Myth 5 of Top 5 Series: Lies Applicants Tell Themselves about College Admissions Essays

Myth 5) If I've led a comfortable life, I'm going to come off as boring.

It’s time for 12th graders to write their college personal statements. While senioritis and self-absorption abound, many of these students want to write but are suddenly intimidated.  Their minds are flooded with current and past images of social media articles depicting peers their own age that managed to maintain a 4.3 GPA, score a perfect or near perfect SAT or ACT score.  These same media magnets managed to do so while maintaining a leadership presence at their schools and also being homeless, in foster care or working a job to make ends meet.  How in the world, an “average” 12th grader thinks, can I compete with that when I haven’t really had to struggle?

This is the wrong question to ask before addressing a college essay prompt.  First of all, these students are an outliers – period.  This is why the media writes them about.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, approximately 3.5 million students are expected to graduate from high school in the 2016/17 academic year, including 3.2 million from public schools.  That’s a ton of students and while a chunk of those will not end up applying directly (or at all) to four-year colleges or universities, consider how many “miracle” applicant stories you read each year.  It’s not even 50, but let’s say there are 1,000 individual high school graduation miracle stories covered in social media come the spring semester of 2017.  What’s 1,000 out of 3.5 million?  The quick answer is “not a lot”.

The point is that students should consider exceptional stories just that – exceptional – and apply some calm logic to realize that most of the students they will be competing against are not some extreme exception to the high school achievement norm.  While all students have “reach” schools, most tend to apply to colleges where they have a reasonable chance of being admitted.  This means that most are competing with others who don’t have life stories that make the news either.

Even so, every student has struggled with something - internal, external or both and no applicant should shortchange the depth of his or her life experience.  Do you consider yourself a boring person?  You know, someone devoid of interesting opinions and thoughts or possessing zero lessons learned from any type of life experience?  If the answer is no, and I’m sure it is, then your essay answers and personal statements won’t be boring either.  Yet, if you approach them from a defeatist standpoint, that’s exactly what they’ll be.

Chances are, you are competing against students who fall somewhere in the vast middle between exceptionally wealthy and poverty-ridden.  Most do.  And those “most” are your true competition (yes, along with some who fall on either end of the socioeconomic spectrum).  Readers know this.  Guidance counselors and teachers know this.  There’s no reason why parents and students shouldn’t know this as well.

Own your life experience and what it has taught you.

If you believe you haven’t learned anything, take a breath and look again. 

You have.

Happy writing,

Leslie D. Poston