Date of publication: 2017-07-08 21:41
A couple of the counselors — Bruce Vinik of Vinik Educational Services and Marsha Shaines of College Strategies in Kensington, Maryland — said that the only case in which a student should consider writing about her mental health challenges is if the struggle truly defines her as a person. Even then, both counselors saw this as the rare exception, and suggest that instead, most students should take advantage of the opportunity to explore one of the many other attributes that makes them unique. Vinik says that mental health problems should only be shared in the essay if the college would not be able to understand the applicant without knowing about this part of her. Generally, he discourages selecting this as a primary topic.
A poorly chosen essay topic can have disastrous results when applying to a selective college. While a masterful writer might be able to turn one of the topics below into a strong college admissions essay, all too often these topics harm an application.
Kevin McMullin is the founder and president of Collegewise and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. This is his blog. He also speaks at high schools and conferences to spread the word about saner, smarter college planning.
I think I'm pretty lucky that my friend reached out when she did. I was in a swirling vortex of despair and didn't even realize it. Most of the time I can recognize when my depression is coming on and combat it with exercise, going outside for a walk, talking to a friend, reaching out to my husband and letting him know what's going on, or watching a really funny movie and laughing my guts out. Once I'm in a full-on depression those things don't work anymore, so it's best to head depression off at the pass. Like when I start to feel like my asthma is acting up, I start using my rescue inhaler more and resting.
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Although colleges are not allowed to discriminate against applicants with disabilities, the Virginia Tech tragedy definitely served as turning point on most campuses. Administrators (including admission officials) became more worried that students who struggle with mental-health issues of any sort can be dangerous to the school community. Although colleges certainly didn’t stop accepting applicants who had been treated for mental-health concerns, they definitely scrutinized those applications more carefully, and I’m sure that some candidates who might have been admitted in an earlier era were ultimately denied.
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For 65 years I was depression free. Even when I lost my mom to cancer I can't say I was depressed because I didn't experience the same symptoms. Yes, I was unbelievably sad and grieving. But grief is not depression and I sought ways to cope with my grief so that I didn't become depressed. I attended a grief support group, went to a few counseling sessions, and let myself feel every sad emotion I had when I had it. It's actually very emotionally healthy to let yourself feel sadness instead of repressing it.
Well, actually, there are good reasons for taking that chance. In some cases, the candidate says, “This is me, and if a college won’t accept me for who I am, another college will.” This approach is understandable and honorable but can indeed impact admission outcomes. Yet in those situations where a student will need significant support, it often makes sense to be candid during the admission process. This can help the student to end up at a place where appropriate services are available.
Erika (Germany): English is not my native language, so I had a hard time creating a topic for my college essay. My tutor did not help me too much as she thought all students are equally smart, but that's not the case. If I hadn't found your website, I would have failed this class. Bless you!
Picture an exhausted admissions officer with a stack of unread application files on her desk. She is reading yours at midnight at the end of a 66-hour day. Does your essay draw the officer in and make her eager to read until the end of your essay to learn more about you? Will she be eager enough for her to conclude that, yes, we want this student on our campus next fall?
As confusing and even capricious as it can seem, I often find that the crazy admission process leads to a meant-to-be conclusion. So, whichever path your son chooses when it comes to sending the depression essay or not, you may find that it takes him to exactly where he was supposed to end up all along. Best wishes to all of you as you continue to navigate this maze.
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You and your husband can call a tie here. I’m asked this question—or similar ones—fairly often, and my standard reply is that I like to review each case individually. In some instances, I feel that an essay that discloses depression (or other mental health concerns) is worthwhile, but in many situations, I recommend that the student should stay mum. Here are some of the factors that go into the advising process:
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