Hardships Essay?

<p>My AP Lang teacher last year and my AP Lit teacher this year say not to write about hardships as to avoid self-deprecation, but I'm curious what the various opinions of this matter are on CC and if anyone has had success with a hardship essay. I know that the key to writing a hardship essay is to sound triumphant and resilient, demonstrating what the applicant has to come through to become the person he/she is. Additionally, this is best balanced out with another essay that focuses in more on demonstrating that the applicant is dynamic and would be a good fit for the school. I think that if I can manage to form the essay correctly/ideally, I'd be able to accurately show adcoms that even though I've been through whatever challenges, I have grown from those experiences and they pretty much make up my personal character.</p>

<p>A "quick" background of important challenges I have encountered in my high school years:
- multiple serious health problems with mother and sister that have required a chunk of my time to assist in care (6 surgeries, soon 7, between the two of them during my HS years, which required extra assistance with recovery)
- My sister suffers from Bipolar Disorder and was previously manic depressive (when I was in middle school) for a few years (self-mutiliation, eating disorders, suicidal, substance abuse, time spent in behavioral center). After spending time in the BC, she was able to regulate her disorder with medication but stopped taking it winter of my soph year, leading to a flare up with eating disorders, horrible hyper manic mood swings, and general poor life decisions due to struggling with illogical options. Currently, she is sporadically taking medication, which is arguably worse for her. (If I wrote about this I would focus on how growing up with an older sibling suffering from such an emotional imbalance molded me into individual aware of the emotional state of my peers, and that I have created my own mental stronghold against stress, while developing into individual capable of great empathy/sympathy and resilience, generally speaking.)
- My parents' small business was hit drastically by the recession. They tried to keep it alive my eighth grade year and my freshman year, but were only able to rake in money from a few consulting jobs that took an extensive amount of time to set up. In 2009 there was absolutely no income. My parents burned through their savings and collected debt to keep our house and pay for medical bills. We were supported by various families and relatives in regards to food/cash throughout my freshman year as my dad searched for another job. At the time, my mom was too sick to work and has been since. We were warned our house was to be foreclosed August 2010 after not making several payments, and then my dad was finally able to get a consulting job out of state. He worked as a consultant for that same company for half a year and became a full-time employee in March 2011 (spring of my sophomore year). He's been there since, so I've been responsible for the care of my mother and sister when it is beyond their ability/current health. We have not been able to sell our home but have been trying, so my dad stays in a small apt next to his work. The income he receives is enough to pay the bills but not enough to cut down on their debt. (I'll definitely be writing a letter for FA regarding these circumstances.)</p>

<p>Despite this, I'm a statistically fit applicant for some top schools, in my opinion.
- 4.0 UW/4.69 W GPA
- either 1 or 2 in class of 600, pending transcript
- scored well on required tests & AP tests
- taken most challenging courses possible
- been involved in sports (by end of senior year: 4 years cross country, 3 years track, 2 years basketball; however, I stopped basketball after sophomore year when my dad's stay out-of-state became permanent and I knew my time would be crunched.)
- OK ECs (on board of the teen auxiliary of the Assistance League and am in student-organized baking fundraising group and American Cancer Society. I was in Academic Decathlon freshman year but I did not sign up for it the following year because I didn't know if I would still be there regarding the threat of foreclosure & I would have had to take summer school ($500) to make room in my schedule for it.)
- Experience as a full-time intern at a worldwide engineering company (I want to go into engineering)
- received honors & awards for GPA, leadership (RYLA), sportsmanship, role as a student-athlete, etc.
- I enjoy life regardless of its challenges and look forward with what I can do with my future no matter the school I end up attending. </p>

<p>Questions:</p>

<p>*Should I write a common app/common app-like essay on any of my hardships? Which one(s)? (I would intend to focus on my personal growth, and I think focusing on my experience with my sister would be best.)
*In regards to colleges that offer an optional essay/information section that allows applicants to explain special life/academic circumstances, should I use that space to explain my slacking ECs (in comparison to some applicants) as a necessary sacrifice to taking on my increased family responsibilities and being able to maintain GPA/scores/enjoyment of my education.
*Would it be appropriate to use the Common App's Additional Information section in the same manner mentioned in the previous question? I asked my Lit teacher and he said it was not for such purposes but did not go into detail.</p>

<p>Amazing life story. Not sure how you focused on school with everything in your personal life.</p>

<p>I would talk about the medical issues and not financial. Not sure what schools you are applying to, but remember that some schools are need aware and may noy admit you due to your financial issues.</p>

<p>Also remember that you will have to do supplements as well so you have to develop several topics.</p>

<p>Thank you for your input, lacrossmom. </p>

<p>That is a great point about need-aware schools (and schools that aren’t really “need-blind”). The only essay I was thinking of writing about the financial issues was the additional/optional essay some applications have that allow for an explanation of specific life circumstances because I’d like to explain my “not quite excellent” extracurriculars. I’ll have to weigh the possible benefits and consequences before deciding. </p>

<p>Supplements to the Common App of schools I’m applying to ask questions that allow more creative responses or are more specific than the CA, so if I were to write a hardship essay, it would be on the Common App. However, some schools I’m applying to don’t use the Common App and have more topics to choose from which are generally more specific. For example, Georgia Tech asks a short essay question about why you want to attend the school & what you’d contribute and a long essay question with the options of talking about a risk you’ve taken, the best advice you ever received and did you follow it, and a letter to a future roommate about a societal problem. Also, GTech has the option of a special circumstance essay. So for GTech, I’d choose the advice question, which would be positive & creative hopefully, and focus my special circumstances essay on my high school EC experience in relation to family responsibilities.</p>

<p>In general, you have to be certain your desire to tell your personal or family story doesn’t get confused with adcoms needing to see if you have a host of traits that they want in students, that make you a fit and will help you thrive and contribute to a great campus atmosphere.</p>

<p>Many times, essays that are primarily about the hardships, how bad things are, with a little tag line about “this made me a better person,” backfire. Often, because they focus too much on describing the situation and/or the others. I suspect, from the detail here, that your advisors are trying to send that message. And, to write about how vital your role at home has been can sometimes leave an impression that is where you are still needed. Achieving the right balance is often very hard for a hs kid.</p>

<p>Resiliance is important, yes. Empathy, yes. But, what came of that? Here, “show, not tell” means you can point to not just “reactive” changes in you, but active ways you became engaged, put some effort into causes or activities beyond family or your own coping. Not how bad things are, but how they inspired you to action. </p>

<p>The GC is the one to explain how family responsibilities limited ECs. Or, rave about your academics, despite difficulties at home.</p>

<p>Thank you, lookingforward.</p>

<p>My English teachers did not give this advice specifically to me, but to the entire class. In fact, they do not know about my situation. I do believe though that is the general fear whenever a hardship essay is discussed. That’s an excellent point about the vital role. </p>

<p>Reactive changes such as I’ve grown and donated hair 3x since my mom had cancer? Became a member of American Cancer Society? Joined a community service organization very active in my community? So if I were to write this essay, I should include these reactive measures?</p>

<p>So do I tell my GC to write about that? The faculty doesn’t really know about my situation and experiences. One teacher, who has offered to write a letter of rec, knows limited details but not the whole picture.</p>

<p>Time to share the whole picture with your guidance counselor. You need someone who knows the whole story to advocate for you in the application process and he or she is the one who should do it. If you are comfortable, I’d also be frank with your teachers, in the context of sharing challenges that you’ve overcome. For them to write good letters, they need to know you, and part of knowing you is understanding your situation at home - not to make excuses or get sympathy, but because it makes your academic achievements all the more impressive.</p>

<p>I also agree with lookingforward that ‘hardship essays’ risk sounding cliched and focus so much on the circumstances that the actual person gets lost. </p>

<p>Think about writing about something you love or care about - and explain how your background and circumstances influenced this. Lots of families have experienced illness and financial hardship - but not many of them produce future engineers with your particular interests and passion. Your financial situation will come out when you apply for financial aid, by the way. </p>

<p>Don’t worry about the ECs. They look fine - especially when the GC puts them in the context of your challenging personal situation at home.</p>

<p>About your ECs: you haven’t mentioned hs math-sci activities, which adcoms can look to as a measure of your engagement in STEM. But you have the internship- so carefully consider how to give that the right spin. See if you can do that for ACS or the comm service, etc. Just the right bit.</p>

<p>I dealt with incredible hardships while growing up, and there was never any doubt in my mind that I would exclude a bit of those in my essays. These hardships have essentially shaped the person I am today so it would be absurd to listen to the critics (and there were plenty) that talking about hardships is just asking for a pity story. </p>

<p>However, I did my best to talk about my hardships in a unique way. I made it clear that I wasn’t asking for pity and in fact, mentioned that I was grateful for those experiences as I am now incredibly wiser and more mature than I would have been. Without being too specific, I even spoke about how at first I took advantage of these hardships the wrong way but fixed myself later on. </p>

<p>I’ve read plenty of essays that are so extremely cookie cutter and formulaic, that it’s pathetic. And one formula that I’ve seen is the [hardship] + [overcome] = [better person] generic one. Just take a unique approach with your essay and you’ll be okay.</p>

<p>Thank you. I will let my GC and teachers know and focus my essays on something else.</p>

<p>So lookingforward, for the Activities mini-essay on the Common App, would you suggest I write about the internship as to elaborate on my involvement in STEM or on ACS to include background info & reactive changes?</p>

<p>Also, should I utilize the optional Additional Information section?</p>

<p>Thanks, Spiffy1994. I might try drafting an essay about it or one aspect of my experiences and getting some feedback on it to see if I should use it or not.</p>

<p>We don’t know enough about what you did-- plus, you need a chance to reflect and strategize. Instead of looking at what you did and hoping it’s enough, sometimes you can take the other angle: here’s the “me” I want to present, how can I make these involvements show that? Where do I need to tweak, maybe rethink the wording or up my resps now?</p>

<p>You may be able to put ACS or comm svc in the short essay- the significance is personal, very valid and the right touch can express a lot. Ideally, you wouldn’t just show member or some occasional vol work, but a “role.” (Or, one you worked up to.) You can mention Mom’s health, without needing to share too much and then show how you were inspired to get involved and chose activities with some impact. This decision has to be yours.</p>

<p>In general, the more impressive outside extras are the same sort of resps adults might take on or where you work shoulder to shoulder with adults. The internship is a great example. See what else you can pull from your experiences, some pattern of this. </p>

<p>Once you get this sense of direction, yes, you could describe the internship briefly but well on the EC page- and add some detail in Addl Info, in a way that rings with adcoms.</p>

<p>All things considered, be sure to find colleges that will offer the right finaid or merit awards- you can run the NPC on their web finaid pages. Good luck.</p>

<p>@Spiffy, when you say, " And one formula that I’ve seen is the [hardship] + [overcome] = [better person] generic one." How can one avoid doing this? Am I having a really hard time changing my essay.</p>