his dad’s death affected him a little bit, but spoke of how losing a parent transformed him in positive ways… he was able to find the ‘silver lining’. I mentioned the type of cancer because I want to encourage you to search for scholarships… I followed a tip on finding unique scholarships by googling “______(type of cancer) scholarship” We googled “pancreatic cancer scholarship” and found a $5000 scholarship for people (including children of victims) affected by pancreas cancer (waiting to hear if he won yet!)
you can find “brain cancer scholarship” “breast cancer scholarship” etc. Best of luck to you.

It’s delivery, not how cliché the theme is.

You can write about sports, volunteering, death, etc, as long as the right attributes come through, for college and the right time frame.

Admissions officers have seen it all. What they have not seen, and what makes every good essay stand out, is your unique response to a tragic life event. My suggestion would be to limit what happened to the first paragraph. The rest of the essay would be about how it affected you in the short-term and helped to form personal qualities which you value and which colleges will value. In other words, if you keep the focus on your trajectory then there is no risk of your essay being labeled “cliche.”

Your right. Everyone by the time they are an adult has experienced some form of death by a grandparent/aunt/cousin, which is why it is extremely cliche to right about it in your college essay… but in their immediate family? I believe if you write your essay about how the event changed YOU and not in a self-pity manner, you can make your essay stand out from all the others.

If the tragedy was a pivotal moment in their lives that they had to overcome that changed/made them into the person they are today(which is exactly what the prompt asks), not many kids can say they lost a parent, in a well-written essay. I, myself, felt like writing my application about my dad’s death to cancer when I was seven was cliche and I didn’t want to make it a sympathy essay…

I also highly overestimated how many kids had lost their parents to cancer when they were in elementary school.

However, my mom convinced me to make it about what he taught me, and how his death impacted my perspective in life. It made for a well-written, matter of fact essay that told admission officers about what made me who I am today and gave them insight on something not many people know about me.

You have a smart mother. Having read thousands of essays, I can assure you that despite what others are claiming, death does not fall into the cliche pile. On the other hand, focusing on “the death” and not “you” is where people sometimes fall short. Your essay is just right.

I don’t think that’s a good idea, you should better write about your achievements or something like that.