College Essays: How much is too much?


Kristin Barrett, Opinion Editor

As many seniors like myself pore over our college essays, checking for correct punctuation use and logical structure, we hope that we chose the most important part of the essay: the topic. The topic one chooses is the crux of the applicant as a whole in the eyes of an admissions officer. It is a direct choice of what students feel best represents themselves, their writing, and their experiences.

I spoke with seniors who generously chose to confide in me regarding their college essay topics upon my request. An anonymous student who wrote a self-proclaimed “very vulnerable account of something that affected me,” told me about her sexual assault. The essay was well developed and written with pointed and captivating word choice, moving through a retelling of her experience and the aftermath of what had happened to her. She said writing the essay was cathartic and she “felt release” after writing. Although the essay section of the CommonApp is not a free therapy session, a writing opportunity such as this is a time for students to unburden their psyches of heavy memories.

Another senior detailed her experiences with what she simply described as “sexual harassment in the workplace.” While different in specifics, the essay shared similar themes as the previous one: both focused on traumatizing events which shaped the lives of these students.

One of the students I spoke to said when writing a personal essay, the content should lie “within [the writer’s] comfort.” She feels her essay accounting the uncomfortable and inappropriate comments made by co-workers falls within those bounds. She decided, “if you don’t want to read it out loud, it’s too much.”

Moments like these form young people, and if the author decides to share, are vital to a complete application. Does a painfully truthful, expressive essay hinder the applicant’s chances of acceptance? How much is too much? Vulnerability is an important facet of a truthful, personally-representative application essay, but when is the line drawn? Is there a line at all?