How much is too much for college applications

By Nasheetah Hossain

I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I’m not typing away. I’m confused because I want to let my personality show in my college application essays without getting too personal. What do I write about? How in-depth do I go about my struggles to show that they have shaped my character but not my future? 

This is the main issue that many seniors are now facing: the art of getting personal but not too personal. Where you draw the line seems to be a vague concept. Can you talk about anxiety? What about depression? What about a breakdown? Do you talk about your emotional and/or physical health struggles at all? If so, how much?

Think about it this way. Whoever reads our essays might just be the mystery person who holds the key to our future. We must write in a way that makes our application, not break it. How much would you tell your possible future employer at an interview? Your college apps are much like that. 

Examples of getting too personal can include talking about mental or physical health struggles (such as depression, bulimia, anxiety disorder) in a way that breaks your essay instead of making it. Talk about your struggles as a means to steer the essay in a direction that shows how you have gained character from the conflicts. Do not make the essay about the conflict itself. According to PrepScholar, an SAT and ACT preparation website, we should also avoid creating graphic images of different events even if they have shaped our character in some way. 

Also consider avoiding repetition of information you have already mentioned in the application. The essays give you an opportunity to discuss what has not already been shared yet. 

We should also avoid referring to criminal activities such as abusing drugs or alcohol as a positive or “fun” activity. After all, colleges are looking for students who will become assets to them, and criminal acts do not contribute to that. 

Although talking about controversial topics shows character, we never know who the judge will be and how open they are to different opinions. Topics like religion and abortion should be avoided. For example, we can talk about our religion if it is somehow meaningful to us, but we cannot try to argue or imply that our beliefs are better than someone else’s.

There remains the issue about what is expected of you versus what you think you should write about. 

“It’s a very particular balance between conveying your genuine story and saying the right things. Students are often pushed to particular topics or narratives that have historically proven effective in pleasing admissions officers,” Harvard University senior Mohib Jafri said. 

At the end of the day, while “saying the right things” and pleasing the admissions officers is a goal, so is self-reflection and representing yourself in a true and honest light. Use this time and opportunity to highlight your strengths and skills, and remember that you are not only the sum of your struggles. 

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