I can't tell if my essay topic is too much of a "sob story"

Hi all, I see a lot of discourse online about how too many people write a “sob story” for their essay, hoping to get pity points, and instead just end up reflecting on the less desirable parts of their personalities. I haven’t actually started writing because it’s still really early for me to be thinking about this, but I am getting really invested in this essay idea.

I want to write about how my competitiveness negatively impacted my life, and was a major driving force in my struggle with anorexia. I mostly want to talk about how my experience going through that and recovering taught me that competition would never make me feel fulfilled, and how this tied into other parts of my life (social, academic). I also want to write about how this forced me to find meaning in my life outside of how other people perceive me, and taught me that I don’t need to be best at everything to have value as a person.

I’m worried about coming across as overly obsessive/depressed(because I was/am) when I describe my mental state before the change. Would that still negatively impact my chances if I explain how I’ve grown since then? Conversely, if I describe how I am no longer striving to be the best at everything and no longer working as hard as I possibly can, will that make me sound complacent? I’m still taking a challenging course-load and my stats are on par with the average for T20 schools.


If your stats are good, nobody’s going to think you’re dragging your feet. If you use the challenge simply as a setup and then spend the bulk of the essay focusing on the growth, it sounds like a great essay. Glad you found a new perspective. :+1:

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I am very happy to hear you are learning to accept yourself as you are and realize you don’t need to be the best at everything. I don’t think bringing up mental health issues is a good idea, although I understand the desire to do so because it has been a defining moment in your life. I would pick something lighter and that puts you in an entirely positive light for the admissions committee.


Congrats on overcoming a serious challenge in life, and writing about it (here) with great clarity and insight. You should be proud of yourself. In addition to the legitimate concerns you raised about using this story line, here are a couple more:

-generally people warn against bringing up past emotional/mental illness when unnecessary in the application: there is the feeling that colleges might not want to take on the risk (of you potentially needing treatment while on campus, etc.). I think this depends on the unique situation but something to think about.

-I think essays with concrete examples work better than ones with general philosophy. What you’re presenting about competitiveness is both somewhat broad and also not as specific to you as an individual as more of a commentary on human nature, at least without more specific examples. So rather than shying away from certain elements of your past as topics, you need to dig into details rather than talking about “big themes” like competitiveness.

Good luck! I think your thought process in approaching the essay is sound…but you might end up on a tangential or unrelated topic in the end. Write a draft of this one if you want, but also brainstorm other ideas for which you have granular details.


It is too early tp be thinking about this, so I would step away for a few months.

I am not sure how recently you recovered from anorexia and whether the recovery is complete.

Usually I support being open about a mental health challenge that has been overcome, but it is often better to write about something else in the main essay. Maybe avoid extensive self-analysis.

What positives would you write about? Essays can be about ordinary things, even conversational, if done right. Feel free to come on here for help when the time comes, but wait a few months and enjoy high school if you can!


I wonder if you could use this topic without bringing up anorexia.

Perhaps give a specific, detailed example of being overly competitive, and then a specific, detailed example of your new approach.

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I don’t understand your worries: the topic is good enough and I suppose it will be appreciated. I see you’re a good writer because you can easily come up with the good topic and know how to express your thoughts. Bless you!

I think that the topic of becoming driven by what gives you joy rather than how is stacks up against others is a great topic. I would keep the focus on that rather than the point that created the pivot for you.

Congratulations on having found a great secret to a happy life so early in yours and for investing in yourself.

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Do not write about having anorexia or any other mental health issue. Colleges are overwhelmed with the mental health needs of their students, and are inclined to avoid taking students with such, if they can avoid it.

I agree with some above posters - give it a little time, and maybe write about the concept of pursuing what gives you joy in life, rather than competition against others. When my kid was stuck after several failed essay attempts, my spouse asked kid, “What gives you joy in life? What makes you happy?” This reset kid’s thinking about the essay. They came up with three things that made them really happy in life, then crafted an essay from that. They most certainly had faced adversity in life, but didn’t put that into the essay. Whether the essay helped or not, we don’t know, but kid wound up at a tippy-top school.


And it’s okay to write above the struggle of figuring out what gives you joy and being fulfilled by it without all the external “markers”.

That can show who you are and growth. That’s the point and what youd like the AO to remember…

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