Son's controversial essay idea

(This question is 100% serious and I am looking for serious advice only. Please do not respond with jokes.)

My son refused to share his college common app essay idea with me, so I eventually decided to log into his Google account and view it myself. After seeing it, I am deeply worried that his writing may be too “mature” so to speak.

Essentially, his essay revolves around his struggles in life having a small “package”, so to speak. He talks about how he has struggled staying in relationships and how people make fun of him for it. He talks about how because of this he has learned to overcome embarrassment and ignore what others say about him.

I’m proud about the premise of the topic, but I’m worried that he is discussing something too explicit in nature (his manhood). Any thoughts on this? Should I talk to him about this and admit that I read his essay without him wanting me to?

Thanks in advance,

I’ll say AO’s probably don’t read many essays about that and it will probably stand out…but maybe not in a good way. You have no idea who the reader will be and it needs to be about something that doesn’t have the potential to offend anyone.

Also, you shouldn’t use your real name as it defeats the “confidential” aspect.

Depends on the reader and how he prefaced it. If he does so in a mature and emotional way and how he’s overcome the self created embarrassment it could work. So it’s an item in a bigger picture of self confidence he’s managed to overcome.

The essay doesn’t matter at most state schools. If he’s applying to reach schools and he’s borderline, he’ll stand out. There’s been essays about things such as ordering a pizza is my favorite thing to do. Those essays are winners. Most essays are written about similar things so unique is good especially if it shows his personality, his growth, his struggle to overcome this challenge.

If the admission reader is very conservative it might offend. But I think it can work.

I would not recommend an essay on that topic. But I’m a parent not an AO. There are countless topics that one could write about, so it does make me wonder why he feels that is the best one for him to choose. And I’m not conservative.


Why would you even read something he does not want you to read? If he does not get in then he will learn an important lesson and apply for the next semester.


This. You violated your son’s privacy. Not cool.

@1dadinNCis right: That is the bigger issue here. More so than the topic.


Im not trying to be rude or anything but that is an awful essay idea for a college application


Yes and no on the parental interference. If her son shot up a school, we’d wonder how she had no indications. We are parents…my daughter is sneaking around with a boy. I might read a text.

Is it right ? No but we are parents of CHILDREN so some oversight is warranted. Well that’s a parental call and not really for us to debate. Nor was it the OP’s question.

Back to the OPs question, whether or not it’s an appropriate subject is not relevant because you cannot bring it up or your snooping will be outed.

If he’s applying to Harvard the essay matters. If he’s applying to Indiana or Ohio State no so much.

I think he’s likely talking about self confidence. His genitalia is an example and likely not the only one of this lack of confidence. What he needs to show and this will be on him is…how has that impacted him and what hS he done about it. Etc. just to say I lack confidence isn’t good.

You should maybe suggest, without knowing his topic, that you, a hired coach or trusted counselor reads and provides feedback on the essay. That is a must for anyone to ensure flow, grammar, spelling, and overall message impact.


Besides the anonymous AO, will his AP Lit teacher read it? My son’s had a peer review, and he also read a couple examples posted by one of the universities for a feel of what they look for — I think one was about overalls or why they wear the same thing every day. Ask if he’ll let you (or someone impartial) read and comment to get used to sharing his work, and encourage some free seminars and examples. My son went kind of unconventional but did have a major rework of his first draft as he dove further into the process of trying to communicate who he is through his story and helping the AO envision who would be joining the school community.

Editing my last comment — I would say as an employer, or in a workplace, I wouldn’t welcome such freedom of expression. Hopefully he’ll allow some review and feedback if there is a better way to communicate his qualities.

I don’t think there is any topic that can’t become an excellent essay, in the right hands and with the right editing. Since you’ve read the essay, is it both humorous and poignant? Is your son a naturally gifted writer? You would definitely want anyone who reads the essay to come away thinking, wow, I never would have dreamed this essay topic would be so compelling and moving and fun to read.

My first thought is that humor is going to have to be a big part of this, even though it’s actually an essay about managing and moving past painful experiences. Euphemisms are probably also necessary, but not so obtuse that the reader can’t discern what’s actually being referenced.

So, taking the fact that is about your son away from the equation, did you find the essay entertaining and insightful?

If not, and if it can’t be done super well, I’d cast about for some other topic that can speak to similar themes. It will be hard to encourage a different direction without giving away that you peeked at the essay, but maybe you can find some articles with tips about college essays that include admonitions against oversharing or becoming too personal.

Good luck!!!

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My daughter’s essay was a bit similar, except it dealt with hair loss (alopecia). It was about how she went from a happy outgoing confident adolescent into a quiet, introverted teen, instead of raiding her hand to show she knew the answers to sitting in the back of classes trying not to be noticed. It was a painful read for me, because it was so dead on, and it was a subject we were not allow to discuss (I’d just order her wide headbands and take her to the dermatologist for monthly shots). Once it started growing back, people who never knew that not bald girl kept commenting that she was turning into a totally different, funny, great to be around person. The hair battle will probably be forever, but she emerged a confident person, with or without hair. I think if he told his story well, I could see it being a good essay, especially with some humor.


This is why I personally don’t think the topic is off limits. There are likely other rooted confidence problems. You want them to see the real you. But it’s not a pity party so how have you handled and grown from it ?

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The essay is your last chance to do a sales pitch to the admissions officer, to make him or her want to admit you. It is not a letter to your therapist. As you read it, you can tell which it is more like


Not here to comment on the essay. Neither to discuss logging in on the account.

Your son’s essay discusses how he has, in his experience, struggled to stay in relationships and how people make fun of him (how others would know enough about his anatomy, and then to do so, geez…).

For him to be truly happy, just ignoring what other say about him won’t be enough. Most of us have aspects of ourselves we wish were different, but aren’t. Any decent human being can empathize with that fact. The key is to not become bitter (another challenge many of us face).

For him to thrive, he will want to master how he himself can bring so much to a relationship that staying in one will be less of an issue. Two issues to tackle: both the emotional and sexual EQ.

Since he is off to college, you can use that as an excuse to gift him some books on dealing with relationships, and healthy sexual practices. (Use the “you’re getting out of the house and these are recommended on X website,” or something to that effect.)

My kid is a bit young, but I have been discussing relationships, how to treat others, and sexual self-worth, in small ways, this past year.

This may seem cringe-worthy, but we owe it to our kids to get them information to thrive. Healthy intimate relationships are so hard to build. When they go off to college, the success they have with future partners can be greatly increased with our (as unobtrusive as possible) guidance.

Wishing your family the best.


This is not an appropriate topic. Memorable, yes. Unusual, yes. Gonna get him in anywhere? I don’t think so. Lots of people try several different topics, before they hit on the right one. He needs to give it another shot.


Without knowing how gifted of a writer he is…I think it’s just simply to risky. On another note…if you’re paying for his tuition you have a right to read his essay, iMHO. It’s your investment.

But in the interest of compromise, perhaps you can just start a conversation that if his essay is too sensitive or personal to show ANY trusted adult, it might be indicative that it’s not going to fly with an admissions officer. If you can afford it, what if you offered to pay for a 1:1 Zoom consult with one of those professional college counselors? A stranger, no different than the admissions officers who will be reading them. Neutral 3rd party opinion. Maybe that person could either validate that it’s really well-written/unique and/or gently steer him in another direction.

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You might encourage him to go to a free College Essay Guy workshop. There is also a companion book and another blunt book called Write Your Way In. I think both have sections about topics to avoid and also have brainstorming ideas. He might abandon the topic on his own with some other ideas.

IMHO it’s good to stand out but in a positive way and share something new about character but also that reflects on your college readiness academically. One can write about a totally mundane and relatable topic in a cool and refreshing way. Apparently a lot of students write about serious life challenges, so much so that some AOs had to take time off reading due to the emotional toll. I encouraged my son to focus on his intellectual curiosity, especially in a downer year of Covid challenge. Good luck.

I would agree that it’s not a good choice of topic. The focus of anyone reading will be more on the reason for writing such an essay than in getting a sense of who your child is.

As unfortunate as the situation may be, especially at his age, there are significantly larger health obstacles than others have dealt with since birth. There are just too many factors to confidently submit that topic to strangers.

Is it possible he left that there for you…just in case you were to do exactly this? If so…THAT’S the essay he should write.


This is just a big no. Unless he’s a natural comic and comes across that way making people able to come to his side as a sympathetic observer then it’s a no go. We’re talking ad coms–not an audience who pays to listen. And I doubt comedy is his forte–or he’d have shown you the essay and waited for your reaction. That takes a special personality to “just put it all out there”.

He’s thinking this is a “personal” essay. And it is his story BUT he has no idea who is reading it, what folder it goes into, who it gets shared with (possibly multiple schools) , what site it gets uploaded to. It’s already in an internet site–who knows where it can ultimately land? “America’s Funniest College App Essays”? I know this sounds paranoid in some respects but privacy these days is not respected in any way. He really needs to understand that.

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This is a cringeworthy topic and is sure to give a negative impression, unless your son is an exceptional writer. In the event that this is indeed a serious post (given that OP has yet to reply), I suggest reading this thread, which notably makes no mention of the subject your son has chosen. What makes a "good" essay?

You might want to emphasize to your son that typically, essays about sex, mental health, religion, politics, and hot button topics such as abortion are best avoided. Students can and do write about these things, but not many students can do it successfully. Your son’s topic isn’t about sex, but IMO, it is not something that needs to be shared with anyone.