Now that I have started school at Duke University, I thought it appropriate to look back at how I got myself here by doing a post about the one...the only....college application essay! This topic was also prompted by a friend of mine, who is currently in twelfth grade and finishing treatment. She asked me for some advice on how to write about her experience with cancer in her college app essay without turning it into a sob story. That is such a great question, I know I had the same thought in my mind when I began the essay process.
Now that I have completed that process, I want to share what I have learned. So, here is the college application wisdom I would like to share with you! Although I am no admissions expert, I definitely think these few things can make a big difference in the quality of your essay and how much of a “wow factor” it has.
To begin, colleges love people who are different, people who didn’t go on and on about “Oh I did marching band and played some sports and got good grades and did cool community service. If you had cancer as a teenager, chances are you probably did not do much of that stuff, which can be used to your advantage in your essay.
I remember starting my apps and how difficult it was to figure out how to write it all down.
Now….. writing it….
1) The number one piece of advice I want to give you is to keep everything positive. Yes, we both know cancer sucks, but what you want to emphasize is that you took that adversity and turned it into opportunity (a great quote from my amazing mom!). Talk about positive things like focusing more on schoolwork because you can’t do much else, visiting other friends with cancer in the hospital, getting involved in fundraising events as a patient ambassador, and anything you did with your time that was productive. In the end, your essay should show that you were able to accomplish things despite the challenge in front of you.
2) In my essay I made it interesting by tying my negative experience and my accomplishments into the life of my role model. I showed the connection between her life and mine, focusing on how she inspired me. You do not need to do the same, but basically make a main idea in your essay that is not about cancer. Find a way to incorporate your cancer experiences into that main idea so that you can show cancer is not the main focus, it is not the main part who you are.
3) For your main topic, you should write about something that is special to you. Maybe you can use a person, place, or thing that inspires you or has influenced your life, especially the part of your life during which you went through treatment.
4) Make sure that, if you did any kind of cancer-related community service, you make it clear that you are motivated to make a difference and give back. If you did other cool things with your time, talk about the role those activities played in helping you develop certain skills.
5) Finally, make it personal, organized, and grammatically correct. That way, you can show the connection between your cancer and your accomplishments, you can show that you are now a more mature, motivated person, and you can show you are ready to so something cool with your life. This is all part of demonstrating that you know how to take that adversity you experienced and turn it into opportunity (like I said above). Colleges like this because it shows them that, if times get tough, you work even harder.
There is obviously a lot more you can incorporate and write about, but if you are writing about your experience with cancer these are important points to keep in mind. I hope they help! Definitely put any questions or comments below, I would love to hear from you!